Pokemon is a phenomenon. I am old enough to have been there and remember the beginning of the whole thing, originally starting at a count of one-hundred and fifty Pokemon and the show and video games continuing so they cooked up more Pokemon to interact with and sell the toys. Though I have to admit that I’ve grown out of it many people (a lot of my friends included) never did and is still a tenacious hobby. It’s a solid formula for a long-lasting franchise, a world that is inhabited by unique creatures that have also become the world’s obsession, they are used to perform battles that gain the trainer a reputation. It keeps them moving by going to different locations, has a clear goal, a target to focus and work towards and has the collectible angle with all those Pokemon.
But for a simple, done-in-one narrative, is a little difficult, because this franchise doesn’t lend itself to that form of storytelling very well. Oh, there have been movies, I saw the first one in cinemas too. They just aren’t what you would call complete or even focused narratives. You MUST be a fan to watch and enjoy them because they give you no exposition.
Fun Fact: Pokemon translates to “Pocket Monster.”
Well, now we have this movie. An original English speaking version of the franchise. This has a bit of a challenge because it drops us into a world where the Pokemon are well-established part of the world. When you have a character and introduce them to a strange world you can have helpful exposition that explains to the character and us the audience what everything is and how it works, it is a much greater challenge to convey the way the world works through the character going about their lives (for examples of this see Blade Runner and Mad Mad: Fury Road). But anyway Pokemon exist in this world and have for a long time, one young man named Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) who is actually rather uninterested in Pokemon and wants to focus on his future career as an insurance salesman, he and his father Harry are estranged but one day he gets a message that Harry is dead and must come to Rhyme City and sort out his affairs.
When he gets there we are treated to a vibrant movie location. One like Blade Runner, or Rintaros Metropolis or Zootropolis. Of high building, bright colorful advertisements and of course the Pokemon that makeup just as much of the population as the humans. They walk around with them and even play parts for its function. Like some that must direct traffic and others are chefs. At night it becomes a place of deep blacks, smoke where the streets and room are lit by colorful neon lights. This did not need to be this good looking, but it is!
Tim goes to his dad’s precinct and sees his dad’s old partner and then goes to his dad’s apartment. There he looks over the rooms and the bed he made for Tim for when he’d visit but never did when he hears movement in the other room. In there he finds a Pikachu, the most iconic and recognizable of all Pokemon but not only this, he can understand the Pokemon and vice-versa. All other Pokemon usually can only say one word, whatever species (or is it breed?) they are, that’s important to know if you didn’t already.
The most grating part of the movie is Pikachu and all the lines he has. Ryan Renolds and his success clearly gave him carte blanche to say all the lines he could think of behind the microphone and the filmmakers put as many of them in as they could in the hopes the audience would eat ’em up. To be fair some are funny, but many of them aren’t and are just him throwing whatever improvised lines he came up with on the day of recording, in one scene when they enter a character’s room and they start speaking to them Pikachu literally says the basics of what the character is speaking. This doesn’t need to be here, but it is and most of the lines are a drag in the narrative.
This is a live action movie and so the Pokemon are inserted through C.G.I. Because of this, they need to be more realistically rendered. This is the right decision but also a challenge. The Pokemon have a wide range of designs but they have never overelaborated on them, they can easily be identified by their silohette and color combination. So from a design perspective they are solid but in bringing them into the real world more that poses a challenge. Luckily they abide by the mentality of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” they take the original character designs and stay true to them and just give them added textures like fur and skin so you buy them in the real sets they have.
Back to it. Tim and Pikachu are both very surprised that they can understand each other but after the initial shock wears off we learn that Pikachu has lost his memories and believes that Tim’s father’s death was no accident. So we have a mystery, a location and an odd-couple duo of boy and Pokemon to lead us through many different avenues of this city where one clue leads them to another location and suspect which takes them to another clue and so on and so on. As a mystery movie, this is a rather solid script, most things play a function and nothing is cheaply thrown in, but well established beforehand.
However when the movie was all done with and even while it was playing out it never really elevated with me. It was just another Noir mystery movie that looked good and was populated with Pokemon. It isn’t particularly mean spirited or shallow but it basically says that you should be a part of this hobby because if you’re not then you are unfulfilled. Which I suppose was, of course, it’s the main goal, this movie wasn’t made to get people to stop playing Pokemon. But it is, from its visuals, to script a solid movie.