Your job is to predict what, for most of us, is unpredictable. Sure, the layperson can check a weather app to plan a backyard BBQ, but Hollywood has a lot more on the line than soggy buns. Rain delays that force big exterior shoots to move indoors or be completely rescheduled can cost millions.
For a tentpole film like Pokémon Detective Pikachu (or Dark Shadows_, a film we also wrote to you about), your skills can save a production valuable time and money. Behind the scenes, predictability is vital. On screen, however, predictability can turn a sunny frolic into a dreary slog.
I hate to rain on Pikachu’s parade, but an obvious plot and lazy fan service aren’t Detective Pikachu’s only problems.
The issues start with Tim Goodman, the weak lead character with a paper-thin backstory who accepts his ludicrous predicament too easily. His humdrum existence as an insurance adjuster is turned upside down when he must travel to Ryme City – where humans and Pokemon co-exist in harmony – following the death of his police detective father, which may have been staged. We learn that as a child he dreamed of being a Pokemon trainer but gave it up. Why? We don’t find out. Young Tim could have moved in with his father in RymeCity after his mother died but didn’t. Why? Doesn’t matter because hey, look at the cool effects, and nod knowingly at the inside references!
Detective Pikachu’s visual effects certainly do dazzle. The Pokemon are effectively rendered and walk (float? scramble? hop?) through Ryme City’s baby-Blade Runner streets with their human counterparts seamlessly. When Tim arrives to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance, he begrudgingly teams up with his partner, Detective Pikachu. What follows is a half-baked investigation involving purple drugs that turn adorable Pokemon into vicious bastards, underground Pokemon battles, good guys, bad guys, and help from a newbie journalist named Lucy who is far wiser and more competent than Tim. One action sequence which finds them in the woods exploring a secret lab, is particularly well executed – rumbling ground underfoot, death-defying jumps, and a tense chase through a spectacularly delivered CGI-enhanced forest recalling the suspense of action flicks like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park. But without an exciting plot or an engaging lead, the visual effects are like an electrical storm – all flash and no thunder.
Thankfully, Ryan Reynolds provides shelter from this technicolour tempest. As the voice of Detective Pikachu, his playful humour proves he can bring the funny without working blue. Reynolds also has the range to make Detective Pikachu’s arc emotionally resonant, which makes his human co-stars feel woefully one-dimensional. Justice Smith works gamely to make Tim more than a straight-man to Reynolds’ smarmy-charmy Detective Pikachu, but the fault lies with the five writers who failed to see the value in giving Tim some depth. Kathryn Newton’s Lucy is a spunky and spirited wannabe reporter full of facts and with gumption to spare, but her motivation to bring the truth to light is secondary to her role as Tim’s Girl Friday. Though she could have solved the mystery and saved Ryme City from destruction single-handedly, she shares the glory with Unremarkable Tim. This is even more disheartening because one of the five writers is Nicole Perlman, who was a writer on Captain Marvel. Lucy, and especially the younger audiences, deserved more than this tired trope.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu wants to be a fun, fluffy romp, and no doubt many viewers will find it delivers just that. But its soggy narrative which relies too heavily on fan service and special effects to the detriment of character development left me chilly. Had I known the forecast for this film was cloudy with a few sunny breaks, I would have brought a sweater.