After more than a few misfires, Hollywood hasn’t really been in a rush to figure out how to make a good video game movie.
Translating games to film has been an issue for years, but there’s no denying that at some point gaming’s biggest mascots were inevitably going to be given a shot on the silver screen. Sonic the Hedgehog, despite nearly two decades of rough patches worth of animated series and games of wildly different qualities, finally got his shot at a feature film.
The elephant in the room, besides the track record of video game movies, is the really unsettling character design Paramount moved forward with confidently until the internet did everything but riot over Sonic’s uncanny look in the initial posters and trailer. It was a globally felt miscalculation that would see reactions only exceeded by Universal’s Cats, ironically done by the same effects house. In this case, the difference from Cats is the studio decided to delay the film to fix the character design,and the extra work put in to reanimate Sonic paid off. While his compositing doesn’t look perfect, his design looks as close to his famous look as possible, and the rest of the effects in the movie remain largely unaffected.
It’s easy to criticize the film for lacking originality, especially when the character only ever existed as a marketing foil to Super Mario in the first place. Sonic was only ever meant to go really fast and express the countercultured, extreme attitude of ‘90s kids. This movie’s script somehow finds a way to update Sonic to the brave new world of the 2020’s with only a few stumbles along the way, and will largely be forgiven by kids in its target audience.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s plot is nothing revolutionary, but the dialogue manages to be self aware enough to keep younger kids laughing at its meme references and Looney Tunes-esque shenanigans while also hopefully amusing Gen Z and Millennial moviegoers with bluntly honest humor that feels like a toned down Rick and Morty or PG Deadpool. At its best, the humor in this film can be described as characters in a position of saying something cliche and instead make observations that would also be made by the audience. The best example is the use of product placement. Since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ordered Domino’s pizza to their sewer, it has become so commonplace in that when Sonic the Hedgehog’s characters make you blatantly aware of it in a way that actively makes fun of its sponsors, it feels incredibly jarring, although kind of funny.
The comedic experience of this movie feels like the screenwriters are strangers in the back seat of your car throwing around their own inside jokes, with the occasional one making you crane your neck back at them in confusion. It’s the kind of strange humor I can only describe as being derivative of Space Jam, but with a flair of postmodernism. Take that for what you will. If you’re older than your early thirties, you’ll probably curse that ball and throw it across the court.
Luckily, the most cringe-worthy moments are confined to the film’s opening minutes. Those who remember 1993’s Super Mario Bros. movie will no doubt recall that film creating completely made-up reasons for certain MacGuffins existing within the world of the film that did nothing more than simply exist in a video game space. Where the Mario movie tried to over-explain the presence of fungus, bob-ombs and super jumping, Sonic‘s efforts are significantly more recognizable and easy to forgive. All the film really asks the audience to suspend their disbelief of is the fact that he once had an owl teacher in his old homeworld, and was given a bag of magic rings that can teleport him to different dimensions. If you can get past that, you can forgive the movie by the time Sonic’s legs get tranquilized, his logistics confused, and James Marsden punching people in the face out of self defense.
The face punching fugitive state is the result of a hammy performance by Jim Carrey as Doctor Robotnik, an egoic crackpot scientist who has a delirious obsession with technology, using his beloved drones to chase after Sonic’s source of power through the film. Compared to his previous work, Carrey is a little less irreverent, but still eccentric as Robotnik. He decides to dig his performance into the lonely nature of an egotistical scientist, and plays someone who deludes himself into enjoying a life alone, and shines in the few brief moments of weakness in human interaction, creating some unexpectedly introspective jokes. If a sequel were to be green lit, there’s no doubt Carrey would have double the amount of fun with this character. Most of the film’s other performances are either cartoonishly exaggerated or played completely straight, including the couple played by Marsden and Tika Stumpter, who are trying to help Sonic with his escape from city after he’d lived vicariously through them for years.
The origin of a hero movie has been done ad-nauseum in franchise films by now, and while Sonic the Hedgehog plays like a coloring book iteration of the Marvel formula, it is in an approachable way for the younger audiences. For what it’s worth, the movie manages to hit emotional beats to characterize the blue blur to make him a little more likable than he’s been in years, and some half decent looking effects driven action scenes in between. Speedsters being adapted to live action aren’t new either, especially with a long running TV adaption of The Flash, but if the Peter Evans’ Quicksilver sequence from X-Men is going to be ripped off twice in one movie, it may as well be egregiously so by Sonic the Hedgehog himself.