I’m gonna kick off this review with the stinging chill of full disclosure: Pokémon is an alien phenomenon to me. The parking lot of my old workplace was some kinda hot spot for Pokémon Go players, so people of all ages use to congregate in all kinds of weather and comb the blacktop terrain for some rare in-game…thingy. I don’t know if I felt more like Walter Matthau or Andy Rooney, but watching this fad unfold transformed me into a crinkly, bushy-browed curmudgeon. That being said, I know everybody’s got their thing, and I respect the hell out of that. When you read the rest of this review, just imagine it’s from the perspective of that old guy with the snow shovel in Home Alone.
So, Pikachu whisks us to an alternate, near-future Earth, where li’l cute Pokémon creatures have been around since the dawn of man. They were adorable sidekicks to the Pharaohs and Roman Consuls. (Note: We cut to some ancient drawings of Pokémon in Egypt, and I would’ve awarded this thing five stars if they had shown Amun-Ra proclaiming, “It’s over 9000!“) People take on Pokémon companions for their various appearances, personalities, and abilities. I think. Young Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) sells insurance and suppresses some serious family-related grief. Things get even darker when Tim’s dad is missing and presumed killed, the result of a Poké-related cover-up. Tim starts to investigate, only to find that an adorable Pikachu (voice of Ryan Reynolds) is also hot on the trail for his own reasons. They team up with an intrepid young reporter (Kathryn Newton) to get a pika pika into the truth.
This Pokémon moves at a decent clip, with some spot-on special effects. Reynolds adds just the right dose of surly sarcasm to his cutesy-poo creature, which gives a noob like me something to chew on while the inside references fly right over my head. Goodman finds a nice blend of smarts and naive charm for his young protagonist. Newton threads a difficult needle as a Lois Lane-type whiz who must be ambitious but not overbearing. Finally, Bill Nighy shows up to add a little gravity to the proceedings. He’s eccentric, he’s British, and he’s in a wheelchair…so you know the dude’s gotta be a straight-up villain. The only thing missing here is a fluffy white cat.
All of this would probably mean a lot more if the whole Pokémon thing was my bag. It’s kinda like goulash: I enjoy it just fine, even if I don’t understand exactly what it is. Hell, Stars Wars is just a buncha dudes in taupe bathrobes with glow sticks if you don’t have the context. The good news is that if you are initiated into the world of Pokémon, I suspect this movie will sate your thirst. I’ll just be over here with my Werther’s Originals, hoping the hippie neighbor kids will turn down that damn stereo.