[Movie] Detective Pikachu

And lo, I saw the Detective Pikachu movie even though I don’t really go here. My exposure to the Pokémon canon basically starts and stops with Pokémon Go! because I’ll take any excuse I can get to do some extra walking. (I used to play Ingress, actually, but the Go players are way less intense and scary and I count there not being a chat feature as a serious bonus.) I mostly went because my housemate has been playing Pokémon since forever, and her enthusiasm’s pretty infectious.

It’s cute, y’all. It’s really, really cute. I am particularly susceptible to uncanny valley CGI, and Detective Pikachu actually managed to skirt around that totally. The only pokémon I found particularly creepy were Mr. Mime and Lickitung, and… I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to be creepy. The film is also gorgeously shot; it was done in 35mm instead of digital, and the colors are just rich and wonderful. Apparently the cinematographer wanted it to look like Blade Runner and I cannot tell you how much I love the juxtaposition of the two films in my head now.

The plot’s pretty simple: Tim Goodman (played excellently by Justice Smith) has been long estranged from his police detective father–and has also given up his childhood dream of being a pokémon trainer to become an insurance adjuster. Then he’s brought to Ryme City, where pokémon and humans coexist as equal partners, by news that his father has died. When he goes to clear out his dad’s apartment, he discovers a mysterious substance… and a dear-stalker-wearing pikachu who can talk like a human (Ryan Reynolds, in particular) and insists they need to work together to investigate the disappearance of Tim’s dad. Along the way, he meets news intern Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), who is looking for story to break.

Like I said, it’s cute. The plot isn’t particularly twisty, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s there to get us from pokémon to pokémon, and it works. What I was really impressed by was how well and succinctly the film handled world-building and information dumps that really didn’t feel like information dumps. As someone who wasn’t really into the games, I know I definitely missed some in-jokes. But at no point was I ever lost about what was going on. I’ve been reliably told there’s one sort of pokémon versus pokémon fight that didn’t quite work mechanically, but who knows, maybe that was even a thing in there to give the nitpickers something to have fun with.

So yeah. Fun, kids safe, still amusing for adults. Not much more I could ask for. Well, except for one thing, which I will put behind the cut because IT’S A SPOILER.

We need to talk about the villain, Howard Clifford, played by Bill Nighy. First off, it’s fucking adorable that because of this movie, Bill Nighy is now super into pokémon. What’s less adorable is that Howard is basically the only disabled character we see in the film–it’s a plot point that he has a degenerative medical condition, and that’s what made him travel the world and study pokémon, hoping for a cure. That mostly marks a missed opportunity, because there could have been some really cool background stuff showing pokémon acting as service companions, basically. The only time we see something like that is Howard’s ditto transforming into a human form so it can push his wheelchair, which is at least something.

But then there’s Howard’s villainous plan, which… kind of doesn’t even make sense? It’s framed as being about him wanting to get out of his (disabled) body and take over Mewtwo’s body which… okay, I guess I can understand that as a desperation move from a man who knows he’s only going to get sicker (and in more pain? his condition is very poorly defined) even if really problematic? Where I lose the plot is him deciding that now he’s riding around in Mewtwo, the way to go is definitely melding all humans with their pokémon partners?

Basically, if this is about Howard having studied pokémon and decided that the next evolution of all humanity is to meld with them, then I think that would have worked JUST FINE as his villain motivation. The movie making it about his disability–again, when he’s the only apparently disabled character in the film–is not great. And then that decision doesn’t feel like it even makes much coherent sense with where he takes the plan next. It’s a sour note in an otherwise really fun and cute movie.

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