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Sonic the Hedgehog Review

February 13, 2020 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America.
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Sonic the Hedgehog Review  

Directed By: Jeff Fowler
Written By: Patrick Casey and Josh Miller; Based on the Sega games and characters created by Yuji Naka, Naoto Ohshima and Hirokazu Yasuhara
Runtime: 99 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language

Ben Schwartz – Sonic
James Marsden – Tom Wachowski
Jim Carrey – Dr. Ivo Robotnik
Tika Sumpter – Maddie Wachowski
Adam Pally – Wade
Lee Majdoub – Agent Stone
Neal McDonough – Major Bennington
Tom Butler – Commander Walters
Melody Nosipho Niemann – JoJo

The gaming icon and Blue Blur, Sonic the Hedgehog, makes his big-screen, cinematic debut in the aptly titled movie, Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic the Hedgehog games were always imaginative and created eye-popping, amazing stages in worlds that were not of Earth. So, what is the first thing that happens in a live-action Sonic movie? He’s thrust to good ole planet Earth.

At age five, young Sonic lived on a picturesque island on an alien world. The island looks a lot like the Green Hill Zone from the first game. Where are Sonic’s parents? They’re out of the picture. Instead, Sonic is raised by a kindly owl named Longclaw. Sonic already had incredibly speed powers when he was a small child, but Longclaw encourages him to keep them hidden as dark forces might want to exploit them. Sooner rather than later, Longclaw is proven right, as their home is attacked by what is a pack of nefarious assailants (their identities are spoiler-ish). Longclaw is lost, but she gives Sonic a bag of magic golden rings to transport him to Earth to keep him safe.

10 years later, Sonic has been living in seclusion in a forest outside of Green Hills (Get it?), Montana. Generally, he has followed Longclaw’s instructions and has stayed fairly hidden, though he does become a local town legend. In his isolation, Sonic has become rather lonely by being unable to interact with any other sentient beings. However, he does become quite attached to stalking the local town sheriff, Tom Wachowski (Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Sumpter). Tom is rather bored with his quiet life in Green Hills. He’s ready to move out and start a new career in law enforcement in San Francisco. He wants to help people, and he doesn’t think he can do that in Montana.

Unfortunately, Sonic runs his heart out while playing a baseball game solo and accidentally unlocks a hidden power that sets off an intense blackout that gains the attention of the American government. For whatever reason, US officials decide to send the eccentric Dr. Robotnik (Carrey) to the source of the blackout in Green Hills to investigate, since Robotnik is a technology expert. After Robotnik sends out his drones, Sonic realizes it’s time for him to check out and portal to another dimension for safety. As Sonic prepares to leave, he is inadvertently discovered and tranquilized by Tom, and during the process, Sonic unwittingly loses his precious rings on the Transamerica Pyramid. Realizing that Sonic is an innocent creature in need of assistance, Tom reluctantly agrees to help Sonic get to San Francisco, which Sonic has no idea how to locate. But Robotnik is on their trail, and he wants to study and likely dissect poor Sonic for his experiments.

Sonic the Hedgehog is far from a great movie, but it’s not a disaster. Unfortunately, it is on the mediocre side of good. What hurts the film is how severely dumbed down it is to make it more appealing to kids. That’s fine and all, but it probably was unnecessary to make Sonic do things like farting.

There are parts of the movie that are actually inspired and quite good. They show signs of what could have been a great film. There’s a scene that’s a live-action realization of a classic Sonic/Robotnik boss fight in the game. Jeff Fowler, who makes his feature directorial debut here, inserts moments and Easter eggs that show he cares about and understands this franchise to a degree, yet he’s not capable of making it truly exceptional. There are moments in the film that are cute and reference the games. At one point Sonic gets knocked down and drops all of his rings, a piece of artwork that Sonic the Hedgehog fans are going to instantly recognize; things like that.

The action ramps up in the film’s final act, and then the film gets better and a bit more exciting. But that’s after wading a rather banal American road trip plot, with a lot of unfunny jokes, complete with Sonic getting into a bar fight because some biker dudes call him and Tom “hipsters.”

The good news here is that Sonic at least looks like Sonic. After the initial trailer release, fans soundly rejected the movie design for Sonic, which looked awful. That was a kill-it-with-fire-now abomination, so at the very least, the movie is not as bad as it could have been. Initially, the CG animators and designers attempted to give Sonic more “realistic” human-like proportions. It looked horrendous.

Many Hollywood bigwigs, producers and executives who see these properties more as “IP” probably don’t understand that Sonic’s OG design is iconic. Sonic the Hedgehog may not be Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, but the character is a cultural icon. Sonic is the first video game character to ever have a giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Think about all the classic video game franchises and characters — the mascots and icons in all of pop culture that get Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. The only video game character who got the first balloon was Sonic the Hedgehog. It wasn’t Mario from Super Mario Bros. It wasn’t Pikachu from Pokémon. It was Sonic. Sonic became a cultural icon in the 1990s in a way that few things manage to obtain. Sure, make some minor tweaks to the design. Add in a detail, or two or three. But Sonic is not a human being. You can’t make him look more “realistic.” The initial movie design is the result of arrogance and foolishness. Another point is that you cannot just alter the classic hallmarks and design elements of the character. Those elements are sacrosanct and should not be trifled with.

Sonic’s updated cinematic design at least looks fairly good for a big-screen theatrical interpretation. No, he does not necessarily look “realistic,” but at least he looks believable and does not look like a creepy monster that should be hunted by the Doom Slayer. He believably interacts with the other characters and environments. In terms of his design, that’s a win for this movie.

The performance of Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik is a double-edged sword. Carrey’s interpretation of Sonic’s longtime nemesis does not resemble any iteration of the character in existence. It’s simply Carrey appearing to ad-lib and likely toss whatever script pages he was given in the trash while he chews the scenery throughout the film. This character has more in common with Ace Ventura or Fire Marshall Bill than Dr. Robotnik. Imagine Ace Ventura became a mad scientist instead of a pet detective, and that’s a rough approximation of this character.

The payoff is that Jim Carrey is the most entertaining thing in the entire film. Carrey appears to be goofing off and improvising all of his lines, but that still provides the greatest moments in the film. In particular, a dance sequence demonstrates just how much of an underrated physical comedian Carrey has been for most of his career.

Ben Schwartz is rather underwhelming as the voice of Sonic. He has the youthful juvenile part of the character down pat, but he’s missing that mischievous rebellious streak that defines the character. It’s something Jaleel White understood a lot better when he voiced the character. Sonic should have an attitude. Schwartz’s Sonic is excitable, but he does not have the attitude part down.

Overall, Sonic comes off as rather sanitized for the film. Strangely, Sonic wants so badly to settle down on Earth, especially in a small town like Green Hills. That does not seem like Sonic. So, the subplot of Sonic having this great affinity and desire to make roots in a Podunk town is a misstep. It would make more sense for Sonic to want to get out, explore and go on adventures. Not only that, juxtaposing that subplot against Tom’s own desire to leave his hometown to advance his career is forced. It’s like Hollywood has only a few stock plots they can grab out of a bag, such as “Protagonist resents his small hometown and wants to leave, but he realizes he belongs there and should stay.”

Not to mention, Sonic is the only dissenting voice who takes issue with Tom wanting to move to San Francisco. It seems like it would not be such a bad situation for Tom and his wife to move. The film does not meaningfully show why Tom is so crucial to Green Hills. Sure, Tom’s family has served the public there for generations, like that’s some sort of insane tradition that needs to be upheld. It’s not a town that is crime-ridden and badly in need of help. It’s a fairly, boring, peaceful small town. Sonic loves it for some reason, so of course, Tom is a jerk for wanting to leave to advance his career. It’s nothing but kids-movie silliness.

Also, the film has a narrative-framing device that’s somewhat pointless and unnecessary. It’s a framing device that the 2012’s The Avengers wisely, and very narrowly, avoided for its theatrical release. It shows the cards too early rather than letting events build to a more natural conclusion.

The film’s music is painfully dull and disappointing. The score only has one actual ode to the music from the first game with an understated version of “Green Hill Zone.” It’s nice, but moments like this are few and far between. The music has a lot of pop songs and needle drops, but none of the songs or music that defined the history of this franchise. Additionally, some of the sound effects sound muted. There is a big moment that sounds loud and chaotic when some guns start firing, but strangely enough, the gunfire sounds surprisingly low.

All complaints and nitpicks aside, Sonic the Hedgehog has its decent points. Once the action begins, the story starts feeling inspired. And as underwhelming as the kidified attempts of comedy are, there are elements here that set up a potentially superior follow-up. It’s similar to how comic book movie origin stories are rather boring and perfunctory when the more exciting material usually happens in later stories. That’s a separate issue, but at least the potential is there.

In short, while the first live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie is passable, somewhat underwhelming kiddie fare, there are at least signs of a much greater film and a better story. That could happen in a sequel, or it could not. This Sonic can move. He does not quite have the attitude, but as the song says, he’s still the fastest thing alive.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Credit is due to the producers and filmmakers. At least they delayed the film and altered Sonic's movie design to make the character look more respectable rather than the abomination it could have been. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie is by no means a masterpiece. Fans might see it that way simply because it's not as bad as past live-action video game movie adaptations such as Warcraft, Assassin's Creed, Tomb Raider and Super Mario Bros.. However, it's still rather lacking. Jeff Fowler has his moments here, and there are hints of a movie that could have been far superior. That said, there is redeeming material that at least makes one open to the idea of a possible sequel if this is a hit.