All the best stuff is made for kids. Monster trucks. Flavor-blasted snack chips. Everything on Cartoon Network. And now: Detective Pikachu, the new Pokémon crime-solving movie (PG) that will very likely be my favorite film of 2019.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is a 21-year-old insurance salesman and something of a loner who learns that his father’s dead (or is he?), and he has to wrap up his affairs. As his train pulls into bustling Ryme City, a wealthy humanitarian (pokétarian?) on TV (Bill Nighy) explains how he established a place where people and Pokémon live in harmony, without battling. He also invites everyone to a parade that’ll bring the whole populace to a single location, thus all but ensuring a third-act showdown in which their way of life is threatened and our hero has to save the day. (We’ll call that Chekhov’s Gengar.)
Tim eventually gets to Dad’s, where he finds a few things he didn’t expect: a young wannabe investigative journalist named Lucy (Kathryn Newton) who’s pretty easy on the eyes, a small vial of unidentified purple fluid that definitely isn’t the first clue to unraveling some massive conspiracy, and an over-caffeinated Pikachu with the voice of Ryan Reynolds. Shocked that Tim can understand what he’s saying (most people just hear his delightful pika-pika squeaks), the pint-sized, lightning-bolt-tailed furball explains how he thinks Tim’s dad is still alive and that something shady is going on.
From there, it’s Pokémon and people solving crime together. Mysteries are answered, relationships forged. Diplo Diplos behind the booth at an underground battle. Etc.
Reynolds is Pika-perfect as our electrified yellow sidekick—the irreverent little guy is essentially Deadpool dialed back 97 percent, with one-liners about farts and coffee instead of ball-fondling and penetration. Justice Smith, a relatively fresh face you might recognize from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, plays the charming, slightly self-conscious Tim with winning sweetness.
If you’re a now-grown fan who played Pokémon Red and terrorized your mother for those thin foil-wrapped packs of cards in the Walmart checkout line, you’ll catch plenty of easter eggs. Mewtwo is back as the bad guy—a cool development that people who spend arguably “too much” time reading fan theories will realize could connect the flick to Pokémon Red and Blue. This detective movie actually might not be a one-off: Director Rob Letterman recently told GameSpot that he “really wanted to connect it to the overall Pokémon universe,” hopping ever so gracefully onto the the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “let’s franchise this bitch” coattails.
Casual Pokémon masters can chuckle at references to the bits of trivia still rattling around their brains—Magikarp really does suck, am I right?—but there’s something here even for the utterly uninitiated.
Between extended chases through abandoned government labs and footage of exploding cars, it’s chock-full of what we all want out of our pocket monster movies: heart. When Tim breaks down about his strained relationship with his dad in front of his new Pokémon pal, Smith’s onscreen tears might get you doing that no-really-my-eye-is-just-itchy thing. It’s as tenderhearted and refreshingly anti-macho as it is fun.
Plus, and I cannot stress this enough: Rita Ora plays a scientist.
Detective Pikachu is no universe-altering superhero saga like Endgame, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s adorable and it’s goofy and it warms your heart. And it’s not even two hours long—who knew they made movies that short anymore? You won’t even sense the first strains of an over cola’d bladder by the time the (kickass) credit sequence rolls.
Oh, right. Because it’s for kids.
Director: Rob Letterman
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton
Theater: Now playing, area theaters