By: BRENDAN McDANIEL
It’s the twenties again, Donald Trump is somehow still the president, and the biggest movie of the past week was Sonic The Hedgehog. Truly, we live in the weirdest timeline.
I had been fully expecting to spend this column dunking on what I thought would be the first “so bad it’s good” film of the decade, but in a plot twist I never saw coming, I left the theater being unironically happy with what I saw and excited to see what the future had in store for the Blue Blur’s cinema career.
Like every slightly-nerdy kid, I went through a Sonic fan phase during my last few years of middle school. The games are hit-or-miss as far as enjoyability goes, but I do not remember anything in them really making me think “yeah, I would love to see 90 minutes of this in live action with Jim Carrey.”
The stories of Sonic games can usually be classified as either “Do Not Exist” or “Should Not Exist,” the characters are likeable at best and sickeningly edgy at worst, and the in-game acting is often marred by localization issues.
While these sorts of things are accepted as permissible for franchises rooted in the earliest days of gaming, as Sonic is, it doesn’t exactly lend itself to a film adaptation at first glance. Film versions of games from this era of gaming bring to mind the likes of 1993’s Super Mario Bros.
If you were unaware that the largest figure in the entire medium of video games did, in fact, have a live-action film adaptation, then that’s sort of the point.
And with the first trailer for this film featuring a sleep-paralysis demon disguised as a blue hedgehog set to the sounds of Gangster’s Paradise, it didn’t look like Sonic would fare much better. So why did Sonic succeed where others failed? A few reasons;
First, Sonic the Hedgehog functions properly as a movie. I know that seems like a backhanded compliment, but the fact that Sonic is competently made is remarkable given the legacy of video game movies.
Barring Resident Evil, video game movies have historically had trouble simply operating as cinema, be it due to questionable directing, atrocious costuming, or incoherent plots. Sonic, by comparison, suffered from none of these issues.
The film is well-directed, with a number of slow motion Bullet Time-esque sequences standing out as particularly impressive in composition and choreography. There’s not a single shot in the movie that looks as eye-bleedingly offensive as its genre predecessors, and this is in large part thanks to some very carefully-used CGI.
Sonic himself got a redesign following public backlash, delaying the film into this year, and coming up with a charming and highly expressive model that feels just as real as any of the human cast members.
Speaking of, the cast is just as wonderful. Jim Carrey’s exaggerated and snarky performance as Dr. “Eggman” Robotnik is the worst thing in this movie, and even then he hits more often than he misses. James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, playing small-town cop Tom and veterinarian wife Maddie Wachowski are amazing to watch on-screen together, and every scene with them both is golden.
That being said, it’s Ben Schwartz’s Sonic that steals the show. Voice acting is horribly under-appreciated in Hollywood (here’s a game for you: name a voice actor not named Matt Mercer, Nolan North, or Tara Strong), and it is performances like Schwartz’s that make it especially noticeable.
Sonic himself talks constantly, and his games are so full of dialogue that it gets very grating on the player very fast. But in the film, Sonic’s otherwise obnoxiously hyperactive personality becomes endearing through consistently clever writing and convincing delivery.
Schwartz’s banter with Marsden and Carrey is a blast, and if not the writing then the charm will crack a smile from even the stuffiest of critics.
Now, that explains what makes the movie good, but it does not really explain why it is good. What went right in the production of Sonic the Hedgehog of all things that did not in other video game adaptations?
We cannot know for certain, because moviemaking is hard and complicated actually, but my theory is this; Sonic the Hedgehog felt as if somebody really wanted to make it.
Video games have struggled to claim legitimacy as an entertainment medium and art form for their entire existence, instead often seen as more of a toy than a work of art. This isn’t helped by the sheer amount of industry executives who come not from other art mediums, but from manufactured goods; even Nintendo itself started out making playing cards before president Hiroshi Yamauchi lead the company into the video game market.
The idea that video game properties could or should be seriously adapted into other mediums, instead of tie-ins working the other way around, is a relatively new idea. Now, I am not sure why exactly somebody looked at Sonic specifically and decided it would make for a good buddy-cop/superhero comedy, and certainly not sure why anyone heard that idea and took it seriously, but I am glad they did.
It is with pride that I can say that we have the first genuinely good video game movie, in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog.