Sonic the Hedgehog (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Director: Jeff Fowler
Cast: Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey
(DISCLAIMER: This review, though it will be judged as fairly and as concrete as possible for your reading pleasure, is coming from someone who has been a longtime fan of Sonic the Hedgehog since being a child. This means that while I will be still giving the same basic review as such, I will be able to give further insight into the story than others may do, and will also determine whether or not this will work for those who aren’t familiar with this property. Thanks for reading and enjoy the review.)
It feels so strange how, even after having two positively review films last year based on video game properties, we still haven’t really found a good way to crack the video game movie curse that plagues the industry, if not most likely due to the filmmakers not being able to work with the fun interactive components of gaming that makes these worlds and characters so endearing. With 2020, we now have Sonic the Hedgehog. Based on the iconic 90s gaming series that has been SEGA’s leading franchise for nearly 3 decades, director Jeff Fowler faces the difficult task of bringing the most beloved video game characters to the big screen in the form of a action packed family film, without disappointing the Sonic purists. Of course, following a heavily publicised production which involved the filmmakers redesigning Sonic to make him come across more like the video game character following intense backlash over his humanoid look, now that the final result is playing in cinemas worldwide for the world to see, the end result while not particularly great is very solidly crafted kids film with enough action and heart to make for a nice family viewing.
Sonic is an anthropomorphic hedgehog from another dimension, who comes to Earth as a child after having his powers exposed to people who want to use it for evil. Having lived alone for a decade up to this point, though he enjoys his life of solitude in Green Hills, Montana, he feels very lonely. After he accidentally causes an electrical surge across the Pacific Northwest using his super speed, Sonic becomes a prime target for the government who hire mad scientist, Doctor Robotnik (played amazingly by Jim Carrey) who seeks to capture him to use his abilities for his own evil misdeeds. Using the help of Sheriff turned Cop, Tom Wachowski, who accidentally shoots Sonic and makes him lose the rings he needs to escape Earth, the two go on a road trip to San Francisco to escape Robotnik’s clutches, reclaim Sonic’s rings, and send the blue hedgehog to a different dimension.
Sonic the Hedgehog, in comparison to other video game adaptations like Detective Pikachu which happily embraces the world of its setting and characters, seems to play it safe for the most part, having most of the film take place on Earth and keeping most of the lore in regards to its main character and home planet of Mobius kept mostly under wraps for a more simple storyline. While it is a bit of a shame that the film doesn’t necessarily embrace much of the world that its characters inhabit, what makes up for it is surprisingly a decent narrative that is all about the importance of friendship. In this film, Sonic has spent most of his life living alone away from his own dimension and experiences a lot of loneliness due to having no choice but to hide away his own powers in fear someone might use his super speed for villainous reasons. Because he has no one to be with, it’s his rash behaviour that causes him to be exposed to the authorities that want him, and it’s through his journey meeting Tom Wachowski that he learns that it’s more important to live his life with those he can care about rather than simply living a life of reclusiveness. While it is a deviation from the source material in some regards, thankfully the simplicity of the story helps to keep the film easy to follow for its target audience, though it can also be a bit of a double edged sword on its part. On one hand, the film’s simplistic tone can help keep the story and pacing consistent, but on the other hand it does make the film IMMENSELY predictable and formulaic. Sonic the Hedgehog has a highly cliche buddy movie plot, that basically amounts to a video game-esque fetch quest that involves our two heroes going on a road trip to acquire a certain amount of magic macguffins that will be used to save the day against a villainous threat. Given the message of friendship, while all of that is told in a very respectful and tasteful way, it sacrifices any real sense of surprise, but a lot of it is thankfully made up for because of the animation and the action sequences.
Visually, though not perfect, Sonic the Hedgehog is a delight. Despite the controversy that the film faced to have Sonic be redesigned, his overall look in the film is genuinely great. Some changes have been made to his look from the games such as giving him two separate eyes, blue arms and some realistic fur, but the fundamentals of what makes him look appealing like his cheeky smile, white gloves and red shoes are all accounted for not only to make him very faithful to his original look, but also help to sell Sonic as this hyperactive loveable kid. Ben Schwartz’s voice helps give Sonic much of his youthful spirit without making him too overbearing and while a lot of the other effects such as the explosions, expanded landscapes and lighting effects aren’t quite as up to par, they still generally look quite good as a result. As for the other members of the supporting cast, James Marsden does a fairly decent job as sheriff Tom Wachowski, who is thrown into Sonic’s predicament due to his rash decisions, but the big standout here is Jim Carrey as Doctor Robotnik. Clearly throwing back to his more comedic days in the 90s, Carrey is an absolute riot on screen and is perfectly cast as Sonic’s arch nemesis managing to capture a lot of the character’s comedic chops, but also some of his subtlety maniacal tendencies. He serves as the film’s major highlight, especially when it comes to the comedy which can admittedly be very hit and miss. A lot of the humour relating to Sonic’s antics of Robotnik’s shenanigans can be very funny, but on the other hand there are also a few childish jokes and creepy suggestive undertones which can feel somewhat off putting to what is a kids film at its core. As for the rest of the cast, Tika Sumpter is a fun addition as Tom’s wife, Maddie who acts as solid comic relief for the picture and there is also a great cameo appearance from the Sonic universe that won’t be spoiled, but will absolutely drive a lot of fans crazy.
As for everything else, the music score from Junkie XL is a very upbeat, capturing the feel of the Sonic the Hedgehog games in a more grandiose form, and while I have already discussed what the visual effects team accomplished here, I do have to give a lot of credit to the filmmakers for finding unique ways to embrace the source material despite the storyline not exactly taking much from the general lore of the franchise. There are plenty of easter eggs and visual nods to much of Sonic’s past whether it would be visual iconography sprinkled in the background or little animation cues that make reference to a Sonic game in some capacity. While it most likely won’t mean much to anybody who isn’t a fan of Sonic, at least it’s nice to see that there was effort put in place to give the fans something to chew on that will keep them satisfied.
Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t going to be critically praised or beloved as a modern classic anytime soon, but for what it is and what the filmmakers strived to do by bringing one of gaming’s most iconic characters to the big screen, it is a surprisingly fun time. The film’s goofy tone won’t be everybody’s cup of tea and the highly predictable story and numerous plot holes do drag this down from being one of the best video game movies we have seen recently like Detective Pikachu, but considering the simplicity of Sonic the Hedgehog at its core, the film didn't necessarily need to be a masterpiece. All it really needed to do was to be a frantically fun time for its young target audience, and I think the film accomplishes that very well. Sonic fans will get a lot out of the film, but if you want an accessible but amusingly frenetic comedy with some heart and a nice little message, then this isn’t a bad film to check out for families. In the end, considering how bad this film could have been if they simply decided to make this a cash grab along with the initially horrible design, it’s sort of a blessing that it came out a decent as it did. So take my word for it, go check the film out, and draw your own conclusion.
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (OKAY)
…………..oh, and stick around for the mid-credits scene.
Jim Carrey as Doctor Robotnik
Sonic’s Character Design and Expressive Animation
Fun Action Setpieces
Nice Message about the Importance of Friendship
Faithfulness and Love towards Sonic’s Legacy
The Music Score by Junkie XL.
The Highly Predictable and Formulaic Plot
Unimportant Side Characters
Robotnik is One-Dimensional