Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) - Movie Review

I don’t get Sonic The Hedgehog. No, I’m not talking about the ravenous fanbase, or even having a dig at the games themselves (although it must be said that the Sonic games aren’t the kind to do things small; when they’re bad, they’re really bad); I’m talking strictly in terms of the character himself. He’s a blue anthropomorphic hedgehog who can run faster than anything else, and he has a really cocky attitude. That’s pretty much it. I don’t claim to be the biggest Sonic afficionado out there, but I’ve gone through enough Let’s Play osmosis to have seen the games and, even considering the competition, this has to be one of the trickiest games to give the big-screen treatment. A trick that these filmmakers just didn’t seem to get right.

Ben Schwarz in the title role does well enough with the character, but again, there really isn’t that much character to work with in the first place. Sonic has always been attitude over personality, and save for maybe Sonic SatAM, there isn’t much evidence that he works as anything other than brand icon on his own terms. All of the humans around him, especially James Marsden, seem unable to keep their head above water, and they end up rather bland as a result.

There is a major exception to that, though, and that’s Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik. Even keeping my own admiration for the man’s work out of the equation, it is quite astounding how effortlessly he steals the entire show. Part of that is definitely due to his charisma on-screen, as he makes for a very fun villain, but there’s also the writing around him as well. From his worldview to his personality to his origins, right down to his personal quips, everything about this guy outshines pretty much everything else here by miles. I almost wish that this film was just a Robotnik origin story, given how lopsided the writing is regarding characterisation.

Even with the blank slate they had to work with in mind, Sonic really doesn’t leave much of an impression when all is said and done. His dialogue is peppered with pop culture references, only reinforcing how much assistance the character needs to make a mark, and they aren’t particularly good. Not that they’re downright awful or anything; just that they don’t really… click.

Which is a real shame because this film really comes across like it’s being propped up by the IP to be worth showing, and yet it doesn’t even do anything with it. If anything, given the film’s conclusion and mid-credits scene, this feels like a proof-of-concept for another Sonic movie, one that would actually feature all the other memorable characters Sonic is associated with and, hell, maybe even get into the environmentalism that has been a mainstay of the franchise since the beginning.

It helps explain how lacklustre the actual ‘plot’ of this thing is, as it’s basically just a road trip movie with Sonic and Marsden’s sheriff going to San Francisco. And even that is overselling the progression of the story. Part of me wants to point out the obvious as far as putting a guy who can run faster-than-light in a car, but that would only distract from how this is a road trip with barely any pit stops. It tries to make a point about Sonic’s social isolation and lack of friends (which, knowing the existence of Tails, Knuckles and Amy beforehand, feels particularly forced), but for every moment that Carrey isn’t on-screen, it’s just so plain that it barely even registers a reaction.

I honestly wanted to give this film a chance, not just as another video-game adaptation but also considering the production crunch MPC Vancouver went through for the redesign (which, admittedly, is a marked improvement over the initial reveal). But that only ends up making this whole thing an even more bitter pill to swallow, since it doesn’t really hold up as a big-screen depiction of the IP or as its own standalone movie. Again, I’m saying this as an outsider of the fandom, and I genuinely hope that the die-hards get something worthwhile out of this. But for me, this just feels like a step backward for what video game movies have grown into over the last few years.

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