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Sonic the Hedgehog

Posted February 17, 2020 By Curiosity Inc.

In case you didn’t read my previous blog entry, let me sum up what we’ve got here.

  • Paramount has had a rough decade, steadily imploding since they lost out on buying Marvel back in 2009.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has had a rough couple of decades, with a steady string of godawful games going back (at least) to his ill-fated 15th anniversary relaunch in 2006.
  • Jim Carrey hasn’t been relevant since Robert Zemeckis’ take on A Christmas Carol back in 2009. (And even that’s being generous.)
  • James Marsden and Ben Schwartz have never been relevant.
  • Screenwriters Patrick Casey and Josh Miller have written nothing that anyone would want to be associated with. (Fucking Dorm Daze? Seriously?)
  • Jeff Fowler has never directed a film before.
  • Game-to-film adaptations have never resulted in anything positive, even after twenty goddamn years of trial and error.
  • Movies about cartoon animals who escape to the real world, engaging in comical hijinks with a live-action “straight man” (see also: Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Smurfs, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, etc.) have never resulted in anything positive.

(Side note: No, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doesn’t count — even the “real world” in that movie wasn’t the real world.)

  • The trailer to this one was so radioactive that Paramount pulled it from their social media profiles, dumped the film in February, and literally broke a VFX studio trying to fix it.

Gentle readers… this is it. This is what rock bottom looks like. When the bar has been set this impossibly low, I honestly can’t tell if Sonic the Hedgehog is destined to fail or if it could only succeed. In either case — Heaven help me — I just had to see how this trainwreck turned out.

The plot begins on the planet… well, the planet is never actually named in the film, but longtime franchise fans will immediately recognize it as Mobius. Here, we see an orphan Baby Sonic, adopted by a character who was invented for the movie and she immediately dies protecting him, so let’s not pretend it matters. The bottom line is, Sonic is in perpetual mortal danger because everyone is after his powers of super speed. Now that he’s no longer safe on Mobius, he has to be sent away to another planet entirely.

To arrange this, Sonic is given a bag of golden rings that expand into portals. Apparently, in this continuity, such portals are a commonplace method of interplanetary travel among the more advanced alien races. In any case, Sonic lands on Earth and proceeds to spend the next several years as the local urban legend of Green Hills (ha ha ha), a small Montana town.

Inevitably, Sonic’s cover is blown when he accidentally causes a power surge that blacks out the entire Pacific Northwest.

(Side note: Imagine my surprise to find that of all the many, MANY pop culture references made by Sonic in this picture, he misses the obvious shout-out to his original and definitive voice actor. “Did I do that?” would’ve fit perfectly in that moment.)

Unsure of what they’re dealing with, the Pentagon sends in Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), an independent consultant and a genius at building robotic drones. Naturally, as the plot unfolds and Robotnik starts to learn what he’s dealing with, he becomes obsessed with chasing after Sonic to discover and harness whatever incredible superpowers the hedgehog possesses.

Meanwhile, Sonic realizes he’s in trouble and preps a portal ring to get offworld. Long story short (Too late!), a local police sheriff (Tom “Donut Lord” Wachowski, played by James Marsden) interferes and the rings are accidentally sent to the Transatlantic Pyramid in San Francisco. Thus Sonic and his new reluctant friend are off on a road trip to retrieve the rings and get Sonic off Earth.

Also, Tom is labelled a fugitive and a domestic terrorist. This is never resolved.

Let’s start with the obvious: Everything to do with the humans is shit. In fact, there isn’t a single human in this cast that’s even slightly recognizable as an actual person. When they’re not bland ciphers like Tom and his wife (Maddie, played by Tika Sumpter), they’re cartoonish clods with impossibly stupid dialogue (the Green Hills cop played by Adam Pally, the government toady played by Lee Majdoub, everyone in the U.S. government, everyone at the roadside bar, don’t even get me started on Maddie’s sister…).

Every joke is wretched. Every line of dialogue tanks. I haven’t seen product placement this obnoxious since Power Rangers (2017). From start to finish, I wanted nothing more than for every single human in this cast to just shut the hell up already.

With one minor exception.

It should come as no surprise that Jim Carrey is mugging to the camera full-throttle with this one. If it’s true that comedy is borne of suffering, his desperation here would make this the funniest performance of the past ten years. And yet, as hopelessly overblown as this performance is, I honestly didn’t hate it.

Part of that is because it’s Jim Carrey’s schtick and nobody else does it like him. But more importantly, it’s in the service of an egomaniacal mad scientist who’s constantly angry because he’s always the smartest person in the room. A man who prefers cold, hard, reliable, subservient machines to idiotic and fallible humans.

Put simply, we’re talking about a live-action take on Doctor freaking Robotnik. What else could we have possibly expected? This is a valid interpretation, let’s be honest.

Which brings me to Sonic, the one thing this movie gets 100 percent right. The new redesign looks amazing, Ben Schwartz’ voice suits the character perfectly, the character’s attitude and sense of humor are intact… I had no problem immediately recognizing the Sonic I grew up with.

Yes, he can get annoying and obnoxious at times, but that’s the character. And anyway, this iteration has been isolated for so long, stuck in this small town and doing his best to hide from everyone for all his life, of course he’s excited to meet new people and try new things. To say nothing of the caregiver who died to keep him safe all those years ago. All of this gives the character a sympathetic anchor to make his big mouth and reckless behavior more relatable. Plus, Sonic of the greater franchise has been surrounded by so many wretched furry supporting characters over the past several years, it wasn’t a bad idea to put the character in a vacuum and figure out who he is without his friends.

From start to finish, there’s a palpable love for the franchise. The movie is loaded with Easter Eggs and subtle nods for the fans to pick up on, and several franchise mainstays are cleverly adapted. We’ve even got a few fascinating bridges to potential sequels, the most obvious being a certain brief appearance in the mid-credits. But then we have the aforementioned Echidna tribe, and a mushroom world that strongly resembles the first level of “Sonic and Knuckles”, thereby setting the stage for Knuckles’ appearance and straight on through to the Chaos Emeralds. And then of course we have Sonic’s quill, a superpowered MacGuffin that puts us on a straight shot to Metal Sonic, or possibly Shadow. Maybe even both.

All of this would be fascinating material for a sequel. But then again, why save it for a sequel at all?

Imagine a movie in which Sonic is navigating the real world with Tails instead of Donut Lord. Imagine a supercharged climax with the Chaos Emeralds instead of the portal rings. All this stuff the filmmakers are setting up is so much more fascinating than the movie we actually got, so why save it for the sequel that may not happen? Why replace it with the Tom Wachowski shit that had fuck-all to do with the games and made a vastly inferior movie?

Perhaps the main reason is the source material, funny enough. Back in the day, we never needed a reason for why Robotnik was the only human being in a world full of animals. Even in the cartoon series of the ’90s, it never came up. But then the 3D era of gaming happened. Games got to be more elaborate, stories and worlds got to be more complex, and Sega repeatedly failed at trying to incorporate more humans into Sonic’s world in a way that made sense. The filmmakers may have tried a different approach, but the results are the same: Putting Sonic into a world where he doesn’t belong, to try and overexplain who Robotnik is and where he comes from.

On a final note, I should mention that the action sucks. We get a few action sequences made in obvious imitation of the Quicksilver scenes from the last few X-Men movies, but it doesn’t work as well here because Sonic doesn’t interact with his world to the extent that Quicksilver did. (Case in point: All the people who don’t move an inch, even after Sonic bounces off their faces.) There’s a globe-spanning chase sequence in the climax that somehow falls entirely flat. There’s a car chase sequence nowhere near as exciting as it should be. The final showdown with Robotnik is pure empty spectacle.

I want to say that this problem may stem from the CG nature of our main character and the lack of any care in creating the illusion of physical contact between the real world and an imaginary blue hedgehog. But I think the bigger problem is how the movie puts so much effort into hyping up Sonic’s incalculable powers and his overwhelming speed. It also doesn’t help that the character is briefly “killed” at about the halfway point and revived without any difficulty or consequence. Never once did I seriously believe that Sonic was in any mortal peril or danger of losing, and that’s enough to ruin any action scene.

The best I can say about Sonic the Hedgehog is that the movie is as exactly as awful as it deserved to be. It sucks that the real world crap with Donut Lord takes up so very much of the movie, because it’s a torturous cavalcade of fuckery that had nothing to do with any of the source material and it should’ve been shot down immediately in development.

The film is so desperate to please, so painfully misguided and slapdash, that I honestly feel sorry for it. There’s an undeniable love for the source material here, and it’s obvious that the filmmakers put a ton of time and effort into salvaging what they could. It wasn’t enough.

Let’s chalk this up as yet another failed game-to-film experiment and move on.