20th February 2020

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Even after his dramatic redesign, Sonic the Hedgehog may have been better off staying in the Green Hill Zone rather than sprinting onto the big screen, writes Tom Kuson
Review: Sonic the Hedgehog
Pikawil from Laval, Canada / CC BY-SA

If the Oscars had an award for “Quickest Character”, look no further than Sonic the Hedgehog. Fast on his feet, hunted by assassins, and armed with interworldly teleportation rings, he bides his time in small town in America, studying its human inhabitants.

But when Sonic runs a bit too fast and explodes, knocking out all power in the region, he finds the attention of Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). The film then turns into a Logan-style road trip with Sonic and his cop friend, except with less old men looking for their medication and slightly more bar-fights.

For me, Sonic the Hedgehog exists predominantly as a meme. Yet for those who grew up with this franchise he’s an important figure, and the final product is one that’s crowd-pleasing. From bar-fights to Fortnite dances, and Sonic’s feet (apparently a big deal for Sonic fans), this is some classic Sonic.

Even Carrey’s Robotnik seemed to signal hammy ’90s villains and evoked simple nostalgic pleasures from the audience. And as a non-fan, the film was charmed with a good-density of solid jokes.

Not everything reached full spin though. Sonic spends laborious amounts of screen time insisting how depressed and lonely he his with no projection through action or arc. Also, he simply goes too fast! Twice in the film does Sonic go so quick as to freeze time entirely, reminiscent of Quicksilver’s scenes in the latest X-Men films.

In lieu of meaningful threat or motivation that could be taken seriously, investment hinges on our cop-friend Tom. Yet despite being a wanted terrorist with a wife and dog, his predominant emotion is exhaustion and mild amusement at the scenario he’s caught in.

The films interlocking thematic threads tend to fall short of consistency. Note the character of Dr. Robotnik, a rich evil genius with PhDs in what can only be moustache-twirling and doing evil, who’s sole motivation appears to be power and resentment of his old bullies.

This leads to a relationship with the US government, operations including regime change in the Middle East. But not one mention of capital! In fact, the otherwise noble leaders at the Pentagon appear embarrassed by Dr. Robotnik, who’s involvement is the product of expedience and secrecy, like wearing festive underwear off-season only because no-one will ever find out.

Note also that despite being wanted on terrorism charges, Tom lacks any hint at a conflict with his cop job and role in law enforcement. This unwillingness to coherently engage is something I mention only because power and capital cannot be separated from the film itself.

While  it’s true that changing Sonic’s design after major fan backlash to the first trailer is an act of fan-power and of artistic democracy, VFX artists faced immense pressure to meet expectations and labour though upper-level management issues, eventually forcing studio closure.

Sonic the Hedgehog can’t claim many titles, even Warcraft and the latest Tomb Raider were both more interesting and entertaining (and underrated) video game films. But for a pleasant ride and a depressing case-study for workers’ rights in the VFX industry look no further.

30/50 Wild Hedgehogs

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