The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

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The last time I saw a Pokémon movie was the winter of 1998 — Pokémon: The First Movie took its sweet time arriving to Patch Barracks theater in Stuttgart, Germany, and at age seven, I fully expected a cinematic classic. Upon departing the theater, I felt utterly betrayed (and envious of my father, who slept from start to finish!), and I never saw a Pokémon movie of any type in theaters ever again. Today’s new release, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu takes a turn in the right directon, moving to live-action and using ridiculously cute CG representations of the Pocket Monsters themselves, and attempting a relatively comedic take on film noir.

Based on the 2017 Nintendo 3DS video game Detective Pikachu, we follow the story of Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), a young man who just lost his estranged father, Harry, a detective, in an accident. Taking a journey to the mysterious Ryme City to collect his belongings, Tim gets more than he bargained for when he comes upon his father’s partner Pokémon — a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds, Once Upon A Deadpool) wearing a deer stalker, who speaks fluent English, but only to Tim’s ears. In addition to being an amnesiac guided by the next cup of coffee that touches his super cute fuzzy lips, Pikachu believes that Harry is alive, and that the case they were working on has to be solved. The game is afoot, and it will take the help of put-upon intern Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton, Supernatural) and her explosive Psyduck to solve the case, one that will lead right to an old menace and a new threat.

When Detective Pikachu is at its best, it’s focusing on the things that made the series so great — big ol’ battles, buddying up with an obscenely adorkable creature that doesn’t exist in real life and having a blast with both, but when it isn’t at it’s best, it comes off as a poor man’s live-action Zootopia; make of that what you will. The story varies in quality — from moment to moment, you think you’re in the dark of what’s going to happen, and then the movie pulls old tricks out of the book, and you have the story pegged. It’s nowhere near as corny as The First Movie was (no cry-back-to-life here, folks!), but it’s such a letdown to have few surprises in this story. Also, the estranged relationship between Tim and Harry comes off as a stale afterthought by the end, which is a big mistake in a day and age when boys, and even girls, are without their fathers in their lives.

Still, director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens) is to be commended for making a live-action film based on a video game that isn’t an audio-visual atrocity — technically speaking, this is a marvelous effort, with the Pokémon shown looking hyper-realistic (a la the brilliant Alita: Battle Angel) and still cuddly and cute as can be. Props also go to the actors in question, acting against almost nothing at all and still providing realistic reactions and performances — bringing to my mind two wonderful examples of such, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Bumblebee. Further props to Letterman for shooting entirely on Kodak 35mm film, providing a unique look in a digital age, and echoing the feel of 1960’s detective flicks.

Characters and their actors are not entirely successful — Justice Smith is terrific as Tim and brings the necessary angst of an abandoned child to the role with the needed tenderness he slowly builds toward his partner Pokémon. Reynolds is somewhat confused as to whether or not the movie is rated PG (sidenote: it is), and it’s really unnerving having him make jokes about Tim having last talked to a woman while he was in the birthing canal. I realize that an R-rated version of his jokes were recorded, but it’s so pathetic to be shoving that stuff in a movie largely intended for general audiences. Newton is charming as Lucy, is even cuter when she tries to be mysterious, and a prime example of how to write tough ladies in movies. Bill Nighy (Love Actually), playing Howard Clifford, the mysterious founder of Ryme City, is clearly having a better time in franchiseland than he did on either of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but he’s not in it nearly as much as he should be. Still, he has more screentime than he did in the remake of Total Recall, and by all accounts, he had a ball making it.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is leagues ahead of the misery that was The First Movie, and might be the finest adaptation of a video game yet, but it’s bogged down by some tired plotlines, a few foul jokes and a weak story about the importance of a relationship between a father and son, something that needed to be stressed moreso. I can’t recommend it as a family film, and not so much as a film for the layman, but still, if you, the fully-grown reader, even remotely love Pokémon, you will have a ball, even if it’s only for visual callbacks to the characters we grew up with — this movie does nostalgia better than Ready Player One ever could have!

Rating: 3.5/5

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The End is the Beginning is the End

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SPOILERS AHEAD

To end a motion picture saga is a daunting task — from Richard Marquand to Peter Jackson to David Yates, it’s a heavy cross to bear, and not all of them are successful. Under lesser hands, Avengers: Endgame, the recently-released closer of Marvel Studios’ Infinity Saga, could have wound up a massive disappointment (a la Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Godfather: Part III), but Cleveland’s own Anthony and Joe Russo pull one last trick out of the hat that impresses your heart as it does your intellect.

First things first: if you haven’t seen any of the previous films, don’t go thinking you can jump in and enjoy this; you have your work cut out for you in 21 preceding increments, so do it — that’s not a request. If you HAVE kept up, you are in for the ride of your life. At times, this Avengers feels like the best video game you’ll never get to play, and yet, it’s so damn satisfying. Every loose end that needed to be tied up was lovingly tied up and wrapped in the most lovely paper, while still leaving enough leeway to continue the story in a suitable way.

Franchise fatigue doesn’t happen with Marvel, and this is due not just to Kevin Fiege and the Russos but also to erstwhile screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, who have stuck with the journey since Captain America: The First Avenger. Written strongly and with great knowledge of what came before, the film never feels confusing, despite traveling between timeframes and setpieces, and they are equal parts of the glue that holds the franchise together.

Fatigue is also not to be found in our actors — saying farewell to the role that made him a star once again, Robert Downey Jr. gives Iron Man his best hurrah, ending a role that began in 2008 with sacrifice and dignity. Similarly, Chris Evans bids a surprising farewell to Steve Rogers with the happy ending he always deserved. Some have complained about the sacrifice of Black Widow, claiming she was, in the nerd vernacular, “fridged,” but I beg to differ; it was a fitting farewell to a character who began chronologically as a villain, and if it was good enough for Scarlett Johannson, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

Villains on the brain, Thanos is, as he was, a monster, brilliantly portrayed as before by Josh Brolin, bringing an unholy threat to life with all the necessary menace of a terrorist mastermind and all the calculating daring of a stalker. Can we give Oscars to mocap performances yet? Not that it matters, for reasons I’ll mention later. A surprisingly great turn comes from Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, grieving for his lost family and dealing with it by killing off merciless criminals. Far from the pretty face with a bow and arrow he was in Thor, Renner has become one of the best Avengers in the group; a truly dynamic paradigm shift. Mark Ruffalo returns as Bruce Banner and, at long last, the Hulk, and brings an unexpected, healthy dose of warmth to the situation. A mark of great versatility goes to Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, showing his range beyond the usual dumb comedies he was once known for. Karen Gillan is in fine form as Nebula, an integral part of the universe now, and better written than ever. Chris Hemsworth plays Thor in a seemingly comedic turn, having gotten fat drowning his sorrows post-Thanos, but comedy of this ilk stems from pathos, and he brings both to the forefront with ease.

That being said, whomever feared a turn to DC levels of darkness and dread will also be pleasantly surprised by an abundance of quality gags in the film, and they alleviate the tension where necessary, while furthering the story. Technically speaking, as with Avengers: Infinity War, this installment was filmed entirely with IMAX cameras, and it brings great, expanded scope to this final journey taken by the Russos. See it that way, preferably in IMAX 3D, or else you’re wasting your money.

I’ve seen Avengers: Endgame three times now, and each time cements stronger the two words that came to mind when I first saw it — pure perfection. It’s the greatest closer to a saga since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and it further proves that Marvel Studios has something of far greater worth than Oscars — they have the love of the multitudes, spanning races, religions and generations. To put that into perspective, famed actor Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, was once asked if he received any royalties from repeat showings of said movie, and his response was pure and simple: “No residuals — just immortality.”

Rating: 5/5