By Tom Augustine
Full disclosure: I am an unabashed disciple of Pokemon from way back, one of those kids raised on the video games, the television series, the cards, the animated movies, the toys and everything else. For a period of my young life, Pokemon was the thing, and it has been a healthy fandom long-untapped by blockbuster film-making. That all changes with Pokemon Detective Pikachu (dir. Rob Letterman), a curious mingling of live action and CGI recreations of the famous critters that makes for a singularly strange, sporadically delightful but ultimately unfulfilling sugar-rush of an adaptation.
A healthy working knowledge of at least some of the specifics of the world of the varied, strange, colourful pocket monsters is a must going in – even with a hearty knowledge of the world of Pokemon, the film was a deeply surreal, occasionally almost dream-like experience.
Ryan Reynolds voices the titular fuzzy yellow electric mouse in a world where Pokemon and humans co-exist. Justice Smith plays the son of a police officer drawn into a half-baked detective yarn when his father disappears and Pikachu – here a coffee-swilling, wisecracking gumshoe in the Reynolds-Deadpool mould – shows up in his apartment, somehow able to communicate with his human counterpart.
Being a kids' film, the mystery of the thing is fairly easy to work out, yet even with this caveat the "detective" element of Pokemon Detective Pikachu feels singularly unnecessary, even time-wasting, when there is so much world to uncover. With such a rich vein of lore and history to draw from, there are so many wonderful places this story could have gone – so many that this iteration smells frustratingly of squandered potential.
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There is undeniable joy when the film just gets out of its own way and allows us to simply spend time in the world with Bulbasaur, Psyduck, Squirtle, Charizard and all the rest, a childlike wonder that is at once powerfully nostalgic and – due to its cutting-edge CGI – thrillingly alive. It's a shame, then, that Pokemon Detective Pikachu is shackled to such a rote story (not to mention the dreary, colourless cinematography that robs the film of much-needed pizzazz), surely an attempt by its creators to access a broader audience.
It's possible that the fact that the film was created by people outside of the generation to which it mattered most ultimately cost Pokemon Detective Pikachu an element of greatness – the film crucially doesn't seem to understand what made it mean so much to such a large group of kids, leading to a fun but slightly unsatisfying experience. I gave it three stars.
Elsewhere it's a quiet week for new films – but fortunately, there are highlights for classics lovers out there. Most significantly is the Hollywood Cinema in Avondale's double-bill screening of 80s classics The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, both by Francis Ford Coppola, building on the success of Apocalypse Now in a thrilling and unpredictable fashion. Meanwhile, the Academy Cinema is hosting a John Wick trilogy screening in honour of the action series' third instalment - a chance to enjoy some of the most deliciously mounted American action in recent memory.