Having seen the Pokémon anime, I went into this expecting a bunch of Pokémon trainers, a gym fight and all those fancy aspirations of becoming the world’s best Pokémon trainer. It instead was an orthogonal adventure that sneakily incorporated all of the above while still being a typical defeat-the-bad-guy adventure.
The movie strays from the usual Pokémon fair in more ways than one. The plot unfolds in a city called Ryme, where the Pokémon and Humans co-habit, instead of being trapped inside a Pokéball. This allows the film to freely exhibit a large variety of Pokémon without the constraints of the canon. It then proceeds to introduce Pikachu as the only Pokémon that our protagonist is able to speak to, which is also a departure from the usual squeaks it makes. To also check things off the above list, we also get to see a token Pokéball capture attempt, an underground gym battle complete with coked-up Pokémon. All of this also serves to further the plot, while providing the ardent fans with things to look out for.
The plot itself is particularly thin and relies heavily on familiar tropes found in other media. I’m certain that even the children know what to expect when a film begins with an all too familiar, bland exposition introducing a corporate bigwig. Blindly reusing tropes is lazy, a disservice to the target demographic, and destroys the importance of the original. Some would say that it is a sin.
The script includes some half-hearted character development for the supporting characters, but its allegiance is given away by the overt focus on the main character Tim. The plot is functional in that it has all the right motivations for the him, but without ascribing any of the agency. For the most part, Tim is being pushed around from one scene to another either by the Pikachu or the myriad supporting cast. The right things just happen to him. Now this could’ve worked, had the story been more original and the remaining characters better developed, but that is not the case. The reporter named Lucy serves simply as a chauffeur who shuttles Tim around town. Tim’s Father’s friend Justice Smith literally stands around, in every scene unable to do anything to the plot. Even the villain’s incapacitation in a wheelchair, is symbolic of his role in the plot. He does nothing but complain, until he is magically conferred with god-like powers.
I think the Ryan Reynolds/Pikachu combination is the only thing that sells this movie. Everything else just barely makes it. On paper, it is a new rendition of Pokémon concept. In reality, it fails to connect with the audience given the subpar plot and undue reliance on token fan service.