The Media Man Reviews: Sonic the Hedgehog 2020

Updated: Apr 24


Title card for my review

Ah Sonic the Hedgehog. What can you say about him? Well, a LOT of things but sadly, not a lot of it's particularly good.


Created by Yuji Naka, Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most recognizable names and faces in all of video-games. He kick-started his career with a game titled...well, what else, in 1991 that was released by Nintendo's biggest rivalry in video-game creation, SEGA. The game was a massive hit and from then on, Sonic would go on to release more games and eventually spawn a franchise including several TV shows, an anime series, comic books, toys and much more. Sonic is even pretty much the mascot of SEGA like how Mario is the mascot of Nintendo and he continues to be a hit with players to this day.


Sadly, he's also recognizable for spawning one of the most infamous and toxic fandoms outside of Star Wars and My Little Pony with some pretty nasty stories surging around the internet of the horrors of Sonic fans, including one particularly infamous fan who I will not mention because I'd rather you didn't know about this fan. Because of this fanbase and a really rocky time throughout the 2000's and 2010's, Sonic has mostly been reduced to the laughing stock of video-games and his name is used a form of mockery rather than endearment. It's even to the point it's considered EMBARASSING to be a Sonic fan these days!


That is until February 2020 when this movie came out. We all know the story behind this movie so I'll spare you a lengthy recap. All you need to know is that people expected it to suck and it ended up being a surprise hit that took the world by storm and ended up continuing where Detective Pikachu left off by breaking the video-game movie curse while also somewhat fixing Sonic's reputation in the eyes of many. It's also hailed as an example for how creators should listen to their fans and will be rewarded for their efforts too.


As for me...I haven't actually seen the movie until now. I even outright refused to for admittedly petty reasons that I regret and with the sequel out now, I decided I'd watch the movie to prepare myself for it.


So is this movie a speedy trip through awesomeness like a good Sonic game is? Or is this one of Dr. Eggman's diabolical tricks? Let's find out as we run into Sonic the Hedgehog 2020...


Section 1: The Story


Given this is Sonic's big-screen debut, you'd think the movie would be about Sonic the Hedgehog and friends fighting against Dr. Eggman and foiling his schemes of world domination. You WOULD think that, but sadly the movie decides to play it safe by giving us a generic buddy-buddy road trip movie that just happens to star Sonic the Hedgehog. Yeah...when I think a Sonic movie, that's NOT what comes to mind.


But of course, it's not always the idea that makes or breaks a movie, it's the execution. So despite this weak as hell premise for what's supposed to be a SONIC movie, it honestly...actually kinda worked? I guess? It's complicated, but I'll try to explain:


As I say, the movie is a generic buddy-buddy road trip movie that sees the titular hedgehog teaming up with a newly promoted cop named Tom Wachowski for he lost his rings in San Francisco (it makes sense in context) and he needs to get them back so he can leave Earth behind before the evil Dr. Robotnik catches up to him and it has the usual clichés and tropes you expect from these kinds of films complete with our heroes on the run from the villain and an obligatory bar fight scene because I guess ANY time a bar shows up in these films, we need to have an all-out brawl. Yet despite how paint-by-numbers this plot is, it manages to be surprisingly engaging for a number of reasons, mainly in how the film portrays Sonic himself. Sonic is given a more emotional depiction here as this desperately lonely teenager who has to run and hide from the world he inhabits in order to keep his great power from falling into the wrong hands and the movie does such a great job on showing just how sad and alone Sonic feels with nobody else around to keep him company. Not only does it make the main protagonist really sympathetic for the audience, but it makes the journey more engaging to watch too. As the film goes in, we find ourselves rooting for Sonic to find a friend and fight off his loneliness. I also imagine there are some viewers that probably relate to Sonic too as many of us have that feeling of loneliness and wishing we could belong somewhere too, and if your audience can relate to the characters, that's a sign you've done some great character writing.


In fact, I feel the heart of the movie is its biggest strength. We get some genuine bonding between Sonic and Tom as the movie goes on and we even see that Tom has a healthy relationship with his wife, Maddie. This is one of those films that really makes you feel good thanks to the bonds of the characters and how they grow closer over the course of the movie. I feel heart is one of the key ingredients in making an engaging story and this film succeeds at that wholeheartedly (no pun intended).


Another thing the movie did right was avoiding the usual trap that some of these adaptations fall into, which is over-focusing on the human characters and not enough on the characters that the film is SUPPOSED to be about. This movie is called "Sonic the Hedgehog" and thus the movie is ABOUT Sonic the Hedgehog with his human friend sharing the spotlight with him instead of taking it away. I was genuinely worried Tom would take up most of the focus and Sonic would be reduced to a side-character in his own movie but nope, the two share the spotlight and don't overshadow one another. Tom plays a part in helping Sonic achieve his goal and find a friend in the end while proving not to be useless in a fight and Sonic gets plenty of time to shine during the action scenes without Tom stealing his thunder. Even the way they defeat Robotnik in the end was a team effort that was pretty awesome to watch and I'm so glad that the film managed to be about Sonic with none of the human cast overshadowing him.


Also, given only Sonic and Robotnik are in this movie, this film feels very accessible to non-fans of the franchise as well as the fans here. There's not much Sonic stuff here so non-fans won't be totally lost when watching it and what Sonic stuff is here isn't overly expository so the fans won't get annoyed hearing stuff they already know about. This movie as a result would genuinely be a good jumping-on point for anyone who's new to the franchise and could be a nice casual place for them to start before they move onto other things in the series.


As this is a family-friendly movie starring Sonic the Hedgehog, naturally the film has a lot of comedy to it with a variety of different jokes with some of them being really effective like a lot of the slapstick and the great comedic timing of the actors and some of them being really juvenile and cringe-worthy, namely that stupid "Is that a child?" gag that wasn't funny in the trailers and still isn't funny in the finished movie. Why they felt the need to keep that, I'll never know. One thing I am grateful for is that the movie thankfully doesn't have a lot of annoying, forced pop culture references, which is what I also dreaded from the film. It's actually pretty downplayed and most of the pop-culture references aren't overly pandering or trying to be cool for the kids, although I had to shake my head that the filmmakers really felt the need to reference that dumb "Sanic" meme. Like come on guys, Sonic doesn't need reminding about how his legacy has been reduced to an internet joke. Also they give Sonic TWO scenes that are clearly just there to copy the hilarious Quicksilver scenes from X-Men Days of Future Past and X-Men Apocalypse, even though both movies were long gone by the time this film came out and the Quicksilver memes were long dead so it's way too late to try cashing in on those moments. Still, the film ended up being a lot funnier than I ever would've expected it to be and I'm so glad they didn't go too far in trying to be modern or juvenile for the kids, although a lot of the humour is more geared to kids than adults so I imagine some adults might not enjoy it as much as the kids.


Despite the movie telling its story and handling the character relationships well for the most part, it doesn't take away the fact that this movie is still a generic buddy-buddy road trip movie that just happens to feature Sonic the Hedgehog. I feel you could've taken Sonic out of this movie and put in any other fictional character in his place and you'd pretty much get the same movie, minus all the superspeed action. And all this has me pointing out the big problem with this movie and what ultimately held it back in the end...this film should NOT have been live-action! If this had been an animated film set entirely on Sonic's world with no human characters, we'd have had a movie that actually FEELS like a Sonic movie and would've overcome the film's biggest problem and why it had to be scaled down as much as it was: they had to hold back on all the Sonic stuff they could've included because of budget reasons. Make this film animated and that is no longer an issue. Instead they had to play it completely safe and thus gave us an underwhelming first impression for what was supposed to be Sonic's big time to shine on the big screen.


Another issue I have with the movie is that opening prologue. It was so rushed that you'd think the movie was written by Sonic himself! We don't get time to properly establish Sonic's world and we don't get to learn anything about him and Longclaw. All we get is Sonic running through Green Hill Zone, he gives Longclaw a flower, the echidna tribe attacks and then Longclaw sends Sonic through a warp ring to Earth and we never see or hear from her again. I get that the prologue's meant to establish how Sonic got where he was but did they really need to rush it so much? I'd have happily left out that unnecessary "How we got here" opening so we could extend the prologue some more and learn a bit more about Sonic and Longclaw's history together. As is, we're left with an opening that just leaves us with more questions than answers and you just have to wonder why they had to hurry through it so quickly.


Also, there's a moment in the movie where Sonic gets unnecessarily upset at Tom and he learns he's leaving Green Hills. I really didn't get what his problem was and why he has to make it out like Tom's in the wrong for doing this, especially as he wants to move to San Francisco to be a big-name cop to continue doing good for people. Why is this a bad thing in his eyes? It feels like it was there for the sake of a fallout between the two and it didn't even go anywhere as the two are still buddies for the rest of the film so why was it here? It was forced and completely pointless and really didn't need to be here. Same with Maddie's annoying sister but we'll get to her in the characters section...


Still, this movie is a prime example of how execution can save a bland story and while this wasn't the kind of story a Sonic movie should've had, it worked decently enough to set things up for bigger Sonic movies in the future and the film's heart and friendship themes are enough to make you feel good inside as you watch it.


Section 2: The Characters


The film has a few characters in it, but only three of them really play an important role in the overall story.


First of all of course is the blue blur himself, Sonic the Hedgehog (played by Ben Schwartz). As mentioned earlier, this is a more emotionally vulnerable take on the character we're used to, and all the better for it too as Sonic has always been the least interesting character in his franchise for me despite being the main character. Here, the movie goes out of its way to give Sonic more depth to him as this cocky, fast-talking and mischievous teen who's also in desperate need of companionship and following Longclaw's advice to always run and hide isn't doing him any favours mentally. Sonic's able to display a variety of different emotions thanks to the writing behind him and Ben Schwartz nails every single one of them. You can tell he's having the time of his life getting to play the iconic speedy hedgehog and is making the most of every minute of it. I only wish we could've seen more of Sonic's life with Longclaw before he's sent away to avoid the echidna tribe but at least what we get to see of Sonic here is well done and really makes him feel more like a character and less like a mascot like recent games have done with his portrayal.


Second is Tom Wachowski (played by James Marsden). He's a small-time cop who wants to go bigger and he gets the job he was hoping for when San Francisco accepts his offer, but he gets more than he bargained for when Sonic unexpectedly enters his life. I really didn't expect to like Tom much and see him as just a boring human companion who's taking the spotlight away from Sonic...yet he's nothing like that at all. He's like Chris Thorndyke from Sonic X if he was actually well-written, useful and not a spotlight hogger. Even if he's not initially willing to befriend Sonic at first, he grows more fond of him over time to the point he considers Sonic more human than Robotnik himself. He also manages to be funny in his own way and plays off of the more energetic and restless Sonic very well as the straight-man to his antics.


And third we have the man, the mad scientist, the moustached moron himself: Dr. Robotnik (played WONDERFULLY by the always madly entertaining Jim Carrey). Performance wise, he mostly acts like Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey but personality wise, he definitely feels like Dr. Robotnik. The writers and Jim Carrey perfectly capture his obnoxious ego and his eccentric nature to the point it really feels like they just GET Robotnik so well! Naturally because of who's playing him, Robotnik is the most entertaining character in the movie but despite being goofy like his video-game counterpart, he also poses a real threat to Sonic and Tom, arguably more so than in the games as he has government ties and isn't just some mad scientist. It's a pity he doesn't resemble the character he's supposed to be until right at the end of the movie, but at least he still acts like the character he's supposed to be with Jim's own little quirks added to make this version of the character unique to this universe.


And aside from that, none of the other characters are all that important. We have Maddie Wachowski (played by Tika Sumpter) who is Tom's wife and a vet who clearly has a healthy stable relationship with him but otherwise doesn't really have much to do with the plot and even when she gets roped into Sonic and Tom's wacky adventure, she doesn't really do anything of note. At least what little we see of her makes her likeable enough, it just would've been nice if she had more of a role to play.


We also have Wade Whipple and Agent Stone who are just one-note comic reliefs and that's it, Longclaw who didn't get anywhere near enough screentime and is part of the film's incredibly rushed prologue, Jojo who only exists just to give Sonic his trademark red-and-white sneakers (which admittedly was a sweet scene) and the only other Sonic character who shows up in this movie is Tails...who only appears in a mid-credits scene to set up the sequel. Talk about a waste of Sonic's best character...


But the biggest waste of space in this movie is of course Rachel. She's Maddie's sister and has no reason to exist in this movie whatsoever. She's just a hateable character who hates Tom for no reason and wants Maddie to divorce him and she has zero bearing on the plot. Why is this character even in the movie? She's not funny, she's not likeable, she's not engaging, she has NOTHING to do with the story and impacts NOTHING going forward! If she's there just to give the audience someone to hate then that's a terrible way to justify a character's existence! If a character exists just to be hated then it's a bad character plain and simple! This film would NOT change if you kicked this fat cow out of it! She's that pointless! She may want Maddie to D-I-V-O-R-C-E Tom whereas I want her to G-O-A-W-A-Y and never come back! MERCIFULLY (emphasis on that word) she's not in the movie much so we don't have to tolerate her too long but as I say, she shouldn't be in it period!


While the story lacks the iconic Sonic cast and just has Sonic and Robotnik hanging out with a bunch of other human characters, at least Sonic and Robotnik are done well and Tom's a likeable companion. The film may not have had the best handling of its cast, but it really did justice to the ones we wanted to see.


Section 3: The Cinematography


If there's one thing this film succeeded at the most, it's giving us a good looking movie.


Sonic the Hedgehog 2020 is really nice to look at thanks to the directing work of Jeff Fowler and his crew. We get some lovely location work that makes this film really nice to look at be it the town that's supposed to the quiet town of Green Hills to the huge city of San Francisco to even the forest areas that Sonic and Tom drive through on their way to the city. It's clear that Jeff Fowler knew that a Sonic movie had to look good and he did so well with the locations he picked for this film. He even manages to use the locations to his advantage such as whenever Sonic's running. We get to see how a speedy guy like Sonic would interact in many of these environments like the baseball pitch when he's playing with himself or when he explodes in a fit of emotional anguish and causes a huge blackout with his electrical pulses or even especially the obligatory bar fight that every road trip movie seems to feel the need to have. As much as it annoyed me that they had Sonic pull a Quicksilver moment long after that moment stopped being relevant, the cinematography gets very creative with how Sonic makes a monkey out of everyone in the bar and makes for some neat comedy. Getting to see Sonic interacting in these everyday locations makes him feel more integrated into the world as a result and thus, more believable to the audience.


Speaking of Sonic, let's address the elephant in the room...his original design was garbage and Jeff Fowler made the right call in delaying the movie so they could fix his design. What amazes me is how good a job the animators did with what little time they had. Like how did they go through a rush job and make Sonic look THIS good?! Thanks to Sonic artist extraordinaire, Tyson Hesse, Sonic's design looks much closer to his game counterpart while also looking believable in what is a more human setting. He looks appropriately furry, he has expressive eyes that manage to avoid looking uncanny and you can even make out the texture on his nose. He blends in well with the environment and he interacts so well with the human actors that it really does feel like he's really there despite being a CGI character. I won't see the CGI is 100% convincing as at times Sonic does still look CGI, but this some really stellar work on the character that movies like Garfield, The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks only WISH they could match! In fact, the work done on Sonic here is comparable with the phenomenal CGI work in Detective Pikachu!


Another thing I love in this movie's visuals are the sci-fi elements. Dr. Robotnik is portrayed as this eccentric mad scientist who's way ahead of everyone in terms of technical achievements and the movie portrays this BEAUTIFULLY. Not only does he have his own portable lab in the trailer of a truck that looks like a scientist's paradise, but his inventions have this sleek, futuristic look to them that looks very modern and at times, even intimidating thanks to their white and black colour schemes mixed with their red optics. It was also really clever of the movie to make Robotnik's machines look egg-shaped to match the character's modern name of "Dr. Eggman". The technology depicted in this movie looks really cool and believable and thanks to some practical and CGI effects mixed in there, we get to see one awesome depiction of Dr. Robotnik at work and a lot of awesome action as well, particularly that climax where Robotnik's chasing Sonic and they warp from location to location with Sonic's warp rings. I especially loved Robotnik's keypad like gloves, a design aesthetic that was apparently Jim Carrey's idea so kudos to him for making me want those gloves! XD


In terms of how the visuals are for a Sonic movie...well, we don't get much. We get to see Green Hill Zone...for all of two minutes in the incredibly rushed prologue. From what little we see, it looks faithfully recreated from the games and naturally is far more interesting to look at than the human world but again, that's all we get and we're just left in the human world for the rest of the film. This in term adds to how this doesn't feel much like a Sonic movie because if you took Sonic out of the movie entirely, you wouldn't even think this was meant to be a Sonic movie! Even Dr. Robotnik doesn't really look like Dr. Robotnik in this movie with the costume designs he has making him look closer to General Hux from Star Wars and many people comparing him to Dick Dastardly! It's not until right at the end of the movie when he actually does look like Dr. Robotnik, which is really annoying! Take Sonic out the movie and you're left with what looks like just another live-action kid's movie with no real identity of its own. If it wasn't for Sonic's presence, it wouldn't even have anything unique about it. And as great as the cinematography looks, I stand firm in how this movie would've benefitted more and even looked a lot better if it was animated. They could've made it look more like a Sonic movie and given us more creative and eye-catching visuals as a result.


As is, for the film we got, they made it look amazing and fun to watch and I applaud Jeff Fowler and his team for the hard work they put into the cinematography here, as well as listening to the fans and fixing Sonic's design. This is why listening to fans is sometimes a good thing, media creators, because it makes people like your product more and makes for a better looking movie as a result.


Conclusion


This movie sure wasn't the disaster we all expected it to be, but it could've been so much better. Sonic the Hedgehog 2020 is a fun movie with enjoyable performances from the main actors, a sweet bond with Sonic and Tom, some funny humour and some great visuals but it's held back from its full potential by being a surface-level adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog at best with very little actual Sonic stuff in it, little use from the supporting characters and some juvenile humour that doesn't work. If this film had gone further with being a Sonic movie and was actually animated instead of live-action, it would've been something truly special. For what we have though, it's perfectly OK and I'm glad Sonic's big screen debut is something that didn't further wreck his reputation, but restored it instead. Sonic kept on running and in the end, sped into a decent movie that avoided what could've been something truly horrendous...


And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and as usual, feel free to share your thoughts down below. Did you like Sonic the Hedgehog? Did you hate it? What experiences did you have with the franchise? Feel free to chat away.


Join me next time media fans as we spin-dash our way out of this movie and into the sequel with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Stay way past cool, readers!


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