What “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” has going against it is that it is based on a brand known around the world and stars Ryan Reynolds.
Yes, Pokemon has been a global phenomenon equaled by few others. However, has-been may be the operative phrase.
Despite being based on the pretty successful video game “Detective Pikachu”, it has been 20 years since the property peaked on the big screen, with “Pokemon: The First Movie” grossing $85.7 million at the domestic box-office ($151.8 million in today’s dollars) for Warner Brothers in 1999.
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However, the property plunged pretty far, pretty fast, as “Pokemon: The Movie 2000”, released a mere 8 months later, grossed only half as much in the U.S., with a final take of only $43.7 million ($73.1 million today). When the property totally cratered, with “Pokemon 3: The Movie” generating a piddling $ 17 million domestically ( a still piddling $27 million in today’s dollars), it was clear that interest in seeing Pokemon on the big screen had waned, so much so that Warner Brothers refused to even distribute the next two films in the series, which never even were able to secure a wide release and saw the fourth film, “Pokemon 4Ever”, generate only $1.7 million in North American ticket sales ($2.6 million today) for Dimension Films and the fifth film, “Pokemon Heroes”, not even making $1 million nationwide, finishing with a little over $746,000 in ticket sales ( $1.1 million, still a massive bomb, today).
However, those films were all relatively cheap animation. “Detective Pikachu” has bestowed .on all involved enough of a budget to shoot for a photo-realistic look and a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” vibe.
In the end, they fail.
They fail, in part, due to a script that is extremely pedestrian and demands you be familiar with the video game. They also fail, in part, because there are moments in the film in which the special-effects don’t look like they would have cut it in the 1940’s.
However, the quips, one-liners and overall dialogue have Ryan Reynolds written all over them – and in “Detective Pikachu”, in which he voices the titular character, that is not a good thing.
As 2016’s “Deadpool” showed, Reynolds can be quite effective in the right role. However, 2018’s underperformance of “Deadpool 2” was not nearly as popular, and part of the reason is that Reynolds had more free rein and the jokes were raunchier and not as funny. Reports reveal Reynolds did some R-rated dialogue for “Detective Pikachu”, which indicates that he was determined to make voicing Pikachu a way for the character to inhabit his sensibilities, rather than the other way around. Director Rob Letterman seemingly gives Reynolds carte blanche to do his schtick, and the result is a lead character who will likely be too mature for kids and too boring for adults.
Animating animals is one matter. But transforming fictional creatures that have been drawn in one way for two decades is another entirely https://t.co/cYZ0UMBRh9
— TIME (@TIME) May 8, 2019
A better script would help. None of the “surprises” will stun anyone who has ever seen a movie before. Plus, there is not enough zaniness or humor or fun.
However, the two lead human characters do deserve a shout out, especially with the material they’re given.
Though some may be upset that Ash Ketchum, the protagonist from the “Pokemon” anime series, was not brought to life in this film, Justice Smith plays a compelling lead.
As Tim Goodman – a former Pokemon trainer looking for his missing father who eventually becomes Detective Pikachu’s partner, in the hopes of solving the mystery of his dad’s fate, Justice Smith is compelling at times.
He is also the only person who can hear Pikachu speak, which in other scriptwriters’ hands, could lend itself to some cool comedy. However, in “Detective Pikachu”, it doesn’t.
Kathryn Newton as Lucy Stevens, a reporter who helps Goodman, makes you pay attention to her every time she is onscreen. On a positive note, she is accompanied by a Psyduck – the popular “duck Pokemon”. On a negative note, she is not given nearly enough to do or to work with and the writers ignore an opportunity for romance between Stevens and Goodman.
The rest of the cast, including Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy is also quite good.
It is just a shame that the scriptwriters failed to give them all a memorable story that would connect with everyone. Instead, we are left with a film that should only appeal to true, hardcore fans.
What a shame.
“Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” hits theaters May 10.