Sonic The Hedgehog arrives in cinemas from tomorrow, February 14, from Paramount Pictures.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is a live-action adventure comedy based on the global blockbuster videogame franchise from Sega that centers on the infamously brash bright blue hedgehog. The film follows the (mis)adventures of Sonic as he navigates the complexities of life on Earth with his newfound – human – best friend Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). Sonic and Tom join forces to try and stop the villainous Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) from capturing Sonic and using his immense powers for world domination. The film also stars Tika Sumpter and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic.
Sonic The Hedgehog presents SEGA and Paramount Pictures with an interesting opportunity, the world of the video game adaptation is fraught with half-baked ideas and badly received movies. Could this finally be the film to break the curse?
Director Jeff Fowler hasn’t had an easy ride working on his first feature length film. His previous credits as director only include a short called Gopher Broke whilst he also worked as a visual effects artist on 2009’s Where The Wild Things Are. The first trailer for Sonic was poorly received and consequently caused the film to be delayed several months whilst the entire titular character was re-designed in line with his video game counterpart.
But I’m happy to report that, on the whole, Sonic The Hedgehog is a satisfying adaption. There’s a distinct reverence for the source material and genuine attempt to incorporate many elements from it into the film’s storyline.
The film opens, typically, amongst an action sequence before diving backwards to explain how we reached this point in the third act. Following this is a brilliant narration as we witness young Sonic on his home planet amongst a very familiar landscape.
Opening up in this world reminiscent of the game takes a huge weight off the shoulders of the rest of the film. It negates the need for writers Patrick Casey and Josh Miller (Into The Dark) to incorporate any of the more outlandish elements of Sonic‘s landscape in to our world. Whilst Dr. Robotnik’s technology is fairly easy to fathom, if Sonic were to suddenly start running around ginormous loops in the landscape of San Francisco it could easily have taken the film in to farcical territory.
But that immediately lands on what is perhaps Sonic The Hedgehog‘s biggest issue. The franchise comes packaged with a legacy going all the way back to the release of his first game in 1991 but this film is defiantly aimed at 8-11 year olds rather than teenagers or us stalwarts of the console generation. It’s not problematic but led me to feel like the film wasn’t necessarily for me when all is said and done.
Tonally, Sonic The Hedgehog feels in the same vein as Warner Bros. Detective Pikachu but presents itself with a little less edge. Everything about Sonic feels safe, the characters are the archetypal hero – James Marsden’s Ton – and villain – Jim Carrey’s Robotnik – and they come packaged with the usual array of supporting characters. Everyone is fairly two-dimensional but fits their preordained role well throughout the script.
There’s an excellent dynamic between Tom (Marsden) and Sonic (Ben Schwartz – Parks & Rec). The script cleverly avoids dwelling on pairing the two characters up and instead focusses on the comedic interplay between them. The second act of Sonic essentially becomes a buddy-cop-cum-road-movie. Tonally if all fits together well and even my rational brain was able to put aside any questions and accept that Tom is just a good guy who wants to help people and Sonic happened to be the person in need.
Carerey’s Robotnik is the antithesis of Tom. He’s delightfully evil and revels in his own negativity from start to finish. This is by far the closest I’ve ever seen Carrey to replicating his performance as Edward Nygma in Batman Forever. Though his characterisation if deeply camp and way too over-the-top it brilliantly fits the aesthetic of the film.
It’s certainly a return to the form that many of us folk in our thirties will remember from Carrey in the late 90’s. His physicality plays a really strong part in the role and more than makes up for his lack of physical similarities to the Robotnik of the games. Though if you hang around for the credits there’s more to that then it would first appear.
It really is Schwartz’s Sonic who steals the show, as he should. It was the right decision to go back to a classic looking design for the character as the familiarity makes accepting the setup all the more easy.
Rather than duplicating the higher pitched voice sometimes heard in the games, Schwartz sticks with a heightened version of his own dulcet tones. Sonic feels well realised and has a strong personality. The visual effects used to bring him to life are easily as good as those used in Pikachu.
He’s perfectly constructed to appeal to a young audience and there’s no doubting his merchandising appeal. But there are also moments in the film where I realised I genuinely cared for Sonic. With a film built for this target audience there’s a fine line between creating a character and simply trying to sell toys. Sonic The Hedgehog strikes that balance perfectly.
The entire narrative is structured to appeal to, and not confuse, the younger audience. The story is clearcut and well explained with plenty of gentle reminders and comedic exposition throughout. It doesn’t lurch from set piece to set piece like a Transformers movie but neither does it languish in unnecessary character moments.
The middle of the film does feel overly long at times. As Tom and Sonic navigate their way to San Francisco we get bogged down in a stopover at a biker bar which serves little purpose other than to cement the friendship between the pair and help the audience feel sympathetic towards Sonic.
Similarly when they reach San Francisco and arrive at house of Tom’s sister-in-law the film veers off into purely comedic territory. It’s funny but ultimately unnecessary to the goal of the story.
Most importantly the film comes together in its third act to create a solid conflict between Sonic and Dr. Robotnik which leads in to a very satisfying ending for audience members of all ages. The fight scenes are on par for this level of film and the visual effects remain impressive throughout. There’s also enough heart that when it looks like Sonic is down for the count it really does tug at the heartstrings.
Overall, Sonic The Hedgehog is a slick production, as entirely expected. Despite the setback with the character design the visual effects of the movie haven’t suffered. With a $95m production budget, Paramount Pictures has put all the money on screen where it counts. There’s little by way of set design in the film as it is very much grounded in the real world. Dr. Robotnik’s truck is most heavily stylised set and it looks impressive with all it’s lasers and technology.
The score is provided by Junkie XL, it echoes themes from the games as well as creating a very real world soundscape. As with many of these types of film there’s a strong mix of score and popular music which is well balanced throughout.
Sonic The Hedgehog speeds out of the 8-bit world of games and on to the big screen with plenty of laughs and high-octane action. Though the movie is fun for all the family it ultimately best serves its younger audience rather than console veterans.
Sonic the Hedgehog stars Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, with James Marsden, Neal McDonald, Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally and Natasha Rothwell.