Few characters from the video game culture are as revered as Sonic. The first Sonic game was created by Sega in 1991, and immediately began to compete with Mario in sales and popularity. The Sega Genesis era Sonic games were masterpieces of gaming, and sealed Sonic as a video game icon forever. The scrappy blue hedgehog, the blue blur, has become a mainstay of pop culture since his inception, with a clear-
It’s certainly not Sonic the Hedgehog.
There we are. That is Sonic.
Let’s go ahead and get the elephant out of the room. The last minute re-design of the Sonic character after the trailer’s massive backlash was a game changer. Pun not intended. Everything about the Sonic design was baffling. It’s hard to gauge if humanity would have survived the one-two punch of enduring Sonic and Cats, but the re-design of Sonic honestly salvaged what is a decent movie.
The original design of Sonic is one of the greatest design misfires in cinema, so dodging the bullet and re-designing it was the right call. Shutting down the studio that re-designed Sonic after completing the job…questionable call. The verdict is still up in the air as to why the studio was shut down, but the disregard for VFX artists in the film industry would be nothing new, unfortunately. Here’s a crazy idea: Pay special effects artists what they deserve. Especially in the modern era, where digital effects are relied on more than ever before.
Sonic The Hedgehog is a perfectly adequate movie. By video game movie standards, it’s top tier. But by normal movie standards, it’s fine. The film follows the antics of Sonic (Ben Schwartz) and his new cop friend Tom (James Marsden) as they race to find a way to get Sonic to his home world and avoid the clutches of the evil genius, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).
Sonic is a pretty generic buddy comedy with a light dusting of eccentricity, given the video game elements. The moral regarding friendship is pretty simple. The movie’s cinematography and style are shot crisply, but plainly. The jokes are pretty hit-and-miss. For every good riff that Schwartz gets in as Sonic, there’s usually a few forced jokes the movie tries to force in. And for every amazing scene featuring the bizarre antics of Jim Carrey’s Robotnik, there’s also a scene with Natasha Rothwell’s character eating up precious screentime (more on her later). And sure, I can handle Sonic flossing once, but twice is pushing it.
Sonic’s main trait is that he can run really, really, really fast, and a lot of the most creative and fun action and comedy comes from the way to play with that concept. The energetic performance Schwartz puts in really helps boost the movie, and having the hyper Carrey to work off of is also an asset. That being said, the movie consistently feels like it’s holding back from its full potential. The movie feels like setup to a more interesting sequel, and that is one of my biggest pet peeves in filmmaking. Why do audiences have to wait an entire movie before being able to have fun? Just make the movie crazy in the first entry.
Imagine if there was an entire film setting up the plot to Jaws before showing the shark at the very end. Just start the story at the more engaging part. And though not the worst offender in this category of filmmaking, Sonic does do that a little, only having Sonic discover his other powers at random points in the film instead of already being aware of them, or having the full Dr. Robotnik design only appear in the last 2 minutes of the movie. There’s even a post-credits scene that hints at the places the sequel could go.
Audiences have more than proven that they’re ready to just sit down and suspend their disbelief for 2 hours if it means having a little more fun. This is a world where Guardians of the Galaxy successfully introduced 5 main characters in one movie, including a talking raccoon and a tree that can only say one phrase. I think people could handle, and in fact, welcome a little more manic energy from Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic’s level of diversity is somewhat hit and miss. Tom and his wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter) make for a great interracial couple representation. It’s another positive push towards raising the bar for the bare minimum of representation. They hold a strong marriage, race isn’t even brought up as an issue, and Maddie is fully helpful and capable of helping Tom and Sonic. In fact, she actually saves Sonic’s life at one point. The positives of representing a female minority are pretty decent in that area.
That being said, there is a more awkward inclusion in Sonic. Maddie’s sister, Rachel (Natasha Rothwell). Rachel hates Tom, and no clear reason is ever given. It’s very confusing, given that Tom and Maddie are a pretty perfect couple. Because the joke is never explained, the sub-textual “joke” is awkward to analyze. Does Rachel hate Tom because he’s a white cop? The gag would make sense, and to some extent, perhaps even be funny, but because it’s never addressed properly, it never gets that closure. It’s also hard to interpret the joke any other way, and with Rachel constantly demanding that they break up, it definitely comes across as racial tension of some sort, which wasn’t needed in a movie about a video game character aimed at tweens. Maybe I’m reading too heavily into this, but regardless, the vitriol that Rachel hosts for Tom is pretty unjustified and comes up constantly. It’s her character’s sole defining trait, and it’s a letdown to see Natasha Rothwell in another bad role after I endured the dreadful Like A Boss just a month prior.
At any rate, that’s Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a perfectly fine movie that does exactly what it set out to do. I have to confess, I would love a version of the film with its original design, just to see the difference, but I’m not sure the folks at Paramount and Sega would ever let it see the light of day. It works for Sonic fans, it works for general audiences who don’t mind buddy comedies, and it excels for Jim Carrey fans.
PS: Highly disappointing that the opening credits didn’t jump on the chance to do the iconic “SEGA!” scream.