Pokémon Detective Pikachu

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Pokemon Detective Pikachu
"The noir element, however, is lightened considerably by the film's other big debt - to the antics of Warner Brothers' cartoons past - with the characters frequently finding themselves in enjoyably absurd situations." | Photo: Warner Bros

There might have been 21(!) Pokémon features before it but we're not in Tokyo any more for this latest film adaptation of the game franchise that sees trainers battle weird and wonderful creatures against each other.

Instead Ryme City, where much of the action takes place, has the skyscrapers of the Japanese metropolis but the sensibility is American through and through as Pikachu and his pals are transported to the sort of film noir environment that Mike Hammer and Sam Spade - or, no surprise, Roger Rabbit - would have felt at home in. The noir element, however, is lightened considerably by the film's other big debt - to the antics of Warner Brothers' cartoons past - with the characters frequently finding themselves in enjoyably absurd situations.

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Things have moved on from the days when Pokémon were captured and made to fight by their trainers. Now, the creatures live in harmony with humans, choosing who to partner up with in the manner of a spirit animal or squishy soulmate. Tim (Justice Smith), used to dream of training his way to the top, but he's been living a Pokémon-free life in the countryside until news of his estranged detective dad's disappearance reaches him and he is finds himself back in the city. Another surprise lies in store at his dad's apartment, where he discovers that not only did his father's partner Pikachu survive, but that he is able to understand it. Better still, from an audience perspective, Ryan Reynolds is on vocals and Pikachu is a lot more fun than Roger ever was.

From here on in familiar gags about a creature only one person can understand tumble enjoyably with playful takes on detective tropes. There are plenty of added laughs courtesy of the humans' various Pokémon partners, not least a Psyduck - belonging to wannabe reporter (Kathryn Newton) whose head threatens to explode every time it gets stressed. It’s “I am Groot”-style ability to say nothing except its own name, in various states of stress, only adds to the enjoyable absurdity.

Director Rob Letterman (who wrote the script with The Tick's Benji Samit and Dan Hernandez and Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed), has struggled to pitch the humour of some of his previous animated efforts - most notably Shark Tale - so they worked for both children and adults. This time, he hits that sweet spot of having plenty of parent appeal in its snappy script, plus lots for kids and nostalgia fans who will know before it is 'revealed' in the film what each of the Pokémon's special powers are – for example the transformation of a Magikarp into a Gyarados. The gags come so thick and fast that not all of them land but, fortunately, if you miss any there's another one along in a minute - or 30 seconds if Pikachu's just had coffee.

The story is occasionally a bit on the scrappy side, with the central mystery surrounding Tim's dad and philanthropist Howard Clifford (Billy Nighy) not bearing up to an awful lot of careful scrutiny, but there's plenty of humour and action to keep it the story on the rails. Best of all, this world feels real and lived in with Smith, Newton and the rest of the actors seamlessly interacting with the CGI furballs. When it comes to those 21 films, I'm not sure you gotta catch 'em all, but you should definitely see this one.

Reviewed on: 09 May 2019
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A young man tries to solve the mystery of what happened to his dad, with some help from a talking Pikachu.

Director: Rob Letterman

Writer: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Josette Simon, Alejandro De Mesa, Rita Ora, Karan Soni, Max Fincham, Simone Ashley, Edward Davis, Diplo

Year: 2019

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Japan, US, UK

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