Sonic the Hedgehog
SEGA’s blue blur mascot makes his way to the big screen in Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog.
I’ve been a fan of Sonic for most of my life. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve me playing the old Sega Mega Drive -or Sega Genesis to some- games. The first game I ever completed was the original Sonic the Hedgehog so the blue Hedgehog has certainly made an impression on me. Over the years I’ve played some of the later games but for me it will always come back to those simpler days of a 2D sprite negotiating challenging side scrolling levels.
Movies adapted from video games are generally known to be of a very low quality. To my mind there are exceptions such as the Resident Evil movies that are admittedly a guilty pleasure for me but I would still say that some of them are watchable but on the whole video game movies aren’t good. Sonic the Hedgehog breaks with that tradition to some degree by being very enjoyable and competently put together. This will surprise some after the heavily criticised first trailer and the subsequent decision to redesign Sonic to be more in line with fan expectations. I generally disagree with pandering to those who complain on the internet though in this case I question the decision to make Sonic look the way he did in the first place so I support the idea of going back to fix it.
The story involves Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) making his way to Earth after escaping his home dimension once it becomes too dangerous and befriending a man named Tom (James Marsden) while also being aggressively hunted by evil genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) who wants to harness Sonic’s speed to apply to his own inventions. It sounds like a needlessly complicated story but it doesn’t play out that way. Sonic’s home dimension is portrayed very briefly in the opening minutes of the film before moving the action to be entirely set on Earth, Sonic’s friendship with Tom is fairly standard and Robotnik’s motivation is easy to follow.
A lot of the film takes the form of a road trip with Sonic and Tom on the run learning from one another and forging a bond that is typical of movies like this. It’s handled well enough with some endearing moments between the characters though what actually happens in the bloated middle section isn’t all that interesting. There’s an extended sequence involving Sonic enjoying himself in a bar that is supposed to amuse but drags on uncomfortably instead and could have been wrapped up far more quickly.
Ben Schwartz was perfectly cast as Sonic. In the wrong hands Sonic could have come across as obnoxious but Schwartz has exactly the right energy to balance his naivety, excitable nature, unapologetic curiosity and his heroic streak. It’s a strong performance with a few layers to it that turns Sonic into so much more than a shallow CGI character designed to make kids laugh. The script has moments of brilliance to help enhance this performance such as extended sequences designed to highlight how lonely Sonic is keeping to himself in a world he doesn’t come from. He does things like play table tennis with himself and performing every role in a game of Baseball. He even creates different personalities for the imaginary players he’s portraying indicating that he’s starved for companionship and really wants to feel like he belongs. Scenes like this do a lot to endear Sonic to the audience and flesh him out beyond a wisecracking, pop culture referencing cartoon character. This translates well to his friendship with Tom who offers him the opportunity to have a friend in his life which he very much welcomes.
James Marsden does a reasonable job despite not having a great deal to work with. He believably plays off Sonic in a way that helps Sonic seem more real and he suits the “perpetual nice guy” persona pretty well. Tom has a simple arc to follow that isn’t resolved in a satisfying way by the end but as Sonic’s token Human companion he’s not bad if a little forgettable. The most interesting thing about him outside of his friendship with Sonic is his relationship with his wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter) and the unearned hatred her sister has for him. More certainly could have been done with that but what appeared in the film worked well enough.
Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik is straight out of the 90’s Jim Carrey playbook and it’s delightful to watch. He plays the role with the sort of manic energy that made him a household name and creates a memorable villain in the process. It’s hard to separate Jim Carrey from the character but that can be said for characters like The Mask, Ace Ventura and The Riddler so Dr. Robotnik joins the list of characters that will forever be connected with Jim Carrey because he put his specific stamp on them. He fits into this film brilliantly and still makes for a threatening antagonistic presence.
I’ve already mentioned the improved redesign for Sonic which numbers among other impressive visual touches. Sonic does look like a CGI character which means he never entirely blends into the world around him though it wasn’t something I ever expected him to do considering how cartoonish the overall design is. There were some impressive touches in showcasing his speed such as the aforementioned Baseball game that he played by himself. The Quicksilver effect from X-Men: Days of Future Past is replicated almost exactly which makes sense given Sonic’s abilities though is a bit lazy in that it doesn’t do anything new with it so feels like more plagiarism than inspiration. Despite that his speed is generally used well and the action sequences are well constructed to take full advantage of that.
A competently produced and entertaining adaptation of an iconic video game character. Ben Schwartz is perfectly cast as Sonic with the right mix of personality traits for him not to be obnoxious and a script that allows those personality traits to come across clearly. Sonic’s character is clearly established and there are moments of brilliance that offer fascinating insight into Sonic as a character. His friendship with Tom works well enough with James Marsden playing the role he’s given well though the road trip section of the movie drags on far longer than it should. Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik is a welcome return to 90’s Jim Carrey; he’s a strong antagonist that fits in with the film well. The fixed Sonic design is great even if it never looks real and his speed is well visualised even if there is some obvious borrowing from other films.
- Ben Schwartz’ perfect casting as Sonic
- a competently put together entertaining viewing experience
- the design of Sonic
- a welcome return to the manic energy of 90’s Jim Carrey
- good use of Sonic’s speed in the action sequences
- the overlong road trip sequence
- borrowing heavily from other films in some of the action sequences
- the shallow Tom character and his unsatisfying arc
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