PG. Somehow, this is the movie that is rated PG. Again, my big argument on this page is that the MPAA is rating for intended audience, not for actual content. I think that Detective Pikachu, while being mostly fine for my kids, is on par in terms of questionable content as any superhero movie that comes out. Pikachu himself has really questionable language choices. There's some straight up scary scenes in the film. Some of those Pokemon are possessed and become fast running zombies, for goodness sake. While this is PG, it's a very pushing-it PG.
DIRECTOR: Rob Letterman
I never got into Pokemon. I can prove it because I didn't put the proper accent on the word "Pokemon". It seems like a lot of work at this point, especially considering I'm going to write that word over-and-over before this analysis is done. But my kids are kind of into it. I don't know how they got into besides playing Super Smash Bros. which in retrospect makes sense. I never really let them watch the show. They've seen episodes, but not under my watch. Part of me never understood how Pokemon got around the dog-fighting angle. Apparently, the Pokemon like fighting? I don't think that's a very healthy attitude to have. I mean, the Ood like being slaves, but at least they address the questionable morality of enslaving the Ood on Doctor Who. I don't know. I've never been a fan of Pokemon, so I can't spout off what canon explains it all.
The thing that broke my heart most about this movie is Bill Nighy having to be in this movie and having him say the word "Pokemon." Bill Nighy, in my head, is super respectable. He's a classy old British gentleman who comes to play from time-to-time. I know that he's not above projects. But usually those projects have to be tongue-in-cheek about their subject matter. I'm thinking of him in Shaun of the Dead, which actually introduced me to the actor. But having Bill Nighy, with no sense of irony, having to say the word "Pokemon" a billion times, it depressed me. I'm probably reading into that way more than Bill Nighy ever did. But thinking about it is a bummer. That's about what I want to say about that because it's almost a miracle that this movie turned out to be pretty decent. Right now, I'm making the comparison between Michael Douglas being in Ant-Man and Bill Nighy being in Detective Pikachu. With the case of Michael Douglas, I got the vibe that he was somehow above the content that he thought the movie was going to be. With Nighy, he seems pretty comfortable in the spot he signed up for. Both movies, although I'm not the biggest Ant-Man fan in the world, were pretty huge films. That's kind of what makes Detective Pikachu an enigma in my head.
We've probably all been waiting for a truly great comic book movie. The closest thing that has been really good compared to this is the Castlevania Netflix show, which we have to admit is kind of cheating. 1) It's a show. and 2) It's animated. The next contender, from a distance, is Resident Evil, and that franchise just drove itself into the ground. Video game movies don't work for a very specific reason. While some video games have some pretty great stories, mostly we get these moments through cut scenes. To view a cut scene, you have to kind of earn it. There's hours of gameplay and frustration and that moment of storytelling is coupled with a shot of dopamine to the brain. We are excited to see what happens next because we somehow earned that expository glance into the world. As part of that, we probably get really excited for it. I'm not saying that the story is bad or anything, but we probably are more forgiving of what we are watching because it is in the context of a moment of success and personal victory. I was thinking about Max Payne, the film, (yup) and I wondered why it really didn't work. I mean, it had the look of the game. It actually followed the narrative remarkably closely. But that movie was ridiculously bad. None of those moments felt earned. On top of that, the pacing of a video game is drastically different than that of a film. A small video game experience is ten hours. Many games dwarf that. The narrative has to accommodate a lot of story over a long period of time. That's where Detective Pikachu is kind of smart.
Really Detective Pikachu isn't a traditional video game adaptation. Pokemon is more of a cultural phenomenon. Rather than simply being an adaptation of a video game, Detective Pikachu is more of an adaptation of a concept. I'm sure that there are many people out there that don't think of Detective Pikachu as a video game movie. I don't really blame them. With the cultural impact of the Pokemon anime series, the brand Pokemon has eclipsed its origins. That kind of leaves Detective Pikachu to be its own thing. Now, before I dive too deep, I understand that there is a game called Detective Pikachu. I have not played it nor do I really plan to play it. Maybe one day, I'll explore the Pokemon phenomenon, but it doesn't look likely right now. But the film kind of banks on the idea that most people know only the general concept of Pokemon and the film never really asks an audience to know the world too closely beyond that. The film actually fills in a lot of gaps in storytelling. What little needs to be known about the world of Pokemon is filled in pretty quickly either through direct exposition or context clues. I imagine that it might be hard for a director to fill in a lot of gaps, but that kind of seems necessary for a wide release. What's odd, is that this world kind of comes across as the same environment as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. The world of Pokemon is full of all of these creatures that just seem normal. It seems larger than life for us. The environment of Ryme City is a fairy wonderland. There are creatures everywhere and they color the landscape. Think about how the toons in Roger Rabbit let us understand the importance of setting based on how otherworldly creatures treated the mundane. The same is true for Ryme City.
As a film, the movie gets it mostly right. It presents a story that has kind of a decent mystery. It seems odd to think that an adorable Pikachu is going to solve a murder mystery, but coupling Ryan Reynolds with Pikachu actually makes a lot of sense. Yeah, I wanted Danny Devito too, but Reynolds is consistently charming so I get it. In terms of tone, the movie really nails it. The movie is a summer blockbuster with mildly decent acting and funny jokes. The mystery, unfortunately, is where all the weaknesses lie. The movie stresses that Pikachu is a detective. Why is the mystery so weak? I know. There's supposed to be a big Mewtwo reveal. That means nothing to me, by the way. I know that he's a big character because of one of the other Pokemon films, but I really don't care. The mystery at the beginning of the film is supposed to be grounded. The protagonist's father's car is flipped and the protagonist is killed. The entire point of the movie is to find Harry's body and to try to find out if he's alive. I know I wrote that weird, but I don't have the patience to rewrite it. That's fine. I know that the mystery is in a fantasy world, but the concept behind the film is supposed to be grounded. Why bring in such a noir premise only to have it all sci-fi'ed midway through? The movie can't actually solve its own mystery. I mean, I figured out the bad guy the second he got on screen. (Sorry, spoiler about the gender. But why are you reading this if you were afraid of spoilers?) But the means there is actually impossible. At one point, the movie introduces secret holographic reconstruction. That seems like a bit of a cheat. (I'm also looking at you, Bones.) Whatever happened to allowing the audience to solve the mystery in tandem with the protagonists? Isn't that why we go to mysteries? Detective Pikachu is a fun Pokemon movie, but it is an absolutely awful mystery. That's actually where it makes the movie feel silly. I love the characters and the jokes and the overall vibe of the movie. It's just that, when discussing Pokemon and sci-fi mumbojumbo as part of a crime, that's where the movie kind of falls apart. Yeah, it is a plot that can grafted onto the world of Pokemon without getting boring, but it is also super lazy.
I don't think I loved Detective Pikachu mostly because I'm not a fanboy. Do I get why people like it? Sure. I can even say that I had a moderately good time watching this movie. But a great genre film will recruit new fanboys and I'm nowhere near that. Ryan Reynolds is being Ryan Reynolds, which is fun. But I also don't feel the personal commitment to a project. A lot of that comes from the fact that the movie is so reliant of CG and animation. Yeah, it's fun. But I kind of wished I watched something with more substance. Also, the reveal at the end of is kind of meh.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.