Movies based on video games have gotten a bad reputation… and for good reason. When you try to translate a video game to a film, you inherently strip away the ability to tell the same expansive story that a video game can encompass as well as what makes the game so much fun — interactivity. For Sonic the Hedgehog, the latest video game adaptation to hit the big screen, it didn’t help that early trailers for the film got massive push back because of Sonic’s less-than-stellar character design. Paramount listened, though, and made the necessary changes to give fans what they demanded. So how does Sonic the Hedgehog hold up against its small-screen counterpart?
The idea behind Sonic‘s plot isn’t new; several films, most prominently The Smurfs, have our small, likeable heroes accidentally transported to our world to interact with their silly human counterparts. The only difference here is that it’s not so much a mistake as it is a need to survive. When the little hedgehog’s life is threatened for his speed, his surrogate mother (voice of Donna Jay Fulks) hands him a bag of magic rings that allow him to travel to any place that comes to his mind. For the next ten years, Sonic (voice of Ben Schwartz) jumps from world to world whenever he’s discovered, eventually settling on Earth.
This is where we meet small town sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who spends his days doing everything he can to keep his mind occupied in a place where nothing happens beyond a crazy outlier (Frank C. Turner) trying to convince everyone an alien creature is out to get him. This need for action prompts Tom to apply for a position in the San Francisco police department, where he will be able to save lives and finally have a purpose in the world.
At the same time his dream is about to come true, an odd power outage wipes out the electricity over several miles. Tom can’t figure out what caused the outage until Sonic takes refuge in his garage, where Tom promptly shoots him with a tranquilizer gun. As the little blue speedster passes out, he accidentally drops his bag of coins into one of his rings that has been opened up over San Francisco.
Now, as the government sends Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), one of their brilliant, but unorthodox, agents, to capture Sonic, Tom hits the road with the blue creature to track down his bag of rings so he can finally jump to a new world.
Marsden plays Tom with just the right mix of yearning, playfulness, and admiration for his loving and patient wife (Tika Sumpter) that keeps the character from going full-on cartoon character while at the same time staying on brand with director Jeff Fowler’s ultimate vision. Carrey on the other hand feels as if he stepped out of another, more ridiculous movie to wreck havoc on this one — and yet, for some weird reason, it works; his character infiltrates the film in the same way he infests the story and the characters with his over-the-top insanity.
This odd conflict of ridiculous and rational also represents the entire movie. It’s disjointed in a way that makes it feel like two different films — a credible road-trip movie about friendship and finding who you truly are, and a zany, nonsensical comedy with no limits. Marsden occupies one half of this idea, Carrey the other, and for the majority of the film, these two ideas work well together to explore the movie’s concepts and themes.
Sitting right in the middle is Sonic, bouncing back and forth between both hemispheres but never reaching the potential I think Fowler was aiming for. There are a lot of great moments that show Sonic at his best and richest level of characterization; then there are other moments that should have been either outright brilliantly funny or sweet but get disturbed by either weak writing or a disconnect between these differing approaches.
The action is where all of these elements blend together the most, which helps to hold the story together. Because the overall plot is so simple, it doesn’t feel as if anything is happening when the characters are delivering their necessary exposition or are forced to do things to keep the movie going. It starts to get a little flat, and you can feel the inconsistencies rise to the surface. It’s the action sequences, however, that propel the narrative forward at lightning speed and give us the jolt we need to remain interested in not only Sonic’s quest, but Tom’s and Dr. Robotnik’s as well.
By the end of the film, we’ve become heavily invested in each of the characters. Despite the bumps in the road, you certainly wouldn’t mind spending more time with them, especially after the tag and the mid-credit scene whet your whistle for a sequel. Now that Fowler has established all of the characters and we have a feel for the movie’s attitude, we’re left with some wonderful hints at what a possible sequel might look like, giving us hope that it could very well be better, if given the time to mature correctly.
Though the film is an odd mix of elements and the occasional missed opportunity (how do you cast a powerhouse like Neal McDonough and leave him behind after a mere five minutes?), Sonic the Hedgehog is definitely a step in the right direction for movies based on video games.
My Grade: B+
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Next week, new movies include The Call of the Wild and Brahms: The Boy II. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.