The Sonic the Hedgehog movie has had one of the more troubled production histories in recent memory. The license was originally picked up by Sony, however, not much came about from the project. There were several names being placed about, even Tim Miller (who directed Deadpool) was at one point attached to the project. However, that film never really came about, and the rights were later acquired by Paramount Pictures which is kind of where we’re at with the movie today. This film also received weird reactions when the casting of actors was announced, with Jim Carey as well as James Marsden in leading roles.
The film also received several delays, most infamously a several-month delay after it was meant to come out in November 2019, however, this plan was changed following an infamous fan backlash to a trailer which showed off an appalling character redesign for the film. The design was going for a rather realistic take on Sonic –as realistic as a blue talking hedgehog can get– but this had just the uncanny valley effect, it was in full display. I was definitely one of the people who really hated the design and was quite glad we were getting delay in redesign. And normally I wouldn’t be so happy with a massive fan backlash affecting how creators make work. As we’ve seen from the Disney live action films, that’s actually led to poorer films. However, this is one instance where it was a wise decision. Once we go the trailer with the redesigned Sonic, it was very clear this was being taken very seriously and we had a much better looking Sonic. They managed to hit a decent middle ground between being true to the original character’s design but giving him some sense of realism.
Sonic the Hedgehog at the end of the day is well, the story of Sonic, played through motion capture by Ben Schwartz. After villains want to take his powers, his guardians Longclaw used enchanted rings to send him to our world. There he spends several years hanging around the town of green hills knowing that if his power is ever discovered, he’ll have to leave Earth. However, one evening he runs way too fast, causing a massive blackout across half of the American West Coast, getting the attention of the US military and more importantly hive robotics expert Dr Robotnik (Jim Carey) to find the cause. Sonic, unable to help himself after running into a major issue preventing him from getting back to his world, seeks help from police officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) to get back his rings in order to get away from Earth and keep people safe.
Okay, I’m a massive Sonic fanboy so I’m definitely the person who this sort of film was aimed at. But even with my raging bias aside, Sonic the Hedgehog is actually really quite good. Yeah, no joke. I actually think this is a genuinely good family film. It’s rather generic and it revels in clichés and tropes but it’s not doing anything really bad, in fact I really don’t have much negative to actually say about the film. I would say the editing’s not great in a couple of the final action scenes, but the action scenes overall are actually shot really damn well and take full use of Sonic and his powers. This film’s been directed by first time director Jeff Fowler, which really surprised me because this does not feel like a first directorial job, though it’s also not surprising that he’s able to work as well with the effects as he does since Fowler was basically in charge of the effects on Where The Wild Things Are. But Fowler seems to have transitioned very well into directing, more so than many effects people have in the past.
They keep Sonic rather likeable and give him most of his personality from his various incarnations but he’s not exactly the same as video game counterparts. Unlike a lot of times where Sonic seems like a bit of a wandering loner, in this one, he actually really values company and friendship and it’s a big driving factor of his character, and it feels very organic and well thought out. At the end of the day, it’s quite impressive that they managed to take so much from what basically is just a really fast, blue hedgehog. Speaking of which, the super speed effects are pretty good. Though I will say there are a couple of sequences where you can tell Jeff Fowler had definitely watched X-Men: Days of Future Past – there are a couple of scenes in the film which directly lift from the famous quicksilver scene. But they’re at least good clones, and I think he would have been upset if they hadn’t done a scene like this.
Now, what probably is going to put a lot of people in the seats is Jim Carey’s casting. Yeah, the trailers don’t lie – Jim Carey is in full Jim Carey mode. This is the kind of role you’d expect from one of the films he did in the 90s. I don’t mind it so much considering that he’s playing Dr Robotnik and really, with a couple of exceptions where they did quite a good job making Robotnik menacing, at the end of the day he’s really a goofy villain. Jim Carey is a good choice to play a goofy villain! I’ve heard a lot people say that this is a tamer and more controlled version of his performance as the Riddler in Batman Forever and I think that’s a decent description of it. There are only a couple of scenes where he goes completely bananas. My big fear that he would take up a large majority of screen time in this film is fortunately not the case – Sonic takes up most of the screen time – the writers are very aware this is a Sonic the Hedgehog movie.
And while I’m at it, I completely bought Ben Schwartz as Sonic the Hedgehog. I actually thought Schwartz was a good choice considering that it was a good idea to hire a prominent voice actor in the role; you might recognize Schwartz from his voice acting in the recent Duck Tales reboot and also his role of being Rutabaga Rabitowitz in Bojack Horseman. He’s also currently the voice of Leo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. But my main thought was, if they were going to hire a voice actor to play Sonic, why didn’t they just hire the current voice actor for Sonic, Roger Craig Smith in the role? It’s not as if I don’t think he’d be willing to do it and he has played Sonic in the Wreck it Ralph movies. But Ben Schwartz really nails the role. I honestly wouldn’t mind if he played Sonic in future projects, and I’m wondering if it’s going to start a debate between whether he or Roger Craig Smith is the better Sonic actor. Personally, I’d have to flip a coin on it because I think both actors bring something to the role.
The rest of the cast’s alright. I really like James Marsden a lot more than I thought I was going to and he does a pretty good job interacting with Sonic. It’s got to have been a hard role for him considering that he’s doing what several actors nowadays have to do with these live action versions of what would normally be animated properties, which is, essentially, he’s got to work with a special effect that’s going to be added in later. But I think Marsden and Schwartz have very good chemistry on screen in their roles and it completely feels like the two are interacting with one another.
Speaking of the effects, they’re actually really damn good. The only complaint I have with the effects and designs (I already stated I actually like this new design for Sonic and I thought the effects were really good, reminding my quite a bit of Detective Pikachu) is that I think the robot designs were not that interesting. This is Robotnik we’re talking about, he’s known for making several varying types of creations. Okay, I wasn’t expecting something as silly as robotic beetles and fish like you get in the games but all of them just seem to be weird egg-shaped drones and vehicles. I kind of wish a bit more imagination had been put into those, though I thought the design for Robotnik’s ship was great and worked out very well in a couple of the action scenes, especially the round-the-world action scene that was given away in the trailers.
The thing is though, I’ve heard a lot of people say that there’s a couple of things that hold it back. You’re obviously not going to get too many people who didn’t already like Sonic in to see this movie but I think they should really give it a chance, though, that being said, some of the Easter eggs in the film really only Sonic fans are going to get. Most people get why it’s set in the town of Greenhills, Montana since that was the first ever Sonic level so it makes sense to do a little callback to it, and there’s a nice piano piece in the movie of the Greenhill theme which is arguably the most iconic Sonic the Hedgehog song, which, again, some people might get. But there’s only going to be Sonic fans that’ll notice things like the road sign in Sonic’s caves that say Emerald Hills or the logo on Sonic’s headband. Also, this film has really blatant product placement. There’s been a few like a real estate’s sites for America which really comes off like an advert, as well as some minor ones for Puma shoes which I think are only available in America and unfortunately are only going to be in kid’s sizes (which is a shame because I actually would have like to have got some replica Sonic shoes). But the most blatant one is the product placement for Olive Garden, that also really comes off like they’re just blatant adverts. It really reminded me a lot of the Krispy Kreme product placement that was in the Power Rangers film.
This all aside, this film has had rather lukewarm reactions and I think it’s rather undeserved – this is a pretty decent videogame adaptation. If, years ago, you would’ve said the best videogame adaptations to go to cinemas would be Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu, you’d be laughed out of the building, but this is the world we’re living in. Sonic the Hedgehog is an excellent videogame movie, I really enjoyed myself watching it. The action scenes are well done; the buddy-comedy works out well; I got some decent laughs out of the film; they keep the lead being likeable but not annoying; Jim Carey’s on good form and doesn’t overbear the film; the effects are really good. I don’t really have much negative to say about it other than the product placements are a bit distracting and the film is not really trying to push any boundaries. This isn’t the best videogame adaptation out there; I still think the two that come most to mind are Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist and Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, but this is not in the lows of films like Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed or the Super Mario Bros. Yeah, good luck with that by the way, Illumination. If Illumination Pictures is going to bring out a Mario Bros film, this film has set a high standard for them to meet. If you’re a Sonic fan, don’t worry, the film turned out good. Even if you’re not a Sonic fan, check it out, it’s a decent family film. This is not the piece of crap a lot of people thought it was going to be.
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