Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy

Director: Rob Letterman

Writers: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly


Detective Pikachu is a weird idea even for Pokémon, and we’re talking about a franchise whose whole concept is about prepubescent children travelling around the world and pitting their captive, magical pets against each other in combat. We’re talking about a franchise that has designed creatures resembling a walking three-headed palm tree, a humanoid mime-clown-dummy hybrid, and an obese drag queen wearing blackface. We’re talking about a franchise that infamously had an episode of its animated series banned overseas because it featured an underage girl getting ogled at in a beauty contest and an effeminate man sporting fake breasts and a bikini. If ever there was a franchise for which you can always count on the unexpected, this is it. And yet I still could not have predicted that their first ever venture into the realm of live-action cinema would have included a hard-boiled Pikachu with the voice of Deadpool wearing a deerstalker hat and solving crimes. What’s even stranger is how surprisingly ordinary that story ended up being. It’s like when Andy Kaufman took the stage to perform a comedy bit, only to nonchalantly eat a bowl of ice cream; you’re caught so off guard by the lack of payoff that you wind up laughing at the non-jokiness of it all. This movie embodies a similar oxymoron whereby it’s too strange to be ordinary and yet too ordinary to be strange.

The movie is set in Ryme City, a truly breathtaking metropolis that dazzles the eyes with how fully realised and brimming with life it is. With its shadowy, rain-soaked, film-noir ambience and its neon-lit, futuristic aesthetics, Ryme City looks like it could inhabit the same universe as Blade Runner were it not for the peculiar and wonderful creatures that inhabit it. In a world where Pokémon are typically treated as prize fighters and held in confined spaces except when called upon to do battle for human amusement, the celebrated inventor Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) founded this city as a utopia where humankind and Pokémon could live side by side in harmony. It is a place where Pokémon are free to roam around of their own accord, perform jobs and community services (we see, for example, a Machamp directing traffic) and are essential to the community’s way of life. As is often the case in these kinds of stories, the city also has a hidden underbelly where the seedier members of society gather to partake in such illicit activities as illegal Pokémon battles. The obvious comparison here is Who Framed Roger Rabbit which similarly paired human beings with childish cartoon characters in a detective story with comedic overtones. While Ryme City is further removed from our own world than the L.A. of the Robert Zemeckis film, the level on which the movie’s vision of its fantastical utopia is so total and absolute that even those who are total strangers to the world of Pokémon will be drawn in.

Or they might were their introduction to the city not seen through the eyes of such a bland protagonist. Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is a young accountant who gave up on all dreams of being a Pokémon trainer as a kid when his mother died. Despite his friends’ attempts to draw him out of his reclusive lifestyle by seeking out a new Pokémon companion, Tim favours a lifestyle as mundane and nondescript as his personality. His life is shaken up however by a phone call from Ryme City telling him that his estranged father, a detective, was killed in the line of duty along with his Pokémon partner, a Pikachu. Tim comes to the city to put his father’s affairs into order only to find in his apartment the Pikachu, alive and speaking in a voice that only Tim can understand. Pikachu, the adorable mouse-like thunder child with a penchant for coffee and snarky one-liners, explains that he and Tim’s father were investigating an unknown, gaseous substance that infects Pokémon with a rabid state of enragement and that they were closing in on the truth when the car crash that took the detective’s life occurred. From here the movie turns into a buddy-cop comedy as the unlikely duo set out to learn the secret that got Tim’s father killed.

While Smith does what he can to endear the audience to this blank slate of a character and gets in a few amusing looks of befuddlement and frustration as he’s dragged all around the city from one crazy encounter to the next, the real star of the show is his electrifying co-star. Offering a PG, family friendly spin on his Deadpool persona, Reynolds steals scene after scene as the cute, fast-talking, caffeine-addicted Pokémon. The visual effects employed in bringing the lovable critter to life are stunning, favouring a photo-realistic look without sacrificing his cartoon expressiveness and agility. The film is so good at having Pikachu move around the space of a given scene and interact with the environment in ways that Roger Rabbit could only have dreamed of that the illusion never breaks even for a second. The CGI animating him is so richly textured that even when his fur gets wet, dirty or charred, it still looks physical and authentic. The animation on the Pokémon throughout, of which there are dozens, is just as spectacular with some personal highlights being Lickitung living up to its name, an interrogation scene where the duo tries to get Mr. Mime to talk, and Psyduck’s explosive headache. The movie is at its best when focusing on the Pokémon at its disposal, especially Pikachu, and thankfully that’s most the time.

The story itself is pretty thin, especially when compared to Roger Rabbit which did such a great job of tying its mystery plot with some rather pointed satire and social commentary on demographics in Los Angeles and show business. Here the puzzle Tim and Pikachu must unfolds in a pretty predictable fashion and at the very end it doesn’t have all that much to say about anything save the usual themes of family and companionship that you’ll see in most children’s films. Even then the way it tries to tie it all together to Tim’s tragic backstory, particularly the fractured relationship with his father, never really lands the way that it should and it feels like the whole idea needed just a few more revisions at the screenplay stage. There is however some Enid Blyton Famous Five charm to the mystery insofar as it serves as an excuse to place the young characters into all of these scrapes that they only narrowly escape. Adding to that effect is the inclusion of Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a rather underwritten character who would have amounted to little more than a token love interest were it not for Newton’s spirited performance, embodying her as a cross between Nancy Drew and a 1930s Hollywood newspaper movie heroine. I was especially a fan of her spotlight reveal, which felt like a vintage film noir flourish.

A weak plot and an uninteresting hero are significant problems for a film to have, which is why Detective Pikachu will never be an all-time classic, but they aren’t fatal when there is so much wonder and splendour to enjoy in the magnificent designs and enchanting creatures that make up this world. There are moments, few and far between but still, where the movie almost feels like it could’ve been a Ghibli production, where it attains a state of visceral wonderment that almost transcends such feeble things as plot. Perhaps the problem comes from taking a Japanese property, a profoundly weird one at that, and trying to conform it to Western storytelling conventions. Perhaps a version of Detective Pikachu that leant more on the wild fantasy-adventure and eye-popping unearthly spectacle of its video game/anime origins would have given us the movie that a smarter plot and a more interesting lead never could. But that’s a guessing game. For what it is, this is a pretty fun movie boasting an outstanding visual oeuvre (as realised by Letterman and cinematographer John Mathieson) that feels so refreshingly unlike anything else being made in Hollywood today. While it isn’t exactly the best like no one ever was, it is a thoroughly enjoyable watch and I’d like to see a lot more of where it came from.

★★★★

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Deadpool 2

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapičić, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy, Terry Crews

Director: David Leitch

Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds


Comedy sequels are always a tricky business and I could probably count the number of movies that have actually pulled it off on one hand. The circumstances vary but the main problem is usually more or less the same; great comedy is nearly impossible to replicate. When a terrific and unique work of comedy comes along it’s almost like the stars aligning or lightning being captured in a bottle but, once the audience is wise to the concept and the brand of humour, it becomes far more difficult to keep the novelty as fresh, original and surprising as it was before. What makes it even more challenging is that many of the comedies that receive sequels simply don’t lend themselves to expansion. After a premise has been exhausted, sequels will try stretching the humour past the original concept (Little Fockers), changing the format (Evan Almighty), replacing the cast (Dumb and Dumberer), upping the ante (Anchorman 2), or simply repeating what the original did beat-for-beat in an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ kind of approach (The Hangover 2).

When Deadpool was released in 2016, its significance was not to be doubted. It was a project that had taken years to get running, it was made on a much smaller budget than any other superhero movie would have received, and it rejected all studio attempts to make it more mainstream and PG. Miller and Reynolds had to fight to get Deadpool made and the result of their labours was a smash hit that won acclaim for its obscene, quick-fire, fourth-wall-breaking humour and its satirical take on the superhero movies dominating Hollywood. This time around, having proven that R-rated movies can be enormously successful, not only does the creative team have the total confidence of 20th Century Fox and double the budget, it also has the burden of expectation and hype to live up to. It’s in a better position than most comedy sequels thanks to the original comic books with its canon of characters and stories for the movie to draw from, but in order to succeed it still has to try and do what all other comedy sequels have to try and do: replicate without repeating.

The movie once again follows Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), who has kept up the super-anti-hero gig after being reunited with girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) in the first film, on his escapades. X-Men members Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) enlist his help in relieving a stand-off between unstable mutant Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) and the Mutant Re-Education Centre where he was abused by the staff. Deadpool succeeds in talking him down but then finds that he must protect Russell from an even larger threat, a cyborg mercenary called Cable (Josh Brolin) who has come from the future to kill the boy. To stop him Deadpool and Weasel (T.J. Miller) form a team of mutants (the derivatively named X-Force) that includes Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose power is that she’s “lucky”, Bedlam (Terry Crews), who possesses electro-magnetic abilities, and Peter (Rob Delaney), a guy who thought that being part of a crime-fighting team might be quite fun.

When I saw the original Deadpool, I remember my one major criticism being that the story was quite thin. On rewatch I tried to look at it as a parody of the bland, by-the-numbers plots that superhero movies often have, but it instead became clear to me that Deadpool was simply a funny and entertaining movie with a bland, by-the-numbers plot. Deadpool 2 has a similarly formulaic plot but is at least more self-aware about it than before (in the middle of the second act Wade assures us that if everything goes to plan, we’ll all get to go home early because there’ll be no need for a third act). It also follows the same pattern of being laugh out loud funny except when it’s being serious and it does work in that the funny moment are funny and the serious moments are affective. I just kind of wish that the movie was better at being both at the same time the way that Edgar Wright’s movies can be.

What Deadpool 2 is more than anything else though is bigger than before. More gags, more action set-pieces, more explosions; this movie goes all-out in its effort to out-do the original. There are more characters with a larger variety of powers than before (the highlight here is Domino, whose power turns out to be a lot more cinematic than Deadpool thought), there’s a wonderful chase/fight scene in the middle that thrills and amuses in equal measure, there are dozens of funny, memorable jokes and pop-culture references from Deadpool’s anger at having his own movie get outdone by Logan to the observation that ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’ from Frozen and ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me?’ from Yentl have suspiciously similar melodies to the funniest X-Men cameo since Wolverine’s ten-second appearance in First Class, and leading the charge is Ryan Reynolds who continues to give 110% in every frame. Brolin is also a great addition as Cable, an antagonist who, rather than being a spoilsport while everybody else has fun, gets some laughs of his own through deadpan deliveries and his growing frustration and befuddlement with Deadpool’s antics.

As far as comedy sequels go, Deadpool 2 is comfortably up there with Shrek 2 and 22 Jump Street. It expertly avoids the trappings that other comedy sequels fall victim to by reproducing the humour without recycling the jokes, moving the characters and their stories forward rather than falling back on the status quo from the previous film, and by being all-round creative, clever, and competently-made. Deadpool 2 is funny when it wants to be (another highlight I want to point to is when the musical score in one scene includes an epic choir singing “Holy shitballs!”), serious when it wants to be and action-packed when it wants to be and it’s more or less what you expect it to be, but in a good way. This is a film that knows exactly what it is and is very good at it. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel the way Deadpool did, but it doesn’t have to. It’s basically more of the same, but done a little bit differently with a little bit extra and that’s enough. It does what it does, takes its shots, fucks some shit up, and those who liked the first Deadpool will find plenty to like in its follow up.

★★★★

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, Richard E. Grant

Director: Patrick Hughes

Writer: Tom O’Connor


This is the story of two men who are both pretty bad guys. One’s an infamous hitman who kills bad guys. The other’s a professional bodyguard who protects bad guys. Circumstances force the two to put aside their differences and work together to take down a really bad guy. Wacky hijinks ensue. The odd couple trope is older than time and has been used again and again in dozens of movies from In the Heat of the Night to Rush Hour to Toy Story. This time the movie brings together a movie star so coarse and badass that he has practically turned ‘motherfucker’ into a catchphrase and another who has somehow managed to build a persona combining profanity and perversity with childlike lovability. Together they make a movie that is neither more nor less than exactly what you would expect it to be: an over-the-top buddy movie with a lot of shooting, chasing and cussing to boot.

The hitman is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), the world’s most notorious assassin, now incarcerated. He becomes the last hope for a prosecution’s case against the heinous Belorussian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) and so Darius agrees to testify against him in exchange for the release of his equally coarse and vicious wife Sonia (Salma Hayek), also serving time for one of her husband’s crimes. Dukhovich’s reach however is very far and Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung), the agent charged with escorting Darius, soon learns that the police and secret service are all compromised. Thus she trusts Darius’ charge to her ex-boyfriend Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), the formerly triple A rated now-disgraced executive protection agent. Together Michael and Darius must reach The Hague before Dukhovich’s trial is dismissed at 5 pm the next day while combatting the henchmen hot on their trail and each other.

This is a very dumb film and, in many ways, it is quite a generic film as well. It is just Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds being Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds and the story goes exactly how you think it would. Darius is a reckless psychopath who always charges ahead without thinking things through, which brings him at odds with Michael who is altogether more cautious and exact with his methods and wants to reach The Hague without any incident whatsoever, living by his oft-repeated motto “boring is always best”. They butt heads and hit a couple of detours along the way but we all know that eventually they’re going to start seeing eye-to-eye once they realise that they make a pretty good team. What makes it works is that Jackson and Reynolds are both so good at playing their respective personas and their chemistry is electrifying. No matter how predictable (gee, I wonder who killed the man Michael was protecting in the opening scene?) or formulaic this shoot-em-up of a story got, it is still very watchable thanks to this epic clash in personalities.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard does suffer from a case of bad timing with its depictions of carnage in London and Europe, both victims of devastating terrorist attacks in recent months, and that does steal away from the fun. It is hard to get caught up in this kind of escapist fantasy with its mindless violence, blazing guns, fiery explosions and a large, anonymous body count when it all feels just a little too close to home. But that’s not the movie’s fault; it’s just bad luck. Like Bastille Day, which was filmed in France before the attacks on the Bataclan Theatre and the Charlie Hebdo office, there is just no way they could’ve seen them coming. Maybe there’s a case to be made that, in light of these recent attacks, studios should strive to make movies that not only refuse to glorify violence and revel in sadism but also challenge those that do, but this is a movie that is not nearly smart or serious enough to take that kind of stance. The deepest this movie ever gets is when it asks whether the guy who protects baddies is worse than the guy who kills them, and anyone who thinks this movie is actually serious about engaging that question in a thoughtful debate is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

This is quite simply a silly, run-of-the-mill action-comedy with two great leads and it will probably hold up better when it comes out on something like Netflix with a little more distance from recent events. Apart from Jackson and Reynolds, who each give 100%, the other standout is Salma Hayek who plays Darius’ perfect woman: strong, beautiful, and positively psychopathic. The scene where Darius recounts the night they met, an evening of bloody murder accompanied by Lionel Richie, is one of the movie’s highlights. It isn’t a clever film, it isn’t an original film, and it isn’t a movie that I feel any particular desire to revisit in the future, but I laughed, I enjoyed watching Jackson and Reynolds go toe-to-toe, and I walked out feeling like I had a pretty good time.

★★★

Deadpool

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić

Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick


In this day and age when every second blockbuster coming out at any given time is yet another superhero movie, it isn’t hard to understand why some audiences are becoming wearied with superhero fatigue. This is why Deadpool feels like such an invigorating breath of fresh air. There isn’t a single superhero movie out there quite like it. It took a character that most audiences were unfamiliar with and portrayed him using a style that defied the family-friendly thrills of the Marvel movies and the dark, gritty action of the DC movies. This is a film that was uninterested in forced tie-ins to other movies, studio-mandated content and PG-13 audience appeal. The Deadpool crew was focused above all on making a good movie that was true to the source material and that is exactly what they made. It is not kid-friendly and it is not inoffensive; it is the gory, sweary, indecent movie that Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller set out to make.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary with a relentlessly twisted sense of humour who finds his perfect match in the equally depraved Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin). Shortly after proposing to her however, Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides he doesn’t want to put her through the ordeal of watching him die. Upon leaving Vanessa, Wade is approached by a mysterious figure who claims that his employer can cure him. This employer turns out to be Ajax (Ed Skrein), a scientist and weapons expert whose experiments subject Wade to an agonising and prolonged period of torture. Wade eventually escapes and discovers that he has acquired enhanced strength and reflexes as well as a healing factor but has also been left horribly disfigured. Adopting an alias as the masked vigilante Deadpool, Wade embarks on a campaign of revenge to track down Ajax and have his disfigurement cured.

What sets this movie apart from every other superhero movie is its wicked sense of humour. From the very beginning all the way to the end, Deadpool is packed with dark humour, fourth wall breaks, over-the-top violence, excessive profanity and visual gags that puts most American comedies out there to shame. At the centre of it all is Ryan Reynolds killing it as the character he has been waiting his whole life to play. He is energetic, charismatic and hilarious as this character and is wholly committed to representing him. Reynolds is an actor I’ve often struggled to go along with, so I’m happy to see that he’s finally found a role that allows him to truly flourish. Deadpool is a supremely entertaining character who perfectly matches the film’s excessive, sporadic, almost cartoonish tone who is at his best when he jumps all over the place dropping F-bombs, slicing heads off and making the most hysterically inappropriate comments possible. I also greatly enjoyed the romance between Wade and Vanessa who share a vibrant chemistry. Their relationship is weird, crazy and unconventional, but it works for them and proves to be quite touching.

Even though Deadpool is identified above all as being a superhero movie, the superhero parts were actually the ones I enjoyed the least. More than anything else it was the humour that made this movie for me. Therefore whenever the film chose to be serious and advance the whole revenge storyline that was taking place, I became less interested. I got that the film needed a villain and conflict in order to progress, but it still felt a little stale to me. Whenever a serious scene came along, it felt to me like a 5-10 minute expository segment I had to sit through in order to get to the good part. It didn’t help that the main villain Ajax was utterly bland and forgettable. The action itself was a lot of fun to watch as it fully embraced its R rating and allowed room for much humour, but I think the comedy may have somewhat overshadowed the excitement.

Deadpool is the exact kind of movie that needed to be made with the blockbuster climate the way that it is. Made with a minimal budget and a surplus of creative freedom, this film has shown definitively that superhero movies do not need to be huge in order to be good and do not need to be all-inclusive in order to be successful. Deadpool is coarse, uncouth, unrefined and unapologetic. It is exactly the movie that it wants to be and is a great pleasure to watch for any viewer not put off by its dark, gimmicky humour or its comically extreme use of violence. My only big issue with the movie is that I found it to be more humourous than I found it to be thrilling. Still, the humour is more than enough to make this an enjoyable movie as it takes just as much pleasure in laughing at itself as it does in laughing at the dozens of other superhero movies that have taken over Hollywood. At the very least, it is certainly a step up from X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

★★★★

The Voices

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith

Director: Marjane Satrapi

Writer: Michael R. Perry


I’m at a loss over what I should write in this review mainly because I think that The Voices, much like Cabin in the Woods, is the kind of film where the audience should go in knowing absolutely nothing. This is a film with such a strange and unconventional concept that it becomes all the more fun if you go in not knowing what to expect. It is a film that throws many surprises at the audience and constantly plays with their perception and expectations. In my opinion any discussion of the plot details would steal away from the element of surprise which is why my recommendation for anyone who enjoys black comedies and isn’t too squeamish is to not read any further. Go watch the film and enjoy. However, since I have a word count to meet, I will go on further about the film for the benefit of those who don’t really care about knowing the plot details. I’ll be careful not to give away anything that you can’t find out from watching the trailer.

Seriously, if you want to be surprised, don’t read any further.

The plot revolves around Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), a guy with a ridiculously sunny disposition. He is always wearing a grin and bright, colourful clothing, he is absurdly polite to everyone in his life, and he seems blissfully clueless about everything. He meets regularly with his therapist Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver) who talks to him as if she were talking to a six-year-old boy and who seems happy with his progress but concerned with the ambiguity of the answers to her questions (“Do you hear voices?” “Not really”). When he develops a crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a sophisticated co-worker in his office, he helps organise the office party in an attempt to get closer to her. It is clear to all, especially Fiona, that Jerry is not a normal guy but he is mostly shrugged off for what most people take to be his harmless goofiness. No one, not even Dr. Warren, realises the true depths of Jerry’s troubled, depraved mind.

The audience is given a twisted insight into Jerry’s mind when he goes home to the apartment that he shares with his pets. There he has conversations with his two alternative personalities, his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers (both voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Bosco is Jerry’s faithful, dim-witted companion who consistently reassures him that he is a good person and Mr. Whiskers is his furtive, abusive abettor who urges Jerry to act upon his baser instincts. The interactions between these three are comedy gold. Jerry’s impulsive nature eventually gets the better of him when an encounter with Fiona ends with him comically stabbing her to death by accident. His innocence is almost endearing as he politely apologises to Fiona’s bloody corpse. He takes the body back to his flat, chops her into dozens of pieces and stores her severed head in his fridge. Later when he tries to move on and forget his crime, Fiona’s head joins in the psychotic conversations as she and Mr. Whiskers impel him to become a serial killer. This compulsion becomes harder to resist when the kind and comely Lisa (Anna Kendrick) starts to show an interest in him.

Ryan Reynolds is someone I’ve never rated as an actor, put he absolutely kills it in this role (pun intended). His childish expressions and goofy mannerisms are perfect for portraying Jerry’s innocent simplicity. Due to a trauma that took place during his childhood, Jerry is very much still a little boy and he lives in a bubble through which he sees the world as this bright, colourful, wonderful place. When Jerry goes back to taking his anti-psychotic medication in an attempt to go back to normal, he becomes frightened and distressed to find that the normal world is a dark, horrible place where his home is filthy and covered in blood and his pets don’t talk. He immediately abandons his medication in order to return to the dream world. Reynolds is absolutely hilarious as he portrays Jerry’s ingenuous struggle to not become a serial killer (and, incidentally, he is also a very decent voice actor).

The film is able to convey a darkly comic tone that adds a light-hearted hilarity over the dark, twisted themes. Everything in Jerry’s world is shown to be lively and vibrant with bright colours and sunshine all round. The film is also able to convey humour through the exaggerated violence and gore that is depicted from a clumsily gruesome murder to a talking severed head. All of this makes for a darkly funny and enjoyably fucked up film. With that in mind, not everyone is going to like this film. Some people are going to find it too silly, some are going to find it too weird, and some are going to find it too messed up. However anyone who is prepared to not take this film seriously and enjoy it for its depravity and weirdness will have a great time.

★★★★