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Posted on Mar 4th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under RF Cinema, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic, Sega, Sega Genesis, movies

Regular RF Cinema readers know I had pretty low expectations for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Between Hollywood's less-than-stellar track record of turning video games into compelling film experiences, the series struggling to reach the heights of its glory days on the Genesis, and that whole thing of the title character's first CG iteration being borderline horrific, there wasn't much reason to give it the benefit of the doubt.

After a months-long delay to redesign the little blue blur, the film is finally here. The good news: it's not a dumpster fire! The bad news: it falls victim to the same traps of most other video game movies. Read on for the details in the latest episode of RFGeneration's exploration of video games in cinema.

The pandering starts from the very first shot, with the stars around the Paramount Pictures logo being replaced by gold rings and the sound bite we all know so well. This is followed by the Sega logo, curiously made up of a picture collage of various Genesis games. Things get odd right off the bat. We're introduced to child Sonic, zipping his way through a realistic CG rendering of what could be a Green Hill Zone level. He quickly runs into an owl character who appears to be some kind of mentor for Sonic. A group of armored echidnas ambush the two without much explanation other than Sonic has powers. The owl presents Sonic with a bag of gold rings, which are used to make portals to other worlds. The owl rushes Sonic and his ring bag through a portal to Earth, where he can go into hiding.

I haven't exactly kept up with the last couple decades of Sonic lore, but the only part of the opening scene that made any sense to me was that Sonic is fast. I wasn't filled with hope for the rest of the movie.

Fast-forward 10 years, Sonic is now grown and living in the woods just outside a town called Green Hills, Montana (get it?). It's a small midwestern town where nothing exciting ever happens. Sonic has gotten to know the locals from a distance, not actually meeting or interacting with them because he's supposed to be on the down low. He's made "friends" with the local sheriff, Tom Wachowski, and his wife, Maddie. Inevitably, our hero's electric powers manifest one night in a bout of loneliness and cause the entire town's power to go out.

Picking up on the incredible power surge, the government decides to bring in Dr. Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey. To its credit, the film leans into the fact that Robotnik is thought of as an insane genius. No one really likes him, and the scene where he's introduced wouldn't look out of place in any other movie in Carrey's comedic filmography.

No one takes Robotnik too seriously, and that's pretty much how it should be.

In an attempt to evade the doctor and his army of drones, Sonic has a run-in with Wachowski, officially meeting him in person for the first time and getting the sheriff to agree to drive him to San Francisco to retrieve his bag o' rings. There's a reason they're in San Fran, but it's a contrivance not really worth mentioning here. The rest of Sonic the Hedgehog, then, is a runaway/chase movie. Sonic and Wachowski are reluctant partners on a road trip to California and Robotnik is trying to hunt them down.

I'm happy to say that once everyone gets on the road things get kind of fun. The Sonic games are about nothing if not going fast, and a scene where an armored vehicle, piloted remotely by Robotnik, attempts to capture Wachowski and Sonic is genuinely awesome. It's the first scene that actually reminded me of those games I used to play as a kid, and showcases both the crazy, cartoonish technology you find in video games, and Sonic's powers as a force to be reckoned with.

Yep, he does the spinny-ball slamming into things thing.

While Robotnik himself initially comes off as a typically-Carrey larger-than-life caricature, the more the movie lets his character loose, it actually starts to kind of work. In a slow burn sort of way, he gets more and more like the character I remember from the game. He's the source of several lines I honestly found funny, and by the end of the film I was surprised to discover the character had grown on me to the point where it felt like a better payoff than I'd hoped for.

As far as the Sonic character goes, Ben Schwartz's performance is believable and on point. He gives the blue guy an appropriately 90s, snarky sense of humor that comes off as endearing more often than annoying. In addition, the redesign of the character seems to have been work well done. The more recent trailers already gave us a look at the updated rendering, and seeing the movie in full reinforced for me that it was a wise decision, despite the extra cost it likely entailed.

The performances are without a doubt the best parts of Sonic the Hedgehog. The weak point, then, is the writing. Like the vast majority of video game movies, the parts where Sonic stumbles are when it tries to be a regular movie rather than a video game movie. The plot itself is nonsensical and poorly explained, the moments where it tries to be emotionally resonant don't work all that well, and there are seemingly obvious solutions to a couple problems which are never even considered. Sonic's owl guardian and the evil echidnas are never mentioned beyond the opening scene, Maddie's sister hates Tom for no apparent reason, and Maddie herself has no purpose in the film. She's never reduced to a damsel in distress or simple eye candy, but she's never given an opportunity to do anything meaningful.

Thankfully, when Sonic is given free reign to be a movie about a speedy electric hedgehog against a mad scientist with insane robot inventions, it shines. Watching the quilled-one race along leaving a blue streak in his wake with Robotnik hot on his heels in a futuristic flying machine brought an undeniable grin to my face. I wish it was more of that and less "real" movie plot, but I must admit there's more meat on this bone than I was willing to give it credit for. The easter eggs don't quite beat you over the head with their blatency, but they're not super well hidden either, and the first part of the end credits is a nostalgic homage that took obvious inspiration from films like Wreck-It Ralph and The Lego Movie. It's also worth sticking around for the short mid-credit scene. It, along with Robotnik's condition at the end, give me hope that there may in fact be a decent sequel to be had here.

He's almost the Dr. Robotnik we remember.

At the end of the day, Sonic the Hedgehog is a film that seems to be trying to walk a thin line. The moments where it's a video game are kinetic and lively in a way that gives the impression the people who made it identify with those of us who spent hours with the Sega Genesis. At the same time, it's simplistic and juvenile in a way that's clearly meant to appeal to a new generation of kids whose ideas about what Sonic is couldn't be more different than ours. There were more than a few children in the theater when I saw this, and they all seemed to be having a lot of fun. For myself, if this movie had come out when I was 10, I have no doubt I'd have loved it to pieces. That's a tough balancing act for any director, let alone a first-timer, and although it fails just as often as it succeeds, Sonic the Hedgehog is both a worthwhile film to take the kiddos to, and is better than it has any right to be for us older folk. To put it in RF Cinema perspective, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is better, but Sonic has a lot more going for it than Rampage.

Do you plan to see the Sonic movie? Have you seen it already? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below. I'd be interested in hearing others' impressions.

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Good review, and I loved the movie well worth the wait.
Took my kids to see it and they both loved it. It's all they talked about for the following week and my son has been drawing Sonic characters every day since.

I thought it was decent too. Had a couple chuckles and it was pretty fun. I really really didn't like Robotnik though. Every time Jim Carrey was on screen I just dreaded it.

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