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16 May 2019

Poké-What? If You Don't Know Much About Pokémon, Then 'Detective Pikachu' Is Really Going to Confuse You

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Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton in Pokemon Detective Pikachu. Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton in Pokemon Detective Pikachu.

I know that there is a thing called Pokémon GO that people play on their phones. I know that there are TV cartoons and all sorts of trading cards and merchandising involving Pikachu and other wacky creatures … but that’s about the extent of my Pokémon knowledge.

Problem: In Pokémon Detective Pikachu, there’s an established mythology. It’s not an origin movie; it’s an “If you don’t know anything about Pokémon, none of this is going to make a lick of sense” movie.

Still … Ryan Reynolds voices the title character, a little yellow fur ball with a Sherlock Holmes hat; that could be fun, right? Well, it’s fun for about the first 15 minutes—before everything gets lost in a haze of sloppy action and convoluted plotlines.

No doubt, they got some good performers to participate in this moneymaker. Along with Reynolds, you get Bill Nighy as the creator of the Pokémon world, or something like that. (I’m still not sure what he really did.) Justice Smith plays Tim, the main protagonist, a young adult who has lost his father and befriends Pikachu. And then there’s the very talented Kathryn Newton, under-utilized as TV reporter-wannabe Lucy Stevens. Heck, even Ken Watanabe shows up in this mess, doing pretty much what he did in Godzilla (looking up to the sky in awe).

Tim reunites with Pikachu after his dad dies in a car accident. Pikachu was Dad’s Pokémon. (The world is a place where lots of folks walk around with a Pokémon partner.) Tim’s Dad and Detective Pikachu were investigating some heavy stuff involving a purple gas that makes all the Pokémon go nuts.

By the time this thing wrapped, I honestly had no idea what had really happened, nor did I really care. The movie didn’t pique my interest in the Pokémon enterprise; it solidified my indifference. Let’s just say I’m not going to be downloading any of that shit to my phone.

Director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) labors to make all the mayhem make sense, but his large team of screenwriters came up with something that baffles more than marvels. It also rips off the likes of Tim Burton’s Batman in its finale, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner for the look of the Pokémon city. This isn’t an original piece by any means.

Smith, a normally likable and capable actor, seems like the wrong pick for the role. His face is perpetually contorted into an expression that looks like he could laugh or cry at any moment, and he seems like he’s straining to find his place in the Pokémon world (a world that was probably a bunch of green screens on the set). It’s hard to watch Nighy delivering his goofy Pokémon-centric dialogue like he means it. He probably knew less about Pokémon than I did when he took the gig.

If anything works in this movie, it’s Reynolds, who provides Pikachu with enough character, warmth and humor to make one wish the little guy had a better movie to run around in. Watch out, parents: Your little Pikachu fans will be asking you what other movies the Pikachu voice has done, and this could fire up their curiosity to watch something like Deadpool. Get your “There’s no goddamned way you are watching Deadpool!” responses ready. As for this, it’s relatively harmless, so if your kids like the TV show or the playing cards or that stupid thing that has them running around in the streets looking for Pokémon on your phone, they’ll probably like this.

If you are uninitiated, as am I, this movie will come off as a useless blur. If you love you some Pokémon, perhaps you won’t hate it like I did, but I’m guessing few people are going to fall in love with this movie. Either way, I’m glad it’s out of the way so we can bring on the John Wick and Godzilla sequels.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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