Pokémon Detective Pikachu’s minute-by-minute appeal is that it’s cute. It’s kawaii, in so far that it drips that cuteness out of its pores. It’ll reward audience members for knowing which Pokémon is which, in one of those rare instances where the fenced-off real estate that shelters the names of all 800+ Pokémon will provide you with a momentary endorphin rush through the act of recognition. Is this what people mean when they say it rewards “the fans”? Is Pokémon Detective Pikachu for “the fans”? Sure, whatever the fuck that means. I mean, this movie is probably intended for people who use the term “the fans” in a serious, non-derogatory way. Or those who say “it slaps” un-ironically. It’s probably not intended for fogies who still say flim flam conversationally. Anyway, this saccharine flim flam is designed for mass consumption and people will eat it up. Good for them. But this viewer couldn’t help but find this exercise, which does possess some passages of imagination, to be disappointingly grim.
The film centers on a young insurance salesman, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith). With the reported death of his father, Tim heads to Ryme City to get closure from a man who was mostly absent in his life. These early moments are Detective Pikachu’s most compelling bits, insofar that it examines the world in which Tim inhabits – a squad of Squirtles douse a fire, a Machamp functions as traffic control, etc. It’s cute. But that cuteness is compounded with a particular kind of neon eeriness. Some viewers have likened it to Blade Runner, which would give Pikachu a little too much credit, but the sight of seeing Tim wander the streets of Ryme City at night, questioning why a Psyduck is observing him so closely, is one of the film’s chief delights. But Tim’s entry into his father’s apartment brings him to his dad’s amnestic Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). What follows is a bogus journey of sorts, a hallucinogenic dream whereby Tim and his father’s Pikachu piece together Tim’s father’s disappearance and possible death.
As spirited as some of the exchanges throughout the film can be, numerous moments can prove exceedingly dire. All the machinations of the film’s plotting involving the founder of Ryme City, Howard Clifford (terrific character-actor Bill Nighy) are just profoundly dull. No human of a certain age, even with the credentials that Nighy possesses, can utter the word “Pokémon” without it sounding a little embarrassing. And as the film progresses, I actively became aware of the slow creep that was my eyes glazing over as the film devolves into little more than a special effects quote unquote spectacle. Compounded by an obvious committee of screenwriters that worked on the film, along with a directorial presence that can best be described as “absent”, and you’re left with the prototypical origins of a massive cinematic universe. This time, however, the synergistic qualities of the film seem truly bottomless. After this film, you can immediately go on your iPhone to capture a Detective Hat Pikachu in Pokémon GO, put on an episode of the anime, and head to bed, dreaming of the next vocation-centric Pokémon content for you to consume. A service sector comedy involving Ludiculo? Space-cadet Kadabra? Perhaps a historical war epic involving Kangaskhan? Or a kumite style/Bloodsport ripoff involving Hitmonlee? The possibilities are, regrettably, endless.