When I was walking out of a screening of “Pokemon Detective Pikachu,” a guy turned to his buddies and said, “I didn’t love the movie, but at least I like its universe.”
A lot of current moviegoing has come down to this: You gotta have a universe. Marvel has one, “Star Wars” has one, everybody has one. It doesn’t really matter whether the film is good or not — you check out how it fits in the universe, you spot the inside references, and then you go online and blast anybody who doesn’t appreciate your level of knowledge.
Pokemon, hatched in Japan in the mid-1990s, certainly has made its mark. I took my nephew to see the first Pokemon movie in 1999; this year (this is not a joke) he graduated from a Tokyo university. Coincidence? I think not.
Into this well-established Poke-verse, with its countless games and cartoon adventures, we now have a live-action Pokemon film. For Pokemon experts, there’s a lot to digest.
Officially, it’s from the galaxy that includes Detective Pikachu, in which the little yellow Pikachu character wears a Sherlock Holmes hat and solves crimes. Pikachu meets the human Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, from the last “Jurassic World” movie), and somehow they can hear each other’s languages.
This is good, because Ryan Reynolds provides Pikachu’s voice, and that’s an expensive hire if all he says is, “Pika pika.” In fact, Reynolds is one of the movie’s saving graces, at least for anybody over 12 years old. His trademark smartass persona survives intact here.
Pikachu and Tim are occasionally aided by a plucky reporter (well, an unpaid intern writing “Pokemon listicles all day”) named Lucy (Kathryn Newton, late of “Blockers”). They’re trying to find out what became of Tim’s estranged dad, a plot that leads to the founder (Bill Nighy) of Ryme City, where humans and Pokemon live in harmony.
You have to like the way that when a character in “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” casually asserts that “humanity is evil,” nobody bothers to challenge the claim. This is one of those movies that combine a weird darkness with jokes and kiddie slapstick.
Not that the film is for children; heaven forbid we suggest such a thing. Except in the sense that all movies are for children, at least during the summer season, which seems to last about nine months.
Director Rob Letterman makes one cool sequence with a forest that folds in on itself, and otherwise keeps the material chaotic. The fan service is extensive, with tons of gags that rely entirely on one’s knowledge of pre-existing Pokemon lore.
Is there a movie here? Even with appealing lead performances, and funny rat-a-tat dialogue, “Detective Pikachu” is tedious. But it’s enough to sustain a universe until next time, which is all that’s required.
“Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” (2 stars)
A spinoff of the Pokemon universe, this one allows Pikachu (voice by Ryan Reynolds) and his human partner (Justice Smith) to understand each other’s language as they solve a case. Lots of jokes, inside references and Reynolds’ ironic personality to make the time pass, yet the thing overall is tedious.
Rating: PG, for violence
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Meridian, Oak Tree, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza