If you know, then you know.
You know all about the “curse of the video-game-to-movie adaptation,” where no matter how hard studios and directors and writers and actors try, no one can really seem to get a top-to-bottom good film out of a video-game property. For every ‘Resident Evil’ or ‘Mortal Kombat’ that shows promise (and geez, these are really the best of the best in this category?), there’s a deluge of crap like ‘Assassin’s Creed,’ ‘House of the Dead,’ ‘Doom,’ the list goes on and on. And yes, even you, ‘Super Mario Bros’ fans, you must admit that the 1993 movie is a dumpster fire, all nostalgia aside.
If you know, then you know.
You know all about ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and the CGI foibles its main character went through during the film’s production, and the infamous decision by Paramount and director Jeff Fowler to admit that the titular blue hedgehog, in the first released trailer, looked creepy as all get-out and that they were going to commit the time and resources to redo the character’s design and get him looking right.
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s that original pre-redesign trailer, in all its horrendous glory:
You can’t un-see that, folks.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and Sonic’s look was adjusted. So that brings us to Valentine’s Day 2020, and the official release of the ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ film. What a long, strange journey it’s been.
The “course correction” on Sonic’s visual appearance was definitely a good thing, and once you start to watch the film and catch the big plot point in the opening scene, you wonder why they worked so hard to make Sonic look so weirdly human-like with his thin limbs and tiny eye-to-head ratio: he’s an alien from another world who comes to Earth to escape other aliens who are hunting him and lives in isolation, so why did he have to look so humanoid to being with? Give the guy some cartoon-y features, for crying out loud!
Credit the creative team for not only changing the character’s design but making some other really good visual choices in the film as well: Sonic’s “home world” is a fantastic game-to-screen adaptation of his environment from the classic Sega games of the 1990s, replete with the wood-checkered cliffs and the grassy loop-de-loops that the hedgehog loves to roam. The iconic rings/coins even feature heavily into the story: by concentrating on a location and throwing a ring, Sonic can go through the ring to teleport himself to that thought-of location.
So, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) ends up hiding on Earth for about a decade – and why not? He likes it in his “adopted home” of Green Hills (another fun reference to the name of the first level of the old game), Montana, even if none of the humans know he exists; he lives vicariously in the background of the town, avoiding being seen for fear that the aliens will hunt him down yet again. Once the government does get an inkling of his existence, however, they send in a tech expert to locate and capture the blue-furred little guy: the highly anti-social and self-centered Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).
The eccentric doc and his team of hi-tech drones and robots make escape difficult for Sonic, so much so that he has to enlist the help of Green Hills’ sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). The odd-paired duo work to escape the bad guy, form an unlikely friendship, and save the day in a climactic scene against the “bad guy” – ugh, it’s nothing you haven’t seen a hundred times before in a hundred different movies. The writing is astoundingly lazy in the latter two-thirds of the movie, utterly spoiling any potential the opening scenes of the film had.
Which is a true shame, because a few pieces are present that could have set this film on a course to greatness. Carrey’s performance, in particular, feels like, after years of establishing himself as a “serious” actor who can do more than just slapstick comedy, someone finally gave him permission to go back to being the goofy character actor that we all fell in love with early in his career. Shades in spades of ‘Ace Ventura’ and ‘Liar, Liar’ lie within ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ and it’s an absolute joy to see Carrey back in action this way. Schwartz does impressive voice work bringing equal parts eagerness and vulnerability to Sonic, and Marsden – well, he’s James Marsden, I feel like at this point in his career you should really know exactly what you’re getting when he’s in a movie.
The rest of the cast of 100% forgettable and this is not an insult to any of them (brief Neil McDonough and Michael Hogan sightings, genre fans!) as much as it is to the insanely lazy writing of the film – looking squarely at you, Pat Casey and Josh Miller. No chance is given for the audience to meaningfully engage with any of the other characters, and the small time they do appear on screen is wasted with generic military-guy talk or dutiful present-but-pliable romantic-partner duties. Marsden’s character has a wife – I don’t think she’s actually referenced as his wife until the final scenes of the movie, and I honestly couldn’t even tell you the character’s name without looking it up.
You know those memes online where people say they make a bot watch a bunch of movies and then bot pounds out some ridiculous script for a new film, incorporating all the crazy stuff if saw in its viewings? ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ truly does feel like a legitimate script-writing robot could have plopped this bland and predictable story out of its emotionless soul in about 15 minutes. The creative team was probably so scared that people would scatter from the theater as soon as the credits started rolling that they put one “mid-credits scene” actually before the credits, as soon as the screen went dark for about half a second, and then they put what should have been an “end credits scene” in after only about 90 seconds worth of credit-rolling.
So, to recap: fun visuals, a few fun performances, and a totally forgettable story. All in all, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ is surprisingly not terrible, which isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement, of course. Moments of genuine humor and ingenuity with the character, mixed too intermittently among jokes that don’t land and a painfully vanilla plot & climax, make for a wholly average cinematic experience, and yet another wasted opportunity at a video-game adaptation. Now you know.