Written by: Joe Lollo
Video game movies are a mixed bag. Some of them, like Detective Pikachu and Final Fantasy: The Advent Children, are good, while others like Super Mario Bros., Assassin’s Creed, and the Resident Evil series are less than stellar. When I first saw the trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog, a film based on a video game franchise I grew up playing, I was disappointed, and a little bit disturbed by the underwhelming plot and by Sonic’s design. I thought it was going to be an ironic masterpiece. Once they changed his design, however, everything changed. I knew right from the remade trailer that I was going to love this film; and nobody on the Internet would convince me otherwise.
I have no shame in saying I genuinely enjoyed this film. It’s funny how one simple design change can make everything so much better – and the new CGI Sonic blends very well with the rest of the atmosphere. The VFX department specifically does a great job in crafting the aesthetics of the film, throwing in random references to games of the past over a colorful landscape beautifully remastered in post-processing. The soundtrack, sound editing, and sound mixing are terrific as well, and feel very high-budget and professional compared to other video game films.
The story is kind of a weak point, but at least it’s passable. The film follows the titular blue hedgehog (Ben Schwartz), a “magical” (a term that is never used in the games) hedgehog who can run faster than sound and has a bag of magic rings that can take him to different universes. After being attacked by a group of echidnas (a subtle reference to his echidna pal Knuckles) in his homeworld, he escapes to Green Hills, Montana, longing to exist among its residents. In the meantime, police officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) is debating wanting to move out of Green Hills so that he can save people and do good for the world, while his wife (Tika Sumpter) wants to stay because it’s their community. Everything seems fine and dandy for both Tom and Sonic until an evil scientific genius named Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) announces his plan to destroy Green Hills’ natural ecosystem, build a robot uprising, and eventually take over the whole world. This inspires the two, and on a road trip to to save the town, and eventually the world, from destruction, Tom and Sonic bond even more. It’s a basic and mundane plot, by no means as convoluted and unnecessarily confusing as some of the games’ plots, but it works.
The cast is terrific, to say the least. Ben Schwartz, an actor known for playing characters with big personalities like his beloved Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Rec, really gives it his all as the iconic hedgehog. His performance is a brilliant take of the gaming classic, and properly captures the outward cockiness and quick wit but inward desire to be a hero that gamers all know and love. James Marsden is solid as ever, and the bit parts, including rapper Riff-Raff and the aforementioned Sumter, are wonderfully placed within the film’s atmosphere. Jim Carrey is the cherry on top, however. He really taps into the manic energy that the mad doctor has in the source material, and is the source of some of the film’s best moments.
Speaking of “best moments”, the comedy is terrific. There are some great throwaway lines from Schwartz, and the dialogue manages to be both funny and believable on all ends. The rest of the humor is in that sweet spot between high-brow and slapstick, which makes it fantastic to watch. The heartfelt moments among all the jokes work, and as a result the emotional moments all land better than they ended up in most video game films.
The reason Sonic the Hedgehog really shines, however, is that it strays from the video game’s linear narrative but doesn’t change much besides that, just like Detective Pikachu did last year. It takes a central foundation to the game, specifically the automation of the natural world, and successfully adapted it into a fine fantasy film that touches on a very real issue. I could actually see families discussing human-environment interaction and the preservation of nature after watching this film together.While there are parts that the gamer in me wished was much better, especially in terms of adding more characters and elements from the games into the film, I would be lying if I said Sonic the Hedgehog was not good, especially for a video game movie.