Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) is the fastest thing alive and yet the loneliest creature in the universe until he causes a power outage in Green Hills, Montana. This attracts the attention of the egotistical scientist, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) who wants to harness his power for his own research. With nowhere to go, Sonic teams up with the local cop, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) to help recover his power rings that can transport him to a new world and hopefully make a new friend on the way.
Sonic the Hedgehog has been the mascot of Sega since the second big bang in video games. He was created to solely rival Mario and in some ways he has. During his Genesis days, he overtook a good chunk of the gaming market, although his later transition to 3D wasn’t as smooth as his glory days. But unlike his plumber rival, he has seen success through other media like comic books, and tons of tv shows including the much beloved Sonic SATAM. Eventually the comeback of video game movies in 2016 sparked an interest in giving the blue blur his chance at stardom. But we all know the story: it suffered a delay due to the backlash of the uncanny realistic design that was eventually reworked to positive reception. My initial reaction to a live-action movie was, Why not make it animated? Sonic is a character that moves too fast to be restrained by the laws of reality, and his sense of speed would fit better in a limitless medium. But after watching this movie, I can say it was a good take on an iconic character, though not without its flaws.
The first one being the urban city setting that’s been a copout for many live action cartoon adaptations: The Smurfs, He-Man, Peter Rabbit, Dragon Ball, and most annoyingly Alvin and the Chipmunks. And some important storylines centering around Marsden and Sonic get dropped without a wink of resolution to make way for some SUBTLE product placement. Thankfully it’s not like the product placements are worked into the plot like in Power Rangers, they come and go at a moment’s notice.
To its credit several sonic games have taken place in civilization and it handles the formula much better than the previously mentioned examples. It mostly gets by thanks to the charisma of both James Marsden and the animated hedgehog. The done to death setting feels more like a back drop for the two to go wild with witty dialogue, crazy scenarios and tender moments that stays true to the animal’s personality. Even the other human characters can stand on their own jokes, particularly Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik. The villain has been both an intimidating force of man made destruction and a comic foil in his nearly 30 year career. Carrey encompasses both with his natural improv and surprising commitment to turn intelligence into an obsessive compulsive need to control. Villains in general have been suffering a lack of vision because of tropes like the “surprise twist”. But this goes back to the days where the antagonist is just as strong as his hero. Which leads to some high octane action set pieces. Yeah, they’re not the most realistic, but the way each chase builds on top of one another creatively ups the adrenaline as the two sides try to eliminate one another. Which is very impressive considering 80 percent of the movie had to be reworked to fit with the redesign.
Lastly some of the best fan service moments are also the most frustrating moments. Video game movies, whether good or bad, tend to dangle a carrot at the end where it completely embraces its roots as a tease for what’s to come next. And considering how many of these movies delivered on that promise, it’s disheartening to see that tradition continue. Which is why I hope this makes enough profit to warrant a sequel so as to move forward with the added potential. Other than that, there’s still plenty of laughs to go around at breakneck speed.
Sonic the Hedgehog is another positive step forward in representing what good video game movies have to offer. It definitely surpasses all the 2016 video game movies in its comedy, charismatic leads, break neck action, and especially a well casted Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik. But it feels like it didn’t fully capitalize on the game’s lore with the real world setting, even if it pulls it off better than most live action sellouts of famous cartoons. In a way, it’s like the first Sonic game: very iconic, but not the first thing that comes to mind when bringing up the blue hedgehog. But this live action outing succeeded where Mario failed 27 years ago, and that’s something you don’t see everyday. Though It’s hard to tell if fans will either be satisfied or disappointed with this interpretation since it tries to balance its own story with the game’s material. But parents who are dragged to it by their children will be pleasantly surprised at how much of a wide audience it caters to, even if they don’t know much about the game. Even better is that it never feels like watching a friend play the game while you wish to just take the controller out of their hands. Right now we are witnessing a genre with a contaminated reputation finally show the world that with the right talent, it can survive transitioning from one form of media to another. And hopefully there’s no where to go but up from here as more video games and their fans eagerly await the possibilities that are in store for characters that see eye to eye with Hollywood’s best auteurs.