Genre: Adventure and Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.
Release Date: May 10th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Rob Letterman Actors: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse
hen Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) receives news that his estranged father has died in a tragic car accident, the young man travels to Ryme City, the visionary metropolis built by industrialist Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), where Pokemon live in harmony with people. Once there, Tim learns from ambitious reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) that his father was killed while working on a big case involving a mysterious drug called “Serum R.” Teaming up with both the determined girl and his father’s partner Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a fast-talking mouse Pokemon suffering from amnesia, Tim begins uncovering clues that lead him first to a sneaky Mr. Mime and then to a secret underground Pokemon fighting club. But as the mismatched trio inches closer to the truth behind Mr. Goodman’s death, they unwittingly stumble upon a massive conspiracy that will put all of their lives in danger.
In the opening moments, a powerful, wicked, monster Pokemon destructively bursts from its containment chamber to wreak havoc on lab technicians and then the outside world, attacking a car before menacingly hovering over further potential victims. Yet it’s still sort of cute; the designs of Pokemon in general lean toward cuddly and fluffy, not slimy and scaly and bloodthirsty. This makes sense, of course, as the film is geared toward youthful audiences, but it also makes genuine suspense a hard-won concept. Even at their most frightening, antagonistic Pokemon aren’t that frightening.
From there, the goofy act of throwing a Pokeball and catching these adorable though wild gremlins is a necessary inclusion, but it’s just one more strain on the suspension of disbelief. Fans will already be entirely familiar with these components of the Pokemon world, but there’s minimal reiteration – or definitions of any kind – for the boundaries of such creations. It becomes most problematic during a climactic, CG-riddled showdown, since superpowers and invulnerabilities are completely imprecise, but even during the introduction there are countless questions for average, uninformed moviegoers.
Nevertheless, the translation of video games (and card games and phone games) into a three-dimensional, bustling landscape of human and Pokemon coexistence (though it’s closer to domesticated pet relationships than it is actual cooperation and cohabitation) is nicely realized, merging a few of the sensibilities of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Zootopia,” and even “The Happytime Murders” into an airy, fairy tale universe of winsome inhabitants and magical potions. When the film attempts to inject emotional drama via relatable human loss and suffering, it falters again, primarily because the cartoonish parameters rarely allow for convincing empirical threats. Far more cohesive is the attention to comedy, whether it’s from acknowledging the childish nature of Pokemon fascination or from one-liners – which range from sexual innuendo to serial killer jests to fart jokes to light cursing. “You feel it in your jellies, don’t you?”
Another hurdle, albeit an easier one to confront, is Ryan Reynolds’ voicework. Hearing Pikachu speak for the first time is understandably jarring – as it is for any famous entity for whom audiences have preconceived notions – but it begins to feel appropriate quite quickly. A few lines in – paired with silly remarks, such as a lack of modesty dictating Pikachu’s comfort in not wearing pants – and viewers will surely embrace the casting decision. It’s much less of a creative encroachment than real-world adversaries (such as a rich, corrupt businessman who controls the media and the police, all while conducting morally questionable genetic experiments on doe-eyed animals; “Humanity is evil!”), crime-solving through extensive flashbacks (which isn’t sleuthing as much as it is merely visualizing exactly how events unfolded), and simplistic mysteries (which, at their most unflattering, resemble Scooby Doo undertakings). Intermittent adventure and a hint of romance additionally contribute to a novel effort; Pokemon fans will be delighted at the visual interpretations of a beloved franchise, but the pervasive mildness of it all makes for an easily forgettable production.
– The Massie Twins