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Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

Year: 2019
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Rob Letterman
Writer: Dan Hernandez/Benji Samit/Rob Letterman/Derek Connolly/Nicole Perlman
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Katherine Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora

Here's another one I normally wouldn't have bothered with in a million years unless some of the reviews made it seem like it might actually have smarts and inventive visuals in with its family-friendly themes.

And I mostly wasn't disappointed. It's set in the world every 90s kid worth his or her salt knows well, where weird little animals called Pokemon exist and people can capture and befriend them, engaging them in battles that garner acclaim and success and which cause the animals to evolve into bigger, stronger forms. As a gen xer I never saw the appeal myself.

But like other recent examples I've talked about like The Happytime Murders, Downsizing and Bright, it's the jumping off point to some very successful world-building in which the characters are perfectly used to things no matter how unusual they are to us, and where the script does a seamless job of showing how it works amongst the more immediate stuff about character and action.

Tim (Justice Smith) is a former Pokemon trainer who's given up on his old hobby and just wants to keep his head down and mourn the loss of his mother. But when news breaks that his estranged cop father has been killed in a car crash near a top secret Pokemon research lab, it drags Tim unwillingly into a conspiracy that (predictably) goes to the top of the Pokemon world thanks to a rich industrialist (Bill Nighy) and his self obsessed son, a man who apparently intends to unleash a new breed of fearsome Pokemon on the world so he can rule it... or something.

The details of the plot hardly matter, and while it has its roots in a quite fun noir mystery archetype, you've seen it before. What you haven't seen before is for that archetype to be situated somewhere like this. As soon as Tim starts to wonder what's going on and what his father was really involved with, a smart-talking Pokemon, Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) shows up and for some reason, Tim can understand and speak to him – something no more possible in his world than speaking to animals in ours.

Pikachu's apparently suffered a debilitating memory loss, but like his former friend (Tim's dad), he wants to be a detective and get to the bottom of it, roping Tim into his efforts. It'll take them from the dingy street level warrens of Rhyme City to the top secret lab in a verdant mountain range and – along with plucky, spunky reporter Lucy (Kathryn Newton) – Tim finds himself both an erstwhile new family as well as the truth.

Despite the subject matter it's not exactly a kids' film. I mean, it's not serious adult drama or anything, it's built to appeal to teenage/young adult cinema crowds, so it would have been an interesting one to market. They apparently did so successfully however, turning nearly half a billion from a $150m budget. Maybe it was all those 90s kids now taking their own kids to it, although the whole Pokemon world has never really gone out of fashion as far as I've seen.

But the budget gives director Rob Letterman leeway to some interesting things on screen even if he has a fairly pat script to work with. A sequence where an entire mountain range moves and stirs when the mountains turn out to be gigantic turtle Pokemon is a standout, conveying a real sense of size and scope.

I'm not sure what I expected but the script was polished, the visuals had a few nice surprises, and Reynolds' comic patter is enjoyable in almost anything.

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