Sonic the Hedgehog is directed by Jeff Fowler and stars Ben Schwartz as the titular Sonic. Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally, and Neal McDonough also star.
When Warner Bros. released the live action Pokemon: Detective Pikachu a year ago, it was the pinnacle moment in the history of video game movies: after years and years of critical and commercial failures, the genre, at long last, had something it could deem an accomplishment, an honorary medal that reads, "Congratulations! We made a film that is NOT one of the biggest piles of donkey shit to come out this year!" The only thing that Detective Pikachu couldn't tell us, however, is would the film's success be just a flash in the pan, or perhaps the key to open the floodgates that would bring things like respect and credibility to arguably the most dysfunctional film genre in history? Detective Pikachu could boast one of the most famous media franchises of the past two, two and a half decades, so whose to say that Paramount couldn't do the same thing with Sonic the Hedgehog: a video game franchise that dates all the way back to the early 90's?
Believe it or not, but ideas of a Sonic the Hedgehog film adaptation had been in the works shortly after the franchise debuted. However, Sega CEO Tom Kalinske, was pessimistic about such an adaptation being successful, citing the flops that were the live-action Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter films. It wasn't until February 2018 that Paramount announced the official release of a live-action Sonic the Hedgehog film, targeting a release date of November 2019. The first trailer dropped in April 2019 and was nothing short of a disaster. Fans and critics expressed outrage over the hideous, overly humanoid design of Sonic. The criticism was so rampant, that director Jeff Fowler, clearly determined to make this film work, announced that the film would be delayed until February 2020 so that Sonic could be redesigned. When the new trailer dropped in November 2019, not only was the new design highly praised for looking more like Sonic from the video games, it seemed as if people were starting to look forward to this live-action adaptation. When the film finally got its theatrical release, in what can only be considered a small miracle, Sonic the Hedgehog not only set the record for biggest opening weekend by a video game adaptation, it received fairly decent reviews from critics as well. Assuming at this point, the film will be a sizable box office success, Paramount will get the green light to proceed with, as the mid-credits scene suggests, what could be a Sonic the Hedgehog-based cinematic universe.
After an opening sequence in which we see Sonic being chased through the streets of San Francisco, we learn that the speedy blue hedgehog comes from an alien planet, where he is cared for by an owl named Longclaw (Jay Fulks). Longclaw tells Sonic he must conceal his powers, giving him a bag of rings that are capable of transporting Sonic to other planets. When a group of echidnas attack, Sonic uses one of the rings to be transported to Green Hills, Montana on Earth. Several years pass, and poor Sonic, living in secrecy from the human race, starts to feel lonely and depressed. Angered by this, Sonic uses his super speed to trigger an electromagnetic pulse across the entire Pacific Northwest, which calls the presence of the zany, scientific genius Dr. Robotnik (Carrey). While trying to hide from Robotnik, Sonic stumbles across Green Hills sheriff Tom Wachowski (Marsden), who accidentally makes Sonic lose his bag of rings. Wachowski and Sonic then team up to help Sonic retrieve his rings and fend off Dr. Robotnik.
- There are those times when you know an actor or actress are just perfect for a certain role, and had Paramount not cast Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, I am just not sure that Sonic the Hedgehog would be as functional as it is. The whole movie operates like a 90's nostalgia train ride: Sonic was in his early years as a video game character, and his updated design in the movie is meant to match what the character looked like, speeding through the various levels of each of his games. The early scene that takes place on Sonic's world matches the infamous Green Hill Zone, and if you have never played Sonic the Hedgehog before, the Green Hills, Montana reference will probably fly right over your head.
But I was talking about Jim Carrey. The 1990's were also the time when Carrey and his goofy, blaring shtick shined brightest, so it makes all the sense in the world for Carrey to be cast as Robotnik: a villain that the Sonic games have never, ever taken too seriously. The best part is that the histrionics of Robotnik are not a byproduct of Carrey being cast in the role; the character's goofy exterior is a fundamental component of how he operates, so in order to make Robotnik flourish and come to life the way he does, the character requires the comedic talents of someone like Carrey. With years of experience in similar roles, Carrey is right at home in this film, and, on his own, would be more than enough to prevent the film from sinking into total mediocrity.
- What puts Sonic the Hedgehog over the top though is that the film offers more than just another memorable Jim Carrey performance. Sonic the Hedgehog has comedy....that actually works! Never does the film stoop to fart jokes and lame pop culture references to try and get a laugh; okay, there are pop culture references, but the film has the decency to use them to poke fun at actors, movies, and TV Shows, and not just quote famous lines and phrases just because they can. With that being said, screenwriters Pat Casey and Jim Miller prove that they care to make the comedy presentable to all ages, the same sort of comedic appeal that makes many Disney/Pixar films so beloved by children and adults alike. Every joke feels like its own separate entity, thus why it's so hard to see any of them coming from a mile away. I would not say that I ever found the film to be laugh out loud funny, but the comedy could have been so much worse than it actually is, and that's more than enough for me to give the comedy my seal of approval.
- Where Sonic the Hedgehog leaves much more to be desired though is in its underwhelming, low-stakes plot. Once Wachowski discovers Sonic, the movie turns into a "go to this place and retrieve this thing" adventure-style film, but one whose plot doesn't transcend into anything beyond a standard buddy, road-trip film. Sonic and Wachowski get into all sorts of shenanigans and have to outrun Robotnik here and there. Never at any point though does Sonic seem vulnerable or as if he is in any real danger, thwarting everything Robotnik throws at him without even breaking a sweat. In addition, the sub-plot turned main plot that is Sonic needing to retrieve his lost rings doesn't do much other than to spice up the climax. The rings are just a means for Sonic to get from his world to Earth; they don't contribute any sort of thematic depth to the film nor do they operate at all like how they do in the video games (the rings are what keep Sonic alive if he gets hit by an enemy). In all honesty though, the rings were probably the only mechanism for explaining, without sounding totally idiotic, how Sonic could get from his world to Earth. Anyway, the main point being that Sonic the Hedgehog is an action-adventure that suffers from a lead character who always seems to be on top of things, except when his curiosity ends up causing trouble for others.
I am not going to come out and declare that video game movies have finally turned a corner. Detective Pikachu was a nice start, and Sonic the Hedgehog is already looking to be the troubled genre's next big thing. However, the smell of cinematic garbage still lingers too strong for me, and it may be years before the stench starts to go away. What might help clear out the stench could be a Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, which I am unsure if people are willing to buy into, since we are still going through a bit of cinematic universe fatigue. Sonic the Hedgehog is just one film, and for all the delays the film suffered from, most notably the delay in updating Sonic's design in response to the heavy criticism of the initial one, it is rather impressive that the film still ended up as good as it did. Jim Carrey crushes it as the villain Dr. Robotnik, Carrey revitalizing the comedic style he was a champion of during the 1990's. While the plot isn't anything spectacular, the movie still boasts plenty of effective jokes that makes it a suitable comedy for people of all ages. I can go around to family, friends, and co-workers and say to them, "Sonic the Hedgehog is actually pretty good" with a straight face. Who knows what other video game characters have true film potential?
Recommend? Yes. This is a film Sonic and non-Sonic fans can both enjoy.
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