Sonic the Hedgehog is a solid, fun, family popcorn flick that did more-or-less what I expected of it.
If you go into this movie expecting something more deep and serious, you’ll leave disappointed. As a lifelong fan of the little blue hedgehog, I’ve experienced enough of the various fiction to know that you can absolutely tell a dark and serious Sonic story, with real peril, deep and complex characters, romance, and drama; but a Hollywood movie for mainstream audiences was never going to be it. It’s an alien buddy movie/superhero origin story about a small town American cop and his super fast hedgehog friend, who’s trying to escape from Earth before an evil government scientist can capture him for his nefarious purposes. In other words, it’s a film we’ve all seen a thousand times before. But it does it well, so I’m not complaining.
When I saw that first trailer and that ghastly first design for movie Sonic, like many, I was concerned that the studio didn’t quite grok the IP they were dealing with; but having seen the film now, I’m pleased to say that they had a better grasp of who and what Sonic is than I’d feared, and movie Sonic’s redesign by Tyson Hesse looked great. The filmmakers weren’t trying to re-create any existing Sonic fiction for the big screen; rather, like so many efforts on the page or the small screen before now, the studio used the characters of Sonic the Hedgehog and Doctor Robotnik to weave their own tale, which made more than a few neat little references to various elements from past Sonic fiction (and not just the games). So this film is no different, really, than half of the superhero movies out there; and like I said, this was very much an origins story for Sonic.
The film embraces the two-worlds setup that Sega declared canon a few years back, with Sonic’s world and the human world (i.e. Earth). We learn about Sonic’s past as a child on his home planet (which wasn’t given any name, but I’m calling it Mobius, at least in my heart) and the circumstances that brought him to our world. Throughout the course of the film, Sonic gradually goes from being just a wisecracking hyperactive hedgehog to the hero we know and love, when circumstances force him to face off against Doctor Robotnik to protect the people he cares about. Again, if you think you’ve seen this film before, you absolutely have. The story isn’t at all original, despite being an “Original Films” production. But every work of fiction borrows from what came before, and we need to be okay with that, if we want to keep enjoying fiction. Admittedly, though, some of the tropes for this kind of superhero have worn a little thin by now; after all we’ve seen two X-Men films in the last six years where time slows almost to crawl so Quicksilver can whiz around repositioning people, fists, bullets, and other objects in motion for a hilarious explosion of chaos when time resumes for everyone else. That’s something Sonic the Hedgehog actually does twice; although, it was refreshing to see it be somewhat subverted in the second instance. And this is, of course, also an origin story for Doctor Robotnik… or perhaps he’ll be calling himself Doctor Eggman when we see him again?
So, what did I like about this film? Well, Sonic, frankly, was great. He was good fun and had the kind of hyperactive energy we might expect of someone who can easily run faster than the speed of sound and has zero patience whatsoever. His interaction with Tom Wachowski, his human friend was good fun, and the high-speed high-jinks were entertaining. But I also really appreciated the portrayal of Robotnik. I will make no secret that I am not a fan of Jim Carey. I have personal reasons for disliking him as a man, but as an actor with a penchant for really hamming it up, he’s not bad. I did worry that this film would be 100 minutes of Carey gurning at the camera and overshadowing anybody else (like any film he was in during the 90’s), but he gave a much more restrained performance this time. In fact, he didn’t even show up until the second act of the film and he didn’t have all that much screen time, really. But what time was given over to Robotnik showed us a man who genuinely believes himself to be, at all times, the smartest person in the room, which makes everyone else idiots by definition. He loves robots because they’re obedient and do what they’re made to do and don’t require any downtime, unlike people, whom he has palpable contempt for. This is a Robotnik quite unlike any we’ve seen before, but the seeds are definitely there for him to become more like the eccentric madman we know and love from the games. Indeed, where the film leaves off (setting us up for a sequel, naturally), he’s well on his way to becoming that guy.
What about gripes? Well, honestly, I don’t have many. This film more-or-less hit the nail on the head for what it was trying to do, and I liked it. My biggest complaint was that Sonic’s world seems so much more interesting than Earth. I want to know more about the characters we see at the start of the film (at least one of whom appeared very familiar), when we learn about how Sonic came to Earth. I’ve no doubt this will come up in any sequel that gets made, however, so hopefully we’ll get some answers then. But it does make me wonder why the studio couldn’t have just made a fully animated Sonic film set on his world, instead of the film we got. It’s like 1987’s Masters of the Universe all over again. Then again, we already have a ongoing comic like that, so maybe it’s better if the film does something different, which brings me to my other gripe…
This one is a fairly minor complaint, but this film gave me some serious flashbacks to 2003. It felt very similar to Sonic X. I mean, how could it not? The premise is basically the same. Sonic comes to Earth from another world and befriends a human, and they have a zany adventure together trying to survive against Doctor Robotnik/Eggman. But this film also suffers from the same problem that bothered so many of us about Sonic X. Too much focus on the human characters at the expense of Sonic. This film is as much about Tom Wachowski and his character arc as it about Sonic’s and, while Tom is far less annoying than Chris Thorndyke (he’s an adult, for one, and not some spoilt rich kid living in a mansion), he did steal an awful lot of screen time that ought to have been focussed on Sonic. Heck, Sonic spent two whole scenes unconscious while Tom and the other human characters did stuff. But Tom was a decent character, as was his wife, Maddie, and I adored their golden retriever, Ozy. So, a gripe, but a minor one and certainly not a dealbreaker.
So, to wrap this up, that Sonic the Hedgehog movie is all right. If you like Sonic already and you go in expecting a silly, fun popcorn flick, you’ll have a good time. If you’re a Sonic fan with kids of your own, it could be a nice family afternoon trip to the cinema. And if you’re just a fan in your mid-thirties without any kids of your own, like me, you may enjoy it too. If not, thankfully, we do still have a veritable smorgasbord of Sonic fiction to choose from.