‘Pokémon’ Is Better If You Know The Characters

‘I’ ON CULTURE

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a weird little film that is surprisingly fun. I am not a fan of Pokémon. Actually, while I have heard of it, I not only have no knowledge base but lack the interest to get involved. There are all sorts of characters in the movie, which is based on the popular game series. But in a week where most of the films are not very interesting, this one seems at least to be popular. And I surprised myself by enjoying it even while not fully understanding it.

The plot begins with a strange character breaking out of lab and hurting our hero Tim (Justice Smith) by crashing into him with a car. Tim is searching for his missing father and hooks up with a Pokémon character that looks like a teddy bear with a tail like a lightning bolt. It’s sort of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The main difference is that the new characters can do all sorts of strange things like shoot lightning bolts from their hands. Or in the case of Pikachu, from his tail.

The characters are weird with strange names. In this strange city, it is the new kinds of creatures that are interesting. Some are really funny. There was a Mr. Mime hobo that was particularly enjoyable. Actually, it seems most likely that the point of the film was to show the characters more than to have a real plot. Ryme City, where all the action takes place, is fascinating. In the games, which first became popular more than a quarter of a century ago, the whole thing was about fighting between all the creatures. That is not what this is about. This is a sort of gumshoe tale about a coffee-guzzling detective who happens to be non-human. And it is not much of a story.

That is a major weakness. If you are really into the whole Pokémon thing, this must be a blast. I had a quick reminder of a couple of things from the last Avengers film where there were cameos from all over that universe. They generally had little to do with the plot, but it felt nice to see them again. I would imagine the fans of the whole Pokémon thing probably feel the same way about this movie, but it is hard for an outsider to really appreciate it.

What makes the film fun is the voice of Ryan Reynolds, who rises far above the simplistic story. As the voice of Pikachu, he puts things into perspective. It is sort of a PG version of Deadpool. No matter how crazy things are, he has the voice and tone to make it funny. I have no idea why I should be interested in the different weird Pokémonsters. However, the real fans, those who follow the game, probably love it. I know I am an outsider, but I did laugh a lot. And these days, that’s quite a compliment about a movie.

I spoke to a few people leaving the theater who clearly loved the movie. They almost had their own language of in-jokes and bits of trivia about the characters. I could not figure much of it out.

Then I realized I felt the same way they had but about characters from Game of Thrones and Avengers. We have become an audience built heavily on niche programming. If you are a real fan, you do learn a new language. The relationship between Brienne and Jamie on Game of Thrones seems important to you, while friends not interested in the series look at you, wondering why you would care. Occasionally, movies are non-genre, but we see more of them all the time. Of course, a movie like Avengers: Endgame becomes a special niche since so many people are part of it.

That is why a film like this can work. If you are a Pokémon fan, this is definitely a movie for you. Even if not, Reynolds’ voiceovers and wisecracks turn this into an enjoyable bit of fun.

Is it worth the money? Again, if you really like this whole character universe, it is a must-see. If not, you might enjoy the comedy, but it is just a bit over the borderline into the plus column. A bit of fun, but not great fun.

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