You can catch all the action now that “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is available on home video.

Of the various games and crazes to come out of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, there is none still so active and prolific as the Pokémon games. First created as a card-based game which gamified Satoshi Tajiri’s childhood passion for collecting insects, it spawned video games, cartoons, animated films, and more that continue to this day. If you didn’t play the original card game, then you watched the cartoon. If you didn’t do those, you probably played the video games which dominated most Nintendo handheld systems. But even if you didn’t do all of those things, chances are you’ve been touched by the augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go which released in July 2016 and has kept players on the move in the real world as they try to capture, train, and battle various creatures. There’ve been at least four Pokémon movies up until now, but Pokémon Detective Pikachu marks the first live-action attempt, partially inspired by the Detective Pikachu video game. Whether or not an audience thinks the film succeeds depends mostly on expectation and not knowledge, a strange and unexpected realization. If you expect a rousing, action-packed adventure, you’re going to be disappointed. Rather, the Rob Letterman-directed (Monsters vs. Aliens) film is a slow neo-noir that is more interested in telling a straight mystery that just so happens to feature mythical creatures than in being an action epic. With the right expectations, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a strangely bold take for a PG-rated family film.

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L-R: Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu and Justice Smith as Tim Goodman in POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU.

Outside Ryme City lives Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 21-year old insurance adjuster who once dreamt of being a Pokémon trainer. He left that idea behind when his mother died and his father grew distant. After several years of estrangement, Tim gets a call from Lieutenant Hide Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) that his father’s been in an accident. Resigned to finalizing his father’s affairs and closing this chapter in his life, Tim unexpectedly runs into his father’s Pokémon partner, a Pikachu with amnesia. Even more startling, Tim understands every word that Pikachu says as though they were speaking the same language (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). A reluctant partnership is formed as the pieces of information from the police don’t add up and, slowly, the two realize that there may be more at stake than the fate of Tim’s father.

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Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu in POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU.

If you’re an outside to the Pokémon world like this writer, don’t fret too much about what you think you need to know in order to follow along. First and foremost, Pikachu is a father-son story executed through a noir framework. This structure is fairly familiar to most audiences so the only potential distance-creating aspects are the Pokémon themselves. Gratefully, experience with Pokémon is less a requirement for understanding the premise of Pikachu, as the story gives you enough to follow along and get the general gist of who the characters are and their respective abilities. So, if you don’t know your Charizard from your Ditto, or your Squirtle from your Snorlax, that’s fine. Though the film doesn’t spoon-feed the audience information about all the creatures, it drills down into the ones that matter to the story. The creatures themselves are easily distinguished from one another, so tracking who is what is easily accomplished visually, even if you can’t name them. The ones you need to know are given more explanation, if that is needed. For example, a Squirtle is turtle-like and squirts water. No need to dig into that one. Or how about Mr. Mime? Do you really need more here? However, the Mewtwo is a different story. There’s no way to tell who or what it is from visage or name alone, so the powers and abilities are slowly explained over the course of the film, even as the creature is introduced early and whose presence is felt throughout the story. It’s a smart move to ensure that the story doesn’t talk down to the experts and doesn’t lose the newbies. Considering the wealth of information that’s at the disposal of the team of writers who crafted Pikachu, plus the size of the writing staff — story by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, and Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), with a screenplay by Hernandez, Samit, Letterman, and Derek Connolly — you’d almost expect to get inundated with details. Instead, there’s a lovely balance which makes Pikachu easily accessible from the jump.

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Kathryn Newton as Lucy Stevens in POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU.

Now, let’s get into those pesky expectations. All the marketing for Pikachu seemed tailored for two-types of audiences: Pokémon fans and action-lovers. Pikachu certainly gives both of those audiences what they crave, but what most didn’t expect was how these action beats were going to be strung together. Instead of getting a Rampage-style film where Tim uses his Pokémon partner to play rough-and-tumble with the local Pokémon population, it plays more like a child’s version of Blade Runner 2049. Both films are centered on a mystery of identity, both are based in a not-so-different-from-our-own reality, and both refuse to use action unless it’s a means of pushing the characters forward. As an artistic endeavor, it’s laudable. As a child’s film, that’s where the expectations come to bite Pikachu in the rear. That character focus tends to create a sense that the film’s slow or plodding, when in-fact, it’s purposeful and methodical. Father-son stories come in all stripes, but the good ones always focus on the characters, even with the action. That’s what Pikachu does. Action scenes move the story forward, revealing the narrative to the characters or revealing something the characters didn’t know about themselves. It’s never *just* to have an action set-piece, although there are some great ones which all audiences will enjoy. So if you can realign your expectations from jaunty action flick to thoughtful sci-fi, you’ll have a great chance of capturing the energy of Pokémon Detective Pikachu.

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Behind the Scenes: Justice Smith on set of POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU.

Like many Warner Brothers home releases, Pikachu comes equipped with plenty of insider goodies to extend the Pokémon Detective Pikachu experience. There’s an alternate opening featuring Rob Delaney (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw) which more directly introduces Tim as a lonesome cubicle worker and is less fun than the theatrical intro which includes a Pokémon hunt with Karan Soni (Deadpool). There’s a rather fun set of five featurettes totaling 21-minutes in the Creating the World of Detective Pikachu which offers some insight into the creation of the film. On its face, that sounds pretty standard for a home release, but considering that Smith and Kathryn Newton (who portrays intern reporter Lucy Stevens) grew up playing Pokémon and that Ryan Reynolds finally got to make a film his kids could watch, it ends up being pretty fun to go through. Plus, for the cinephiles, they touch on the fact that Pikachu was shot on film, not digitally like most modern movies. The brief Ryan Reynolds video Outside the Actor’s Studio released online as part of the marketing for the theatrical release, but now you can visit it anytime you want. If you missed it, it features his now trademark acerbic wit and a special appearance from his wife and fellow actor Blake Lively. There are, however, two bonus features that make Pikachu a real treat for fans of the Pokémon universe. The first is Mr. Mime’s Audio Commentary which plays over his scene-stealing performance in Pikachu. The blocking and foley work on that scene are by far the most creative in the entire film and his commentary, well, you should find out for yourself. The other is Detective Mode which plays over the regular film. This mode of viewing offers stats on the creatures, insight into the history of Pokémon, and even shows off some making-of footage, all while the films plays. So, if you wondered how big a Cubone is, how they pulled off the Torterra sequence, or just wondered when Pokémon really took off, Detective Mode should be your first visit….after watching the film, of course.

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Behind the Scenes: Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton on the set of POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU.

In the history of gaming-inspired films, it’s with enormous surprise that Pokémon Detective Pikachu might actually be the best among them. Due to the approach from the writing team, there’re aspects for the experts to soak in while the plebs don’t have to worry about learning decades-worth of history all at once. The world of Ryme City is beautiful, thanks in large part to cinematographer John Mathieson (Logan/47 Ronin) who created a futuristic, yet grounded look for the world which makes it feel tangible at every turn. From time to time there’s a certain repetitiveness that will grate on older audiences and the patience the story requires may teeter on tedium. However, if you can reorient your expectations, then this neo-noir for kids will not only entertain, but also surprise. Truth be told, by the end of the adventure, this writer was ready to see what comes next for Tim Goodman and his Pokémon partner.

Bonus Features

4K UHD Combo Pack and Blu-ray Combo Pack:

  • Detective Mode
  • Alternate Opening
  • My Pokémon Adventure
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Welcome to Ryme City
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Uncovering the Magic
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Action
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Colorful Characters
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Bringing Pokémon to Life
  • Mr. Mime’s Audio Commentary
  • Ryan Reynolds – Outside the Actor’s Studio
  • “Carry On” by Rita Ora and Kygo (Music Video)

DVD Special Edition

  • Alternate Opening
  • My Pokémon Adventure
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Welcome to Ryme City
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Uncovering the Magic
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Action
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Colorful Characters
  • Creating the World of Detective Pikachu: Bringing Pokémon to Life
  • Mr. Mime’s Audio Commentary
  • Ryan Reynolds – Outside the Actor’s Studio
  • “Carry On” by Rita Ora and Kygo (Music Video)

Available on digital July 23rd, 2019.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD August 6th, 2019.

Final (Film) Score: 4 out of 5.



Categories: Home Release, Home Video, recommendation, Reviews, streaming

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