Look deep inside your heart, consider the matter as bloodlessly as possible, and confront the question of whether a movie can be "objectively good" in the first place, and we must ask ourselves, is Pokémon Detective Pikachu (the lack of a colon in that title makes me sad in my heart) actually a good movie? The answer, I believe, is that it probably isn't, though I very much enjoyed watching it anyway. The absolute best we can say about the screenplay (by so many credited writers that it simply isn't worth the misery of typing them out) is that it generally has the decency to stay out of the way of the character design, world-building, and harmless sense of family-friendly humor; the worst we can say is that the third act is absolute garbage, casting a pall over the lightweight pleasure of everything that went before it. The most backwards compliment we can pay it is that by nearly every measure I can think to apply to filmmaking, it's the best movie ever based on a video game. Which is a comically low bar to clear, so let's pretend like I didn't even say it.

Detective Pikachu is based, in general, on the dauntless Pokémon franchise, which began in 1996 as a pair of "my first JRPG" games for the Nintendo Game Boy. Nearly a quarter of a century later, Pokémon is the most lucrative media franchise in history, with games in every imaginable genre, toys, television shows, ill-advised political slogans, and Christ knows what else to its name. Part of that untameable morass of stuff was a 2016 video game called Detective Pikachu, which is at least the proximate inspiration for the movie, though it is, as far as I can tell, mostly sui generis. It is ostensibly the story of Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a resentful 21-year-old with daddy issues; his father always preferred being a police detective in Ryme City to being a halfway decent family man, and that's why Tim is more or less entirely fine when he gets the news that his dad, Harry, has been murdered recently. Even so, Tim has to make a trip into Ryme City to clear up his father's affairs.

That's how he meets the actual star of the movie, an amnesiac Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds who possesses nothing but a battered deerstalker hat with Harry's name and address sewn into it, and a desperate conviction that he needs to investigate crime. What's a Pikachu, you ask? Probably not, since you're reading a film review on the internet, but a Pikachu is a particular species of Pokémon, a yellow rat-like creature the size of a medium dog, with huge rabbit ears, a lightning bolt-shaped tail, and eyes the size of satellite dishes. And what's a Pokémon? That's the catch-all term for the sentient animals living in the region, a polyglot of every kind of size, color, body type and ecological niche, united only in that every goddamn last one of them is the most unholy cute thing you could possibly imagine.

I confess at this point  to having virtually no firsthand contact with the whole legion of Pokémon media: I've never played any of the games, never seen the TV anime, never watched any of the animated features that are apparently still coming out in Japan on an annual basis, though the world outside of that country lost interest after 2000's Pokémon 3: The Movie.* But I do like to think that I know what cute is when it comes along and boops my nose, and my friends, Detective Pikachu is absolutely nothing if it's not suffocatingly, disturbingly cute. The film takes place in a world where live action humans and photorealistic CGI Pokémon live together, with every Ryme citizen worth their salt having a Pokémon familiar toddling along at their side. This is a fairly unambiguous excuse to get as many of the 809 different species of Pokémon that have been introduced in the last 23 years into the movie as possible - the movie does not merely indulge in fan service, the movie has very nearly nothing else to offer but fan service, après fellow 2019 summer blockbuster Avengers: Endgame - and what is actually, genuinely impressive about it is how very adorable every one of those critters looks in the highly detailed and lovingly composited CGI that Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. have shelled out the money for.

None of them gets more attention than our boy Pikachu, though, and none of them is half as cute. Whatever else we can say about the movie, he's a magnificent triumph at using animation and motion capture to create a fully voluminous, fuzzy, squeezable CGI figure who feels like a perfect fit for the world he inhabits. As Jar Jar Binks was to the late 1990s, Gollum was to the early 2000s, and Caesar was to the early 2010s that is what Pikachu is to the late 2010s; the state of the art of what we can do with integrating CGI characters with fully-realized personalities into live-action cinema. And unlike any of those (or at least Gollum and Caesar), Pikachu isn't just meant to look physically plausible next to flesh-and-blood humans, within the unexpectedly grainy, harsh, saturated cinematography by John Mathieson: he's also meant to look appealing and toyetic, someone who can speak in the sarcastic motormouth tones of Reynolds in "Deadpool but, like, naïve" mode or squeak out the character's beloved catchphrase "pika pika!" in the mousy tones of Otani Ikue, and in both cases be such a sweet, squishy plush toy of character.

Mission accomplished: I'm quite sure I can't name another example of a photorealistc CGI character following the basic rules of squash-and-stretch character animation and cartoony facial expressions who turned out looking this wholly lovable. There's not a drop of the uncanny to him, despite the blatantly unreal touches in his design, especially his fucking gargantuan eyes, and the way that when he wrinkles his nose, you can see all the nose wrinkles through his fur. The design and execution are so cute and approachable that it modulates Reynolds's performance, making him seem much gentler and softer than I think is actually present in the performance; certainly, it's enough to make him extremely pleasant company for the film's 104 minutes. When the film drags, all you have to do is look at the bright damn yellow spot onscreen, and just like that, it's fun again.

That is, in fact, something of a dirty trick Detective Pikachu pulls. Whenever the momentum starts obviously slowing down, the film pulls out another one of those 809 Pokémon to show us for the first time, and in so doing rejuvenates itself. I do not wish to suppose that I'm an easy mark, but Detective Pikachu proves I am: there's not one point where the plot is actually interesting, but I wasn't bored through hardly any of it, almost solely because I was enjoying the experience of wonder what fantastic beastie was coming up next. And I don't even know which Pokémon is which. I just know that they're insanely fucking adorable, and for a children's popcorn movie, that is sufficient good company.

But yeah, the script is a dog. The degree to which that's the case isn't clear at first; it's only once the inevitable and obvious twist happens to kick off the last act that the nonsensical poverty of that narrative reveals itself. In part, this is because the last act is mostly boring action twaddle that assumes an investment in the stakes of what's going on that I, at least, didn't remotely possess by that point. Smith's proficient but anonymous performance makes sure that the human element never really lands, and Rob Letterman's directing is flat enough that the film never picks up a sense of awe that might give it some kind of personality. It is a simple, no-nonsense way to depict Pokémon milling about with people, and I suppose that's probably the best possible way to do this sort of thing. But it means that Detective Pikachu never feels bigger than just its simplest pleasures, and once it disappears into its own ass with "consequences" and "themes" and it actually assumes that we have an investment in Ryme City beyond its ability to put us face to face with Pokémon, it loses track of pretty much every one of those pleasures.

*I do, however, play Pikachu as one of my mains in Super Smash Bros., a fact that I hide down here in the footnotes in the hopes that fewer people will notice it.