Of all the 90s video game titles that could be chosen to adapt into movie franchises, I wouldn’t have expected Sonic. Not only does the linear, storyless platformer not scream potential but there really isn’t a massive market for Sonic games anymore. Since he burst onto screens in 1991, Sonic’s star has fizzled despite some valiant attempts to modernise and give layers to the blue hedgehog. That is why it is so surprising that Sonic the Hedgehog is an oftentimes charming, heartfelt family orientated, 90s throwback film that has some wide-reaching comedy moments that really shine.
When Sonic (Ben Shwartz) is forced to leave behind his home thanks to his unique abilities he finds himself on Earth, hiding from everyone he meets as he learns all about this new world he finds himself on. When his path crosses with local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) he finds himself hunted by a megalomaniacal scientist called Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey). However to keep his new friend safe Sonic must make his escape to a new world but to do so he will need Tom’s help.
What is structured as a simple road movie manages to play the ironic nature of that fact, producing a film that enjoys taking its time, playing out the buddy comedy instead of rocketing through a paper-thin idea of a story. A moment of idle bonding in a rodeo dive bar plays to the notion of Sonic’s speed but also embraces the speedsters desire to make the most out of his dwindling days on Earth. Despite being about not belonging, Sonic fits into this world seamlessly, an optimistic presence that seems apt for a film looking to hark back to the days of 32 bits and breezy action comedies. Backed up by a Liar Liar era Carrey, Shwartz plays this Sonic as a cocky everyman, a Marvel hero in hedgehog form and the black and white heroics on offer fit right in.
An 11th hour reconfiguring of Sonic’s appearance not only avoided a cinematic trip to the uncanny valley but it also played up the nostalgia for some much needed double coding. However, it all feels like an experiment, a curious question by studio executives about what can and can’t be adapted. While the result here is an amusing, fast-paced, romp through video game history and small-town life, there is a lingering question hanging over the film constantly. What is the point?
While it is a darn sight better than the modern video game movie, it doesn’t create, it emulates and while it is fun to see how Sonic fits here, it has you question why this couldn’t have been said using original characters and ideas, instead of rejiggering a known character to fit an oftentimes formulaic story.
All this is to say that despite some unfortunately forgettable storytelling, a lack of purpose and a regrettably lifeless ‘message’, Sonic the Hedgehog has made the transition to the big screen and he is a surprisingly fun person to spend some time with. You might not remember much of it when it finishes but thankfully it builds up the idea of a sequel, one which can attempt to answer the why, considering his first chapter has figured out the how.