Hello everyone! I’m back from vacation and had a great time in Daytona so I have not been posting for over a week as a result. But while I was on vacation, I had the chance to explore a few new movie theaters in Florida and one of the films I chose to see was “Sonic the Hedgehog”. Now if you’ve followed this film’s tumultuous production you know the drama and fan backlash associated with the titular character’s original design prompting Paramount to spend millions of additional dollars to redesign and reanimated the character in one of the biggest examples of movie “patching” in modern history. For many, myself included, Sonic is an icon. Sega’s mascot and possibly among the absolute most recognizable video game characters ever outside of the likes of Pac-Man and Mario, it’s kind of amazing that it took this long for him to get a movie. Now he did have an animated film of sorts in 1996, a two-episode Japanese feature that was released straight to video in English in 1999. But finally in 2020 Sonic joins the pantheon of video game characters brought to life on the big screen and while video game movies are often sources of critical distaste from both industry professionals and fans “Sonic”, in spite of it’s rocky history, seems to be the exception churning out around $70 million domestically for the biggest opening weekend ever for a video game adaptation. So, after all the drama, the recreation of the character and the many naysayers who expected this to be another bad video game film…is the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie actually any good? Let’s find out. After my long-winded intro, here is my review of “Sonic the Hedgehog”.
In this cinematic take on the famed fast-running blue hedgehog we find Sonic, voiced by Ben Schwartz, as an extraterrestrial whose powers have made him the target of many seeking to exploit him. Thus, he hides away on Earth but soon becomes the target of Dr. Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey, who seeks to use Sonic’s power to perfect his machines. Sonic enlists the help of a human companion, a small-town cop named Tom Wachowski played by James Marsden, to locate a stash of powerful rings that Sonic and use to teleport between worlds. With that set up, it should be no surprise there’s a certain formula to how this whole film plays out. The way Sonic’s big screen story is presented, where he goes on misadventures with a human sidekick to escape an over-the-top villain, is absolutely nothing new and recalls many of the tropes and child-friendly story elements that were overused throughout much of the 90s and early 2000s. In some ways it was a little refreshing to see this flashback to that kind of mediocrity and I did try to remember this is a film for kids, but this kind of lazy writing dependent on pointless an often irrelevant side quests and pop culture references mixed with occasional fart jokes didn’t work then and it really doesn’t work now. “Sonic”, even as a kid’s movie, lacks a certain amount of maturity and creativity which immediately makes it feel dated and will likely turn viewers seeking more sophisticated cinema away.
But if you are looking for more highbrow cinema your first mistake was thinking that was ever even a possibility with a movie about a video game character. It is important to remember this is, in fact, a movie made for kids even if the character and his legacy is more relevant to millennials, who by the way are in their late 20s to mid-30s right now despite the fact that movies and Gen-Xers keep using them as a punch line to describe kids under the age of ten. Even forgiving this movie for it’s immaturity though I couldn’t overlook the fact that a lot of its conflict feels pretty forced and better writing could have easily resolved this even with only minor tweaks. For example, a turning point for Sonic’s story is when he has been discovered and is trying to escape Robotnik. He has a chance to use his rings and escape but instead basically just says “crap I have to go somewhere else first for no reason” leading to a moment where he loses the rings and has to get them back, setting the movie into motion. There’s no reason given why he felt like waiting when he was trying to escape, but a major theme of the film later on is that Sonic wants to stay on Earth and stop moving around so much to hide his powers. Simply adding in a line or moment where he acknowledges this would have made the conflict feel more relevant to this earlier moment and thus made his hesitation so much more personal to Sonic as a character. This kind of lazy writing really bogs down this entire movie when you take a moment to think about it even right down to why Sonic would ever need a human companion in the first place when his super speed literally allows him to stop time, à la Quicksilver, to get the job done. Anyone who digs even slightly below the surface can easily see the entire setup as a bit ridiculous and forced and the even worse part is it’s not like this movie lacks creativity, it’s just not present in the writing.
“Sonic” is not an unwatchably bad movie. I’ll be bluntly honest even though it’s very kid friendly and poorly written and cliché I had a LOT of fun watching it and a lot of that fun came from the way the filmmakers chose to creatively work in details and homages to aspects of the videos games. There are so many fun references to the games, from the backstory to the rings and how they work to small things like the main town being called Green Hills and Sonic needing to escape to the Mushroom world, both references to levels in the video games. Little things like this had my inner kid screaming because I got the joke and it didn’t feel forced. The way Sonic’s larger world was interpreted for the big screen to work him into our reality was fun and interesting and was just enough pandering where it did something new but never went to “Super Mario Bros.” level of corruption of the source material to make it work. In fact, you could easily flip history in your mind and see the video games being adapted from this movie and understanding how that could be a thing which to me is why it somehow works so well. I just wish the same creativity that went into the world building and Easter eggs went into the script and story too.
Another reason why this movie works so well is Jim Carrey. This is classic Carrey who may not fit the exact physical design of Robotnik/Eggman from the games but makes for a great, immature, kid-friendly villain leaning much more heavily into the ridiculous comedic antics that made Carrey such a treasure early in his career. He’s just a delight and knows just how outrageous he needs to be in each scene, often even stealing the show over the blue hedgehog himself. Sonic is also extremely fun with Ben Schwartz perfectly cast for the role. The character’s redesign gives fans everything they demanded and more and while the CGI isn’t perfect and Sonic rarely feels like he’s actually in the scene he’s still much improved from the original concept and great source of entertainment. It’s neat to see some backstory about who he is, a lonely drifter running away from his powers who decides he doesn’t want to run anymore despite running literally being his thing. It’s kind of brilliant character development when you think about it from that angle, but again bad writing and storytelling do little with this idea. Most impressively though is despite “Sonic” embracing the same stupid trope of inserting add-on human characters into the mix it doesn’t commit the same crimes as say “Transformers” by making the humans the main characters. The humans are there to help drive Sonic’s personal growth and motivations forward even though the humans too have their own conflicts. Regardless of their roles in the narrative, the humans are not the main characters. Sonic and Robotnik are the center of attention and seldom take a backseat which is a nice breath of fresh air for a movie with this approach.
Video game films are hardly ever respectable products and “Sonic” already had the odds stacked against it with the character design controversy but as both a fan and a critic I think Paramount rebounded nicely and gave fans a product that does just enough to satisfy even if it could have offered a lot more. “Sonic the Hedgehog” didn’t need to be a great movie. It just needed to be acceptable. Better writing, more inventive storytelling and maybe a small dash of added maturity could have made Sonic’s story even better but with the promise of sequels (seriously stay for the mid credits stinger, it’s a cool cameo) maybe Paramount will add a bit more of that in what’s to come. What we have for now though is a sufficiently fun, if overly kid-centric and poorly written origin story for Sonic that provides inventive incorporation of the elements of the video games, fun performances that bring both Sonic and Robotnik to life and even a life lesson or two that kids might be able to embrace and understand and parents can appreciate. It’s just ridiculous, familiar and effective child-friendly fun that honestly spoke very well to my nostalgic inner child in spite of my normal critical cynicism with these kinds of flicks. That has to count for something. Essentially, considering what we could have gotten, “Sonic the Hedgehog” is a surprisingly decent movie worth the time.