Video game movies. They’ve been around since time immemorial, and they’ll be around long after we’ve all passed on to higher realms of consciousness. And if one thing has held true for every film adaptation of a video game, it’s that they always tend to suck in one way or another.
Even the half-decent ones like The Angry Birds Movie only somewhat pass the smell test because they aren’t complete disasters. But make no mistake, they’re still not good by any reasonable definition of the word.
Enter the Sonic the Hedgehog live-action film. By now, everyone knows about its controversial production history – the origin story that itself went viral long before the movie every graced our screens. Out of obligation, I’ll still sum it up as succinctly as possible: the original CGI design of the famous video game character for his first Hollywood movie was so ugly that fans and non-fans alike widely panned it, leading to the release date to be delayed as the studio behind it scrambled to fix the ugly design and replace it with something far more marketable, accessible, and similar to the original character. In the end, the new design was a success and proved to be an effective component of the film’s marketing campaign. Some have even theorized the original ugly design was a calculated marketing ploy, but I’ll leave that up to you to judge.
The point is, while Sonic himself ended up looking good in the final product, did the final product itself end up being any good?
Before I can answer that, you must know that in the interest of full disclosure I admit that I am a Sonic the Hedgehog fan and have been one for no less than two decades at the time of this writing. I am ride or die with the little blue guy and have followed everything from his video games, to his cartoons, to his comic books through the best and worst of times. I personally don’t think that clouds my judgment as I’ve been totally willing to criticize the many missteps his copyright owners have taken with him, but just FYI – I have put up with a lot of crap from this franchise and I’ve still remained faithful. Take from that what you will.
At the same time, I’m an even bigger Mario fan, but I can admit the 1993 Super Mario Bros. film is hot garbage. Being a true fan of something means you keep an open mind about different directions it goes, yet remain constructively critical when its experiments fail. That’s my mindset when I watch something like Sonic the Hedgehog: open-minded but ready to rip it to shreds if it disrespects my idea of what Sonic is all about.
With all of that out of the way, I can firmly say without any reservations that Sonic the Hedgehog is a very good movie on its own and an even better movie if you’re a fan of the franchise. Either way you slice it, the film succeeds. You’d have to be the ultimate cynic not to enjoy yourself while watching it.
Now, if you’re expecting The Godfather levels of storytelling here, or multiple layers of David Lynchian complexity and creativity, or the majesty of a Studio Ghibli affair, then you will be severely disappointed. Of course, you’re an idiot if you go into Sonic the Hedgehog with those kinds of lofty expectations. You have to think about what the goals of the filmmakers were and whether or not they succeeded at those goals.
Namely, is it faithful enough to the source material while being fresh enough to survive a transfer to an entirely new medium? Yes. Does it have enough in it to placate long-term fans yet still remain accessible to casual viewers? Yes. Does it work as a family film that can entertain kids and adults alike? Yes. Is the acting and direction comparable or even better than other films in the genre? Yes.
Go down the list and Sonic’s movie passes the smell test on nearly every level. Sure, not all of the jokes are home runs, but most of them work and none of them are bad enough to walk out on the film. And yes, the not-so-subtle product placement is a bit annoying – but in a way that’s part of the joke, and hey, they had to pay for the redesign somehow. If you want a good Sonic design, you’re going to have to put up with some Olive Garden ads for three seconds. It’s a fair trade.
As far as acting goes, you can’t really get any better than Ben Schwartz providing the vocals for the titular Sonic. He’s just the right mixture of hip, confident, jokey, and sweet. And Jim Carrey turns in his best performance in ages as the evil Dr. Robotnik/Eggman. His transformation over the course of the movie is a sight to behold, and he also achieves a perfect balance between simultaneously menacing yet funny – which is no simple feat.
Of course, the supporting cast isn’t quite as strong, but they’re serviceable in their roles which is all they needed to be.
My biggest gripe with the film by far is the forced friendship between Sonic and Donut Lord aka Officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). While they have decent chemistry, their relationship never feels like anything other than a convenient plot device. It feels like the filmmakers could have found a more compelling reason for these two to work together with just a little extra creativity and thought put into it – but in the midst of the action and humorous zingers it’s a flaw that can be forgiven by all but the most hard-boiled of viewers.
As a fan, I enjoyed the seamless incorporation of elements from the games, such as Sonic’s rings which serve a necessary purpose in the storyline – as well as the less necessary but still appreciated easter eggs like the names of certain locations, Sonic’s penchant for chowing down on chili dogs, and familiar music beats in some scenes just to name a few.
The final product is a film that is not only watchable but surprisingly re-watchable as far as “films for kids” go. My daughter and I have not only watched the entire movie from start to finish several times, but also watched many individual scenes alone dozens of times like the slow-motion brawl at a the pub and Robotnik’s wildly entertaining dance segment. It’s such a wonderful piece of escapism and a great step in the right direction for video game-based films that I can’t help but give it high marks.
Sonic the Hedgehog – Score: 8/10
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