Scalding Hot Takes: Pokemon Detective Pikachu
Pokemon has the remarkable distinction of being an explosive, world-wide fad in multiple forms over the course of multiple decades. Pokemon reigned as an international pop culture phenomenon in the 1990s as a wildly popular video game series and animated series, in the oughts as a collectible card game and in the twenty teens as Pokemon Go, an augmented reality mobile game (whatever that is) that blew the fuck up.
Yes, Pokemon has been huge in multiple forms throughout the years, including film. 1998’s optimistically titled Pokemon: The First Movie was eviscerated by critics but was the second top-grossing film in Japan the year of its release on a modest budget. Its sequel, 1999’s Pokemon 2000, was less commercially successful but was still a sizable hit at the box-office.
Pokemon has been with us in various forms for over the past two decades. Yet my primary frame of reference for it is when (Crooked) Hillary Clinton, desperate to connect with the youth vote, implored young voters to ignore the dictates of their hearts and their consciences and “Pokemon Go” to the polls to vote for her over Bernie Sanders, the people’s choice.
Hillary Clinton begging the kids to “Pokemon Go” to the polls will stay with me forever because it’s such a pure example of a powerful figure trying to speak the language of young people and face-planting miserably and hilariously in the process.
Hillary badly attempting to piggy-back on the popularity of Pokemon Go is the ultimate real-life version of the Steve Buscemi’s 30 Rock “How do you do fellow kids?”meme. I could be wrong. Hillary Clinton could very well be a Pokemon fiend. Her inner monologue during those debates with Trump very well could have been, “Gotta catch them all!” on a perpetual loop. Clinton could have been traversing the country less to campaign genuinely for the presidency than to seek out Pokemon in rare, unexpected places. But it sure felt like she was pandering shamelessly to kids and embarrassing herself in the process.
My knowledge of Pokemon is almost entirely political in nature. I know it as a famously disastrous, wildly counter-productive bit of political rhetoric first and as a card game, video game, cartoon, animated film franchise and now as a live action movie a very distant second.
Pokemon has never meant shit to me. It’s for children, and I am a forty-three year old father of two who distracts himself from life’s inexorable horror by watching Sesame Street and Muppet Babies like a reasonable adult. Also, Pokemon has always struck me as a singularly unpalatable, unappealing combination of simplistic and unbelievably, unnecessarily convoluted and difficult to understand.
I went into Pokemon Detective Pikachu knowing next to nothing about Pokemon. I left it in roughly the same state. If I were not at the theater by myself I would have been one of those old people who keeps asking the person next to them to explain what was happening at any given moment.
To borrow Groucho Marx’s famous line from Duck Soup, why a four year child could understand Detective Pikachu! I just wish I had my four year old son with me, as I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
Justice Smith, who IMDB helpfully points out is NOT related to Will Smith, despite sharing a very rare last name with him, stars as Tim Goodman, an earnest young man in Ryme City, a fantastic realm where creatures known as Pokemon co-exist with human beings and Pokemon battles are outlawed. Tim is devastated to learn that his police officer father, who never quite has enough time for his son, is dead.
Our protagonist meets his father’s Pokemon partner Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), an amnesia-riddled furry little yellow Pokemon wearing just the most precious Deerstalker hat whose never-ending stream of wisecracks can only be understood by Tim. Together, these mismatched partners investigate the disappearance of Tim’s father/ Pikachu’s partner.
This leads them into a shadowy world of underground, illegal, unlicensed Pokemon battles and a conspiracy involving Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy, making that money), the wealthy genius behind Ryme City, and his shadowy son Roger (Chris Geere).
I expected Pokemon Detective Pikachu to go overboard with clunky exposition for the sake of people like myself, who know nothing of Pokemon, its rules, its mythology or its history. I generally hate opening crawls but a movie with a mythology as complicated and dense as Pokemon’s could definitely use one.
I was surprised that the movie goes perversely light on exposition, to the point of being semi-comprehensible to non-fans. I was also surprised by how relatively somber the film’s tone is. Reynolds was seemingly cast to bring a little of that smartass Deadpool energy but you can only be so edgy playing an adorable little creature in a Sherlock Holmes hat in a PG movie with a family audience.
I’m not sure Detective Pikachu and Tim both needed fairly heavy, bittersweet and deeply emotional character arcs that find them wrestling with loss and doubt and the specter of death but Smith and Reynolds make the film’s dramatic elements work far better than they should, and an absence of crude jokes and scatological humor makes the comedy go down surprisingly smoothly, even if the movie is never particularly funny. But the film’s real attraction is its character design, which is appropriately adorable when it comes to the title character and consistently inventive with his fellow battling pocket monsters.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu conceptually and thematic resembles, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, one of the best, most audacious and technically accomplished movies of all time, animated or otherwise.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu also, not coincidentally, resembles any number of notorious flop the past thirty years that desperately tried to replicate the delicate magic of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and failed spectacularly. Detective Pikachu consequently feels an awful lot like one of the best movies of the last thirty years as well as many of the worst, including Cool World, Theodore Rex, A Gnome Named Norm, Foodfight! Bright and, most recently, The Happy Time Murders.
Detective Pikachu isn’t in the same league as Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There’s no shame in that. Nothing is as good, or as smart, or as funny and revolutionary as Robert Zemekis’ groundbreaking neo-noir. But Detective Pikachu is also heads and tales above the sorry likes of A Gnome Named Norm, although, considering how bizarrely, unfathomably low boondoggles like that set the bar, that’s not exactly something to be excessively proud of. either
Unlike the vast majority of creature features about humans and fantastical creatures inhabiting the same world and solving crimes together Pokemon: Detective Pikachu does not embarrass itself but it doesn’t particularly distinguish itself either. It’s fine, and I mean that as dismissively as possible. Considering how bonkers the movie looks on paper, and the nuttiness of its final twist, it’s almost impressive how slight and forgettable the movie proves to be.
After spending 104 painless, mildly pleasurably and pleasingly confounding minutes in Ryme City with adorable li’l Detective Pikachu and his colorful Pokemon pals I still associate Pokemon overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, with Hillary Clinton’s poorly run 2016 presidential campaign.
You do not need to Pokemon Go to the movie theaters to see Pokemon Detective Pikachu. It’s a quintessential “wait until you can watch it on Netflix when you’re high and have nothing better to do” trifle, a hangover movie to put it in We Hate Movies terms.
I would, however, encourage everyone to Pokemon go to the polls and vote for Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primaries. That’s right: I’m using the close of my Pokemon Detective Pikachu to officially endorse Elizabeth Warren for President. The DNA stunt hurt her, and I know that Trump, being a racist piece of shit who only hits below the belt will hammer her hard on it but I strongly believe she’d make the best president. She can connect and communicate with white working-class voters and will bring an awful lot of strength, experience and integrity to the biggest, most important job in the world at a crucial juncture for our country and civilization as a whole
We NEED someone like Warren to bring basic human decency back to the White House. You most assuredly do NOT, however, need to see Pokemon Detective Pikachu unless you’re morbidly curious or stoned out of your gourd, and even then it’s the furthest thing from essential.
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To learn more about the candidacy and policies of Elizabeth Warren, visit https://elizabethwarren.com/