Though it is unoriginal and full of tired clichés, Sonic the Hedgehog is at least likely to entertain younger viewers and nostalgic SEGA fans.
Due to efforts like Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter and Doom, video game movies used to come packaged with the preconception that they would be, at best, inoffensive or, at worst, spectacular flops that would damage their respective brands and provide the internet with heaps of nightmare fuel. However, with last year’s Detective Pikachu and now Sonic the Hedgehog, both of which have been met with commercial success and moderate critical praise, Hollywood seems to have finally righted the ship. But does Sonic’s success also mean that it’s a good film? Yes… and no.
For the two audience demographics it has in mind, families with children and sentimental SEGA fans, Sonic the Hedgehog is effective entertainment. Kids are likely to enjoy the antics of the titular character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) as he is welcomed to Earth and the home town of local sheriff Tom (James Marsden), whereas video game fans will have a blast spotting the many heartfelt nods that Paramount has peppered in through the 100-minute runtime.
Though catering to these specific audiences, unfortunately this makes the film’s flaws even more apparent. For those buying a ticket expecting this to be a movie for all ages and/or for those unfamiliar with the franchise, the movie is likely to come off as nothing more than trite and predictable. Sonic the Hedgehog is very reminiscent of several other ‘cute alien needs to return home’ films, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial being the archetypal example, to the point where the plot is incredibly generic. Making matters worse, even the more endearing elements, such as the buddy-cop dynamic between the main characters, feel lifted from something like Paul. The visually arresting action scenes, with Sonic moving at lightning speed, are carbon copies of Quicksilver’s in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. Of course, the problem isn’t necessarily that the movie borrows from others before it (‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’), but, rather, that Sonic the Hedgehog never does anything remotely new or interesting. It offers no surprises and nothing that most movie-goers haven’t seen before.
This is mitigated slightly by the fact that, underneath all of these borrowed elements, Sonic the Hedgehog is a film with heart that, at the very least, really tries to respect the source material. It’s unafraid to have fun, and lets its characters breathe at times. In fact, Sonic is at its most enjoyable when it’s unconcerned with the central hero-vs-villain plot – when its characters are just allowed to mess about – like when Sonic and Tom end up in a bar brawl, or Dr. Robotnik (played by comedy great Jim Carrey) dancing maniacally in his lab.
This sense of fun is aided by strong performances across the board. Schwartz brings Sonic to life with great enthusiasm, delivering a sincere performance brimming with energy. The redesign of the character helps the movie a ton, too. This version of Sonic looks good; it’s a relief that they made him more cartoonish – as opposed to the horrifyingly realistic design that was originally planned. You don’t even want to think about how gargantuan the effort from the animators must have been to get it done in time, or about how much money the studio had to spend reworking the marketing material and merchandise. The movie may have been much worse if they hadn’t changed it, though. As it stands, Sonic looks and sounds good. That being said, his personality is a bit strange: he’s not stoic and lovable like Classic or Archie Comics Sonic, nor is he as edgy and unintentionally hilarious as Modern Sonic. Ultimately, Schwartz’s Sonic reminds me of Casper the Friendly Ghost: endearing at first, but weirder the more you think about it. So I don’t.
Marsden and the rest of the cast are likeable enough, but it is Jim Carrey’s Robotnik who absolutely steals the show. It is incredibly fun to see him being so deliciously evil, bringing a typically over-the-top energy to his character. The downside to this is that Robotnik fails to be intimidating when the plot needs him to be. He is too cartoonishly diabolic for that; it is hard to take him that seriously. We can only wish that, for the potential sequel (because SEGA is definitely going to try to make more of these – stick around for the end credits), the powers that be have a better sense of the tone they want to strike with their villains and that, in general, SEGA and Paramount have learned a few important lessons from making this film.
As a first effort, then, to bring the blue blur to the big screen, Sonic the Hedgehog could have been a total dumpster fire. Yet, those able to speed past its many faults will find it to be a film with plenty of heart and one which can be surprisingly fun at times. Those who don’t, well, they will probably forget it in a flash.
Sonic the Hedgehog, directed by Jeff Fowler, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures, certificate PG.