The period leading up to Sonic the Hedgehog’s release has been a strange one. I remember how awful the original Sonic design was, but I also remember how happy I was to see the much-improved redesign. People started to speculate if the original design was a PR stunt, wondering if the film was even supposed to be released in November 2019. People were getting their hopes up all the same, but I was well aware of how bad video game adaptations had been in the past. Besides the excellent Castlevania animated series on Netflix, I hadn’t seen a video game make the transition from software to the screen with any grace. That all changed with Detective Pikachu, which was revolutionary just for not being terrible. Going into the theater on Valentines Day evening (what could be more romantic?), I was expecting Sonic to be either average or bad, but funny all the same. I’m happy to say it ended up being a little better than average.
The movie clocks in at a fittingly brisk 99 minutes, and I certainly doubt it would have been helped by being any longer. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) here is an outcast from another world, hiding in Green Hills, Montana to keep his unique powers of running fast safe from the wrong hands. If Earth becomes dangerous, he must use his rings to warp to a different planet (which is nothing like the games, but I’ll let it slide). After he mistakenly knocks out power across the entire United States by running the bases on a baseball field too fast, the U.S. Military enlists Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to find the source of the outage. Sonic attempts to use his rings to get away, but ends up dropping them onto the top of the Trans-America Tower through a ring portal after Tom (James Marsden), a local police officer, tranquilizes him out of shock. Thus ensues a journey of friendship as Sonic goes with Tom to get his rings, defeating Robotnik’s robots along the way.
The plot doesn’t surprise you or hit you with anything terribly deep or emotional, but it gets the job done. It moves along at an even pace, establishing its characters and setting well enough before moving on to the action. The humor doesn’t always land, but it can squeeze some laughs out of the viewer and it’s rarely cringe-worthy. The acting, too, is actually pretty good. Ben Schwartz is a fitting Sonic voice, as he captures the cocky parts of the hedgehog without making him out to be mean-spirited or annoying. James Marsden is given a rather unmemorable role – this isn’t Tom the Human, after all – but he plays it well and likable all the same. Jim Carrey is also clearly having fun as Robotnik, balancing his trademark weirdness with mischievous mustache-twirling. The action is engaging and fast-paced, never overstaying its welcome. Fans of the games will find nods to Sonic’s origins here and there, such as his rings spilling out all around him after he takes a hit or the street sign leading to Hill Top found in his cave.
While it is a fun time, though, I could never shake the feeling that it could have been better. Some things here and there could have been more consistent with the games. For instance, Sonic never really had an electric motif like The Flash does, but he does in this movie. I simply wonder why it doesn’t tap into the wide range of characters and settings the Sonic series has to offer, instead opting for a fish-out-of-water storyline with Sonic as some alien on Earth. Instead of trying to get us to focus on Tom or the U.S. military, why not tell a story in Sonic’s world with his friends and foes like Tails, Knuckles, and Shadow? My only guess is that producers didn’t have faith in a Sonic movie with closer ties to the source material, but some scenes at the end of the film give me hope that a sequel could bridge the gap more.
All in all, Sonic the Hedgehog is an enjoyable time, sure to keep you entertained for the runtime despite the strange direction the character was taken in. For a video game movie, it’s one of the best by far simply for being solid all-around. I only wish it could’ve tapped into its franchise power a little more, but maybe we can hope for that next time around.