Before I begin with my review proper, allow me to share an anecdote about my theater experience to exhort AMC to improve the policing of its policy regarding cellular devices, as well as to offer explanation of the ways in which my appreciation of the film might have potentially been negatively affected.
I arrived at the cineplex a solid half hour before the show started so as to get my usual seat: center row, center – the optimal viewing angle and acoustics. Several minutes before the film began, a family plopped down in the row in front of me, composed of two mothers, two jacked dudes about my own age, and a murder* of children, including one that was no more than one years old. It’s presumed father placed this probable crier on his lap as he sat in the seat diagonally ahead of mine.
Shortly into the start of the movie he had the audacity to pull out a cell phone and play videos in order to entertain an infant that had no more business being in a crowded theater than would a fire. The sound was muted, but I and everyone behind me (fully half the people there) were subjected to the persistent glare. I held my tongue far longer than usual in the foolish hopes that the device would be turned off of the owner’s own accord, but eventually I did my civic duty. I nunged the back of the seat with my foot in order to get the attention of the vile villain, a veritable Team Rocket member stealing our attention from the main attraction. Like Mr. Mime, I signaled silently that the problem was the presence of his device, a wordless warning which he hear loud and clear.
Despite my repeated displays of displeasure, he steadfastly refused to turn off his cell phone – and became increasingly irate and belligerent, at one point asking if I wanted to take it outside to the parking lot. Now, in addition to the visual impairment caused by the device, his talking to me served as further distraction from the film. Whoever would win an increasingly likely physical confrontation between us was not where I wanted my attention fixed at that moment. I wanted my mind fully on who would win in the Pokémon confrontations on screen.
Midway through the climax of the film, the entire party stood up to exit the theater. After the credits rolled, I made my own exit, unsurprised to find the fiend waiting for me. He asked aggressively if I was the one kicking his seat, and I responded with my intentions to bring his own behavior to the attention of the management. Much to my surprise, one of the women replied that they’d already complained to the manager about me!
The scoundrel got up in my face, his forehead brushing the brim of my hat, nearly nose-to-nose, and I met his glare unblinkingly. There were enough witnesses gathering around, including two ushers in earshot who were seriously considering with one another whether to call the cops. He’d be a fool to throw the first punch, and he and I both knew it. I stared back, silently calling out the bluff that was this empty posturing.
After he backed off, I voiced my complaint to the manager. I explained that this had been a film I’d been anticipating for some time, and asked what kind of restitution could be expect. He misinterpreted my meaning and offered free tickets or concessions. I clarified that I was more interested in the theater implementing protocols to prevent such from happening again. But whatever changes he makes at that specific location going forward will not suffice.
AMC Theaters, I’m appealing to you as an A-List Premier member that sees scores of new movies annually, as one of you very best customers: you need to get your house in order. This is how you do so:
- Ushers need to make regular rounds during the runtimes of shows and evict any filmgoer found using a cellular device immediately upon their first offence.
- Violators should be barred from purchasing tickets via their account for at least the duration of the average film’s theatrical release, with no refund to any purchases made for future showing in that time frame.
- An “Adult Swim” should be implemented, special screenings of all-ages films to which only persons over the age of 16 would be permitted.
And now, on with the review. As always, spoilers below.
There are 807 different species Pokémon currently know, and approximately the same number of major and minor gripes to be had with this film. But the single most important aspect, the sine non qua of any successful adaptation of an animated source material to live action, is the ability to translate crude cartoons into photorealistic flesh-and-blood without sacrificing either fidelity or credulity. Merely consider the abomination featured in the Sonic the Hedgehog trailers accompanying Detective Pikachu for an example of a design failing on both accounts. Disney, advantaged by working off real-world animals, set the standard with The Jungle Book and looks to do so again with The Lion King. Detective Pikachu gets it just good enough, and for that fact alone the film is a success. To be sure, there’s room for improvement in future installments (though being the Pokémon Company, expect only incredibly incremental improvements in each iteration), particularly in the overly anime eyes that ring unrealistic, and the oversaturated skin textures of some of the creatures, but the foundation is solid.
But Pokémon are more than merely cute kaiju. Much of the appeal of the franchise come in the form of catching, training, and battling these beasts in magic cock-fights. Aside from a single scene at the start in which protagonist Tim Goodman fails to capture a Cubone, the obsessive compulsive need to”catch ‘em all!” is entirely eschewed. Ditto the dog-fighting. A scene set in an underground fight club** promises to be a stunning realization of what has only ever before been rendered as pixelated sprites or polygonal, low-resolution models plagued by flat textures and awful aliasing. Yet Pikachu’s inaccess to his powers – while comical – robs audiences of what could have been a stunning set piece, and afterward the film never revisits the battling aspect that is the backbone of the games and anime. Given that the sports movie genre would have offered far greater opportunities for training montages and frequent bouts, making Pokémon’s first foray into live action a noir piece is an inexplicable choice.
As a detective movie, the mystery which the characters uncover seems more interesting than the actual act of the putting the pieces together. I’d much rather have watched Harry Goodman on the hunt for Mewtwo or his Pikachu wrecking Charizard than most of the actions Tim undertakes. Part of the problem is the poor performance by Justice Smith, who goes full Nick Cage, constantly emoting in ways entirely divorced from the happenings around him. The other half of the equation is that most of the revelations are telegraphed long before their reveals, leaving the cluelessness of the characters a frustration for an audience already ten steps ahead of them, specifically Howard Clifford as the big bad, the forest being a giant Torterra garden, and the Greninjas being responsible for the attack on Harry. Ms. Norman being a Ditto, however, did come as a genuine surprise, as did the fact that Tim’s father had been merged with his Pikachu by Mewtwo, which offered a far more satisfying explanation for Tim understanding Pikachu than the power of hope.
Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu is very Ryan Reynolds. All of the humor hits, especially Pikachu sadly singing the theme song to the anime as he ambles aimlessly, but it hard to be immersed in the fiction when his distinctive voice and personality are so strongly reminiscent of the actual actor portraying him; impossible to treat Pikachu as a fully realized character when the voice actor is essentially playing himself. It ultimately all works, though never as well as it could otherwise with a more distinctive division between the character and actor.
Kathryn Newton as Lucy Stevens is a delight, playing one of my personal favorite stock character: a novice with no knowledge of what they’re doing except from what they’ve seen in other movies. Lucy’s attempts to play to type as an ace investigative reported excellently lampoons tropes such as characters conspicuously talking to one another while seated at separate booths. That, and Lois Lane has instilled in me an innate love for girl reporters. Since I’ve sworn off dating any more models, maybe I ought to scour the newsroom bullpens for the future Mrs. Theriault.
There are reputedly a mere fifty-four different species of Pokémon appear throughout the film. That wasn’t even sufficient twenty years ago when all we had was the Kanto region pokedex, but these days it’s downright stingy when weighed against the nearly thousand species now in existence . Moreover, many of the omissions and inclusions are curious choices. Aipom is too lame a Pokémon to have given so much screen time. Contra Chimchar and his evolutions Monferno and Infernape, much better primate Pokémon, who make no appearance whatsoever. Likewise Purrloin instead of Litten and Incineroar. Am I simply being salty that my favorite starters aren’t shown? Yes. Yes I am. A more valid disappointment is the dearth of any eighth generation Pokémon, which would have proved a welcome synergy between the film and the games.
Like the games, there’s so much room for improvement in Detective Pikachu, and I can’t help but list a litany of gripes. But no matter the plethora of problems, I also can’t help but loving the core conceit so strongly that I’ll always come crawling back to my abusive relationship with the Pokémon Company. Detective Pikachu is no different, and come November when Sword and Shield drop, I’ll feel the same frustration and elation all over again. After all, I gotta catch ‘em all!