Film reviews

#400 – Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Film review #400

Director: Jeff Fowler

SYNOPSIS: Sonic, a hedgehog who was borne with super speed, is chased from his homeworld, and transports to Earth where he must hide by himself so the same thing does not happen again, and someone else attempts to capture him for his powers. Spending ten years hiding on the outskirts of the rural town of Green Hills, he has grown attached to some of the locals without them knowing of his presence. Police officer Tom Wachowski and his wife Maddie are two people has grown particularly fond of. When an overuse of Sonic’s powers triggers a large scale power outage, the government sends in their specialist Dr. Robotnik to investigate the cause, and finds that Sonic’s speed could be a source of infinite power for his robots, if he can just gets his hands on him…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSISSonic the Hedgehog is a 2020 film based on the popular video game character of the same name. The story opens with some backstory, as Sonic tells us about his home on another planet, which he had to flee because there were those who wanted to capture him for his powers to run incredibly fast. He flees to Earth under the instruction to trust no one. Ten years later, he is living in a hideout in the woods near a rural town called Green Hills. Here, he keeps an eye on the locals, but never shows himself to them. When his powers inadvertently caused a huge power outage and the government tasks scientist Dr. Robotnik with investigating, Sonic has the local sheriff Tom Wachowski help him get to San Francisco to gets his rings back which can transport him to a new world where he will be safe. The film’s story is very straightforward, with it being a typical ‘fish out of water’ plot and Sonic getting used to being around humans. I suppose there’s a bit of a twist with Sonic not trying to find his way home, but to escape his new home, but it doesn’t affect the feeling that the plot is something you’ve seen plenty of times before. Nevertheless, the themes are consistent, and tie up with Tom’s plot of wanting to move away from his home to San Francisco to do some ‘real’ police work there. The focus really isn’t on the story as this primarily aimed at children, and the fast one-liners and light-hearted back-and-forths between characters keep things going at a smooth pace so as to keep attention. In this respect, the film succeeds rather well, even if it fails to create anything innovative or deep in it’s plot. That said, there’s a lot of references to different aspects of the franchise’s history that more devoted fans will appreciate, so the film tries to saddle all audiences along for the ride.

The story primarily serves as an origin story for Sonic, so it doesn’t really get into the content that the video game franchise has made over the past thirty years. Characters like Sonic don’t even need an origin story: he is a blue hedgehog who runs really fast and fights robots created by a scientist named Robotnik. Sonic is typically characterised as having an “attitude” and cool personality (in the nineties anyway), and a carefree approach to life. The Sonic in this film doesn’t really fit that character, as he is a little more naive and troubled, but again it is an origin story featuring a younger Sonic than we’re used to, so it’s not a real issue (in the games he is typically listed as being sixteen years old, here is is probably around ten or eleven, but that’s getting a bit too technical). Tom Wachowski is a fairly standard character in these types of films, but is nevertheless likeable, and has his own plot that gives him a purpose for being on screen. He played almost the exact same character in the film Hop, the only real difference being it was the Easter Bunny he was dealing with instead of a blue hedgehog, so at least he has some experience in this kind of role. However, the stand-out performance has to go to Jim Carrey for his portrayal of genius (and mad) scientist Dr. Robotnik. He is definitely not the first person you would think of in casting Robotnik, but he definitely makes it work: he is mostly portraying him as he did for most of his roles in the nineties, but his energy really brings life into the film, and his expressive acting is hugely entertaining, even if it is just Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey. Despite this, he also manages to give the role a bit of a menacing feel, and portrays the character as a genius who is undone by his own hubris (as described by Carrey himself) gives a surprising amount of depth to his role. It would have been nice to have some more direct Sonic/Robotnik interaction though.

The first trailer for this film was met with near universal criticism, mostly because of Sonic’s design, which made him look more human with larger arms and legs and smaller eyes, but the combination of Sonic, who very much a mickey-mouse character, combined with human proportions was a horrific combination, and the backlash was so great that his CG model was completely re-designed, forcing the film’s delay. The re-done Sonic managed to achieve the impossible and was welcomed by almost everyone: such a 180-turn-about is almost unheard of (particularly in the Sonic fandom). While Sonic still looks like a CG animation and never looks truly immersed in the real-world setting, his face and body are expressive and fluid, while still being colourful and cartoony enough to retain that consistency with the character people know. I suppose a minor issue I have is that Sonic’s arms are not supposed to be blue, but that really is a personal and minor grievance.

Overall, Sonic the Hedgehog feels like a 90′s film for a 90′s character. While the iconic characters are given a strong presence on film, the story is devoid of any real originality, and moves scene-to-scene rather awkwardly. Despite this, the central themes are consistent and resonate with most of the cast, and the story is fast paced and fun so as to not get boring and keep the appeal of it’s younger target audience. The characters are likeable and have definite presence, aided by fun and quick dialogue, but don’t particularly develop in a unique manner. Given the track record of video game movies being typically disasters, Sonic the Hedgehog avoids that fate for the most part, and sets up some interesting story elements that could form the basis of sequels to develop the characters and worlds in a promising direction.