Detective Pikachu (2019): A Film That Captures the Heart of Pokémon

Image result for Detective Pikachu poster

        “Detective Pikachu” was not a film I expected to enjoy as much as I did. I grew up with Pokémon Blue and Yellow on the Gameboy, saw some of the original show and traded some cards in Elementary School. I was a casual fan who enjoyed the zoology aspect of it. Pokemon are a cool concept and this film explores the relationship as mutual versus what can easily be interpreted as “dog fights” of the games. This film truly honors the show where Pokémon love the humans they work with.

The film was directed by Rob Letterman who co-wrote it along with Benji Samit, Dan Hernandez and Derek Connolly.

The story follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) as he uncovers the mysterious death of his father, with his father’s partner Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – This is a world that explores the relationship with Pokémon and people. Tim is the base of this, as he doesn’t want his father’s Pokémon since he blames Pokémon for why his father was killed. From this, we get fighting rings, labs trying to control them, mutual relationship in the city and wild in the forest. There is so much diversity to Pokémon that it shows it is far more complicated in this world than at first glance. Most of the action takes place in Ryme City, which is the city where Pokémon and humans live in unity together.

The Pokémon – The Pokémon are easily the best part of the film. Each of them have distinct personalities with Pikachu and Mewtwo being the most distinct. In this world Pokémon and humans have bonded together and each person has a Pokémon of their own. It is a really neat concept and I like how it shows they are intelligent animals. They fight, they get angry at one another but they also care for each other and their humans too. I’d love to see more of them within this universe if we get a sequel.

The Side Characters – The side characters are who really carry the plot. Whether it is Ken Watanabe as Detective Yoshida or Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford…it is these side characters that make the film interesting as they bring a lot of depth to the roles, where our leads by contrast are pretty bland.

Detective Yoshida – Detective Yoshida knew Tim’s father Harry and serves somewhat of a mentor role for Tim, who doesn’t want to be in Ryme City. His Pokémon is a grumpy Snubbull who’s gruffness mirror’s Yoshida’s kindness. I wish we’d gotten more time with him as Ken Watanabe steals every scene he is in.

Mewtwo – Mewtwo is initially presented as the antagonist, as from all appearances it looks like it was the thing responsible for the death of Tim’s father. Over the course of the film we learn it is quite the opposite though as Mewtwo was the one who saved Harry Goodman from the evil machinations of Howard Clifford and his goal to control and rule over Pokémon.

Howard Clifford – Bill Nighy is the big bad and the setup of finding out his plan is great. From all appearances it looks like he is trying to stop his son who appears to be the one experimenting on Pokémon. The reveal comes when Tim finds Howard’s son tied up in the closet and Howard’s Ditto is shown to have been the one manipluting things on Howard’s behalf. It is brilliant as well as this broken man seeking to become a God by putting his mind into Mewtwo and combining people with their Pokémon so he can rule over them. It is very well done and I loved his final fight with Detective Pikachu.

Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu – Ryan Reynolds voices Pikachu and also plays Harry Goodman who we learn was combined with Pikachu by Mewtwo in order to save Harry’s life. Pikachu doesn’t remember what happened that night so we get to see how his relationship forms with Tim, who never had a good relationship with his dad. It is really well done and in the end he fights Howard’s possessed Mewtwo so that Tim can rescue Mewtwo from Howards subjugation. It is really well done fight and Reynold’s sarcastic and cute humor works so well as Detective Pikachu.

Okay:

The Leads – The leads are super bland. Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, though he is at least sympathetic as a kid trying to form a relationship with his dad through his Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Same goes with the other lead Lucy Stevens who is most memorable in that she has an anxious Psyduck while she isn’t afraid of anything, so is always making her Pokémon panicked. They aren’t bad, but they are very one-dimensional and easily the weakest parts of the film.

This was a good film. It is hard to call it great because the leads are so bland. The core reveal in the mystery was touching though. If we return to this world in sequels, chances are I’d be giving it a chance. This movie was far better than it looked like it would be in the trailers. Ryme City is fascinating and I’d watch more Reynolds and Watanabe interacting with Pokémon. If you are a fan of Pokémon, I think you’d love this film.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Good Casting Keeps This Film at Level but the Film Never Reaches Great

   This was the first official “King Kong” movie I’ve ever watched. My familiarity with this genre as far a giant ape interacting humans was only the remake of “Mighty Joe Young” that Disney made back in the 90’s, though culturally I’ve always been familiar with the great ape and the tropes that usually surround his genre. Tropes that I find troublesome that this film does a good job at not using (presentation of islanders as Cannibals ready to sacrifice visitors and of course Kong being attracted to a human lady). Avoiding these tropes gave the film strength, though it suffers from other issues that keep it from reaching greatness.

    The film was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, and produced by Jon Jashni, Alex Garcia, Thomas Tull and Mary Parent.

    The story takes place at the end of the Vietnam War as Bill (John Goodman) wants to get his organization Monarch (organization that researches monsters and was in the last American “Godzilla” movie) to Skull Island while U.S. Forces are still near the Island. He gets the approval is joined by a tracker named James (Tom Hiddleson) an anti-war photographer Mason (Brie Larson) and troops lead by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who when they all reach Island realizes what information Bill was holding back and that Kong is not the worst threat on the Island.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! It is our world but with untouchable islands, monsters underneath the ground and giant creatures that feel complicated emotions and are more complex than us at times.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and really captures the beauty and danger of “Skull Island.” This movie has a lot of color, which is a nice change of pace from WB’s coloring everything in drab and grey (Hell the DC Cinematic Universe). This helped give the story more life when the dialogue wasn’t cutting it.

Colonel Packard – Samuel L. Jackson’s character is very much a Captain Ahab as he is overwhelmed by what he thinks the war took from him (the U.S. leaving Vietnam he took to be his own failure) and in turn he is itching for a fight. We see him become obsessed with taking out Kong after his men die when they bombing Kong’s Island. It finally ends with one of his men turning on him as his care for them lead to his obsession with killing Kong and that being all that mattered. Jackson truly is remarkable in the world.

Hank Marlow – John C. Reilly plays a half-mad pilot from World War 2 who made friends with the Japanese pilot who crashed on the island with him and with the people in the tribe. He is a fun character and we see him facing his fear of the Skullcrawlers and in the end he gets to meet his wife and son back in America. I enjoyed his arc and really enjoyed how this role showed just how great Reilly’s range is.

Kong – Kong is humanized in this! In the film he protects the tribe from the Skullcrawlers who come from below. Kong is the last of his kind and we see him judge humans based off how they treat him. There is a lot of great emotion shown in his eyes on a few different scenes and it is wonderful when we see him team up with the heroes to take out the gaint Skullcrawler.

Okay: The Characters – This is an ensemble cast and because of it being an ensemble cast I never felt that we got to know anyone outside of 2 characters. Mason and James tell us a lot about themselves, but we never see it. They are ciphers that we can put ourselves into but that doesn’t make good character. Goodman’s character gets some exploration too but he ceases to do anything once he reaches Skull Island. His tory is taken over by Colonel Packard. The other two members of Monarch don’t get any exploration at all and are just kind of there. Most of the characters die randomly as well.

The Tribe – The tribe is non-verbal and worships Kong. I like how they are presented in that they aren’t the usual cannibals that these films sadly take the path of doing and they are still complicated as in you mess up their sacred areas, they will kill you. I didn’t put them as a pro only because they exist as one unit when they should have been more explored as individuals.

The Cons: The Sullcrawlers – Like the villains in the new American “Godzilla,” these guys are kind of lame. They are giant two legged lizards that eat and kill anything. They are monsters but their design isn’t memorable or unique and they never felt like a giant threat. Colonel Packard felt like a larger threat than these guys ever were.

Structure is a Mess – At first it looks like Goodman’s Bill is the main character, than he gets killed off and the film tries to make Mason and James the main characters, but that never works because they aren’t written fully formed so minor characters like Reilly’s Hank or antagonists like Packard take over the weight which leaves the structure imbalanced. The ending is also left open as we see that the U.S. army clearly sees Kong when he screams to them. This was stupid given that the film was over and they should have just returned home. In that way I think Franchise management is a big part of what ruined the structure. We had to know we’d see Kong later (that didn’t need to be shown) and in doing so editing the script or better exploring a main character fell to the wayside.

   In the end I still enjoyed this movie enough to call it a good B movie. It isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. It is well cast though which fills in some of the lack of character development as both Hiddleson and Larson have great charisma in their roles, which keeps them from becoming a con. I also enjoyed the idea of Kong as a protector and how fantasy the movie felt with all the giant monsters living under the ground (“Pacific Rim” style almost). I’m curious to see what else happens in this universe and after this film, I may have to give the other “King Kong” films a chance.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Jurassic World (2015): Best Characters Wasted and Not Enough Time With Dinosaurs

Jurassic World

      I’m glad I’m looking back at this Franchise with new eyes because the big special effects and somewhat all star cast could not made this film a good one for me. It is an enjoyable film to say the least, but as far as Monster Films or Action Films go, there wasn’t enough time with a lot of the characters and creatures to be fully invested in it. It had some great moments of action to be sure, and anytime the raptors were present the film soured, but the human characters were not enough to carry this film beyond anything more than a forgettable summer flick.

     The film was directed by Colin Trevorrow who was one of the co-writers along with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver wrote the original story and the world was based off the series by Michael Crichton. The Producers were Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley.

   The story takes place 22 years after the original with the Jurassic World as a now flourishing attraction. This has lead to creating more Dinosaurs and the creation of Indominus Rex, a Hybrid made to bring money. When Idominus escapes it is up to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) the raptor handler, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to stop it and save her nephews who have gone off road as the Park is shutting down and going into lockdown due to Indominus’s breakout.

The Pros: Simon Masrani – I wish the movie had been all about this guy. Masrani is the owner of the Jurassic World and does everything himself. He feels like a fully fleshed out character as he seeks to carry on Hammond’s legacy of teaching people humility and feeling them with wonder. In the end his trying to keep the breakout secret leads to him getting killed though when Indominus releases the dinosaurs from the aviary. There was not enough time with this guy. I would have watched the film of how he came to own the park.

Dr. Henry Wu – This scientist who makes a deal with the military is a pretty interesting guy. He is almost mad scientist like but is honest about what he is doing and the fact that all the dinosaurs in the park are hybrids in one degree or another…they aren’t direct Clones so they don’t even look how they would have looked originally. He is the practical to Masrani’s idealism and if the film had been between these two men it would have been great. B.D. Wong does a great job in the role, and he is reprising his role from “Jurassic Park” where he was one of Hammond’s scientists.

The Velociraptors – The Velociraptors are awesome! Especially Blue who has a lot of personality and is rebelling against Pratt’s control the entire time, though he does come through in the end to protect the humans when Indominus loses control over them briefly, but not before he and his pack kill a lot of soldiers.

Indominus Rex – Indominus feels like a Kaiju or Monster out of any classic monster film. It reeks havoc and is only defeated after a big battle and where it has already one. It is cool we get the psychology of it too as it is isolated and alone for it’s entire life so it is only reactive as all it has known is a cage. It was a great enemy too and it takes a pack of raptors, a tyrannosaurs Rex and all our heroes to finally defeat with some help from an aquatic Mosasauras.

Okay: The Tyrannosaurs Rex – It appears briefly at the end to fight when it released from it’s cage but that is about it. It never felt like a threat the way it usually has in film and turning it into a protector just didn’t work as it had no reason to fight Indominus. It was cool seeing it in action with it’s tiny arms though, it just should have been made relevant much earlier. It felt like fan service.

Okay/Con: Claire and Owen – These two are just archetypes and don’t feel like fully fleshed out characters. They are both jerks who come to see people outside themselves though. So they have something of an arc, but they were not enough to carry the film and even the amazing actors who played them couldn’t save the script.

The Cons: The Kids – The kids are annoying. They are meant to be Spielbergian but the older kid is just crushing on girls when he is away from his girlfriend and the little kid mostly cries and quotes facts. They feel realer than some kids in film but they still feel like a plot device so that Claire and Owen have to save the day, and not characters.

The Military – They are just there to take advantage of the dinosaurs and to make them weaponized. They are wasted and we don’t have any good military characters, which is a shame as they play such a prominent role in the film.

   This was an alright film. I was bored in a few places largely due to the human characters and how they were written, but most scenes with the dinosaurs…especially the Raptors and Indominus were great action. If we’d gotten that sooner and focused on Dr. Wu and the CEO Masrani it could have been great as they posed moral questions and perspectives that never fully got explored. If you are looking for a fun summer blockbuster you will probably enjoy this, though in my personal opinion you’d be better with “Fury Road” or “Inside Out” if you want something much greater than this forgettable enjoyable flick.

Final Score: 7 / 10