Sonic The Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) has been living in secret in the small town of Green Hills for years by keeping his super-speed and unique appearance under wraps. However, when he attracts the attention of Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a crazy government scientist, Sonic must enlist the help of the local Sheriff (James Marsden) to help him find his gold rings that will hopefully give the hedgehog a way to a safe new home.
The video game movie adaptation is one that has never had true glory on the big screen. If you need any proof just take a look at Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Super Mario, Dead or Alive, Doom, Assassin’s Creed, Hitman, Tomb Raider, Angry Birds, or Rampage to name a few of them. The list of movie adaptations is surprisingly huge but have all, despite “best” efforts, failed or disappointed cinema audiences in their own spectacular ways on the big screen. The only shining light of hope was last year’s Detective Pikachu that not only captured the heart of the game it was based on but a lot of fun too. You could ask yourself if this was finally the start of something good for video game adaptations.
Then the first Sonic The Hedgehog trailer arrived to remind everyone that Hollywood still doesn’t necessarily have the right idea when it comes to these adaptations.
What should have been a simple CGI hero became pure nightmare fuel for everyone fond of the series. If Hollywood standards were anything to go by, this should have been the version we have at the cinema now. But an odd thing happened, Paramount heard the voices of concern from fans and went back to the CGI drawing board. The film got delayed from its original Christmas 2019 release and low and behold, the film got a new visual lease of life with a brand new, improved and actually based on the classic character design for Sonic. It has been virtually unheard of in movies, let alone properties with a large fan base.
Even before the release, you have to give Paramount and the film’s production team credit for acknowledging that they made an artistic error and went to the lengths to improve Sonic’s look drastically. But at the end of the day, just having Sonic look like Sonic doesn’t necessarily give the final version of the film a pass when it comes to reviewing it and after the journey it took to get here, Sonic The Hedgehog ranks somewhere above average in the video game movie spectrum. The middling road where at times it’s good, not great, and bad, but not terrible. If that made any sense.
Focusing on the positives first, without question the film means well. There is enough care and affection for the source material that the nods and winks to its legacy and fan base are good-natured. From location names, music cues, Sonic poses all the way through to its original 16 bit graphics, you can’t say the core production team involved didn’t know anything about Sonic.
The good-natured aspect also extends to how Sonic comes across in the film. He’s a lovable scamp. The revamped design work certainly aids with his adorability and solid voice work from Ben Schwartz adds charm who seems to perfectly encapsulate the zany yet charming appeal of our heroic hedgehog.
Perhaps the big positive and the main attraction is the return of Jim Carrey to his extravagant comedic ways as Sonic’s iconic nemesis, Doctor Robotnik. For a comedy legend like Carrey, he naturally seems born to play the role. Thanks to his comedic range, Carrey gets to spout deranged egocentric dialogue that shouldn’t make sense in the slightest but because he is the one delivering the sheer silliness, it’s easy to forgive him. He mugs, he dances, he shouts loudly, he pulls that devilish rubber-like grin you know from his early roles. It’s like a welcome reminder the joy that Carrey can bring to a fun role. Is it his best? Probably not but it hits the usual notes you would expect. It is typical Jim Carrey humour so if it’s never been appealing for you, he might not win you over here.
Sonic The Hedgehog’s main problem is when Carrey isn’t in the film, the film’s problems begin to surface.
While Schwartz and Marsden make ample efforts with the material, their Hedgehog / Human double act isn’t as compelling or engaging as Carrey’s scenes. There’s nothing adversely wrong with the character relationship or performances, it’s the script that becomes their undoing and its strange idea of humour. A good portion of jokes work nicely. There’s a humorous subplot of both creating bucket lists and there are laughs to enjoy while the duo are on the road. But some jokes fail miserably. Most of these coming in the form of a character saying something along the lines of “Wouldn’t be funny if this was a thing?”
I must take a moment to address one of the worst attempts of humour from the film and that is its strange obsession of US restaurant chain, Olive Garden. A very poorly thin veiled disguised of product placement in the film. Product placement from companies is common practice for films to have some sense of product placement – practically every Bond film has it to a degree. It can even be used for a good joke like Taco Bell in Demolition Man. But when it becomes the topic of several jokes throughout the film which also involve charting in sheer detail the restaurants products and dishes, it’s incredibly offputting.
Ultimately, despite the flaws and generic origin story plot pointing, Sonic The Hedgehog’s heart is mostly in the right place. We have Jim Carrey firing on all cylinders and there are lots of little nods to the game series that should be delightful to fans of the games. It might not be perfect but there is potential in a possible franchise here and if those fan-pleasing teases are anything to by at the end of the film, I’d be interested in a second Sonic outing. Correct some of its misguided humour, this could be something special for video game fans. At the time of writing, the film has had a successful domestic opening in the US, so hopefully, we’ll be seeing the lightening-fast blue hedgehog on the big screen again in the not too distant future.
All things considered, this was probably the best outcome for Sonic’s first steps onto a cinema screen.
Sonic The Hedgehog is spin dashing in cinemas now!