Redesigned 'Sonic' movie lands on Valentine's Day

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 at 8:55 PM

Many approach video game films cautiously, and for good reason. They are often held back by writers who fail to understand the fan base and the appeal of the series, or studios who believe a profitable franchise can be masterfully crammed into a single, equally as profitable, two-hour film. With the release of the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” trailer, it seemed like this would again be the case. The first glimpse had no time to shine before the internet did something that it rarely does, unanimously agreeing on something: the design of Sonic was awful.

Originally, the title character in film form was so warped, one critic called it “a blight upon this weary earth.” Sonic was far from the iconic character millions had grown up recognizing. Days later, the studio announced they would delay the film to redesign the look. Many waited with anticipated breath.

Months came and went, and “Sonic the Hedgehog” is much better off for it. The redesign employed in the recently released film is nearly spot on with the original character design, showing not just how much the studio listened to the criticism, but also how much they care about the fans.

The film, which hit theaters on Feb. 14, stars Ben Schwartz (Parks & Rec) as Sonic, James Marsden as Tom Wachowski, and Jim Carrey as the evil Dr. Robotnik. After carelessly using his abilities, Sonic’s existence is discovered by Dr. Robotnik, who attempts, just like in the games, to capture him. With the government closing in, our hero turns to the only person who can help him: Tom, the sheriff of Green Hills.

The plot is very simplistic. Sonic is a ball of energy and constant comic relief. It feels almost like a superhero origin story. If you boil the plot down, there are dozens of films with the same structure. It’s extremely unfortunate as “Sonic the Hedgehog” could have taken a unique route all its own, while keeping the experience just as fun. This is a potential script that has a large cache of information to draw on, as the video games date all the way back to 1991.

Sonic is at one point shown reading comics of “The Flash.” Ironic, as the film seems to take multiple pages from them and other similar speedster books. It doesn’t bring anything new to the super speed ability. Lightning powers, frozen surroundings and worn out shoes are just some of the hackneyed tropes it borrows from other speedsters and their respective source material.

Although the movie does manage to stick pretty solidly to the video games, they do take some artistic liberty with the film. One of the major changes is that they choose to make Sonic an alien, which is an interesting decision with virtually no consequence — for those unaware, Sonic games take place on a future Earth. In addition to reinventing Sonic’s origins, they also change the purpose of the rings that he usually collects; they are now portals.

The film’s main weakness could almost be considered its greatest strength: it’s a children’s movie. It’s aimed at children who will no doubt enjoy its overused and recycled plot structure, short runtime and clean humor. Older viewers will appreciate the subtle nods to multiple Sonic media, but at the same time wish for something more from the film. A darker, more mature film would have been an interesting take.

Dr. Robotnik is a superb villain, and a rare one at that. Carrey delivers a comedic persona while not compromising the seriousness of the character. Robotnik is prepared for any situation, no matter what it may be. Rarely is this character over the top, much different from his portrayal in the trailers. His relationship with Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub) adds even more depth to him, from which little existed for the actor to pull from.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” is a fun children’s film that seems to have a good chance to beat the video game movie curse. While its plot may be rehashed, and it seems to bring nothing new to the room, it is a fantastic experience nonetheless.

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