It’s easy to be cynical about video game adaptations — they hardly having a glowing history. But while it’s too early to definitively say that video game adaptations are now good, recent releases like Sonic the Hedgehog prove that not only can game adaptations be good, they can be great. I put it to you that amongst a slew of disappointing releases, Sonic the Hedgehog is, in fact, the best video game movie ever made.
A few years back, this would’ve been faint praise with few contenders vying for the title. 2018’s Tomb Raider received scattered applause, 2016’s Assassin’s Creed was enjoyable enough and at least Warcraft, which also released in 2016, looked pretty.
Then, in 2019, Detective Pikachu arrived — and it was, to the surprise of many, good. Ryan Reynolds played an adorable Pikachu on a quest for redemption, there were epic Pokémon battles and it featured a heartwarming story about love and connection. And while it was rather strange (the final act in particularly is extremely odd), it signalled a change in how video game stories are adapted. Rather than the name-only cash-ins that video game fans were used to, adaptations began to show heart.
Sonic the Hedgehog feels like a result of this long process. The love and attention that went into the movie is clear.
Adapting The Sonic Story
1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog was a game short on story. There’s no long exposition or character introductions. Players are simply thrust into the bright world of Green Hill Zone and told to run. Over the course of the game, players are introduced to Dr. Robotnik, an evil scientist who aims to collect powerful artefacts known as the Chaos Emeralds by capturing animals and using them to power giant Emerald-hunting robots.
While the film doesn’t touch on the Chaos Emeralds (it instead focuses on Sonic’s magical power rings) the key elements of the game’s plot are adapted well. Dr. Robotnik, played with menacing, over-the-top glee by Jim Carrey, is tasked with capturing Sonic by the U.S. Government while Sonic is just trying to survive in a hostile world that doesn’t understand him.
Sonic the Hedgehog‘s movie adaptation operates as one long chase scene, paralleling Sonic’s constant race through every game level. The town where the film takes place is even called ‘Green Hills’, a nice little nod to the opening level of the original game.
While elements like James Marsden’s buddy cop Tom Wachowski and Sonic’s place on Earth are added into the story, they’re all welcome additions that help viewers understand Sonic more. The difficulty in adapting a game like Sonic is that Sonic himself is a strange character and a hard one to make real and relatable. You only have to look at the struggle the production crew went through in creating a realistic, non-terrifying version of Sonic to understand just how hard adapting his character was.
With such a simple and classic premise for the film, it was essential that Sonic and his supporting cast stood out — and it’s here that the film excels.
Sonic’s Supporting Cast
Sonic‘s film adaptation is brilliantly casted — and I’m not just talking about Jim Carrey’s high chaos performance here. Ben Schwartz, who voices Sonic, does a fantastic job balancing Sonic’s adolescent antics and his deep, soul-crushing loneliness with an endearing performance that makes Sonic a likeable and consistently funny character.
He’s joined by James Marsden’s Tom, the human heart of the film. He’s dorky, embarrassing and very relatable. It’s the dynamic between Tom and Sonic that buoys the film and makes it such an enjoyable romp. Maintaining a sense of comraderie with a CGI creation has to be difficult, but Marsden pulls it off supremely — and the banter is always lively. It makes Sonic the Hedgehog feel like a good 80s buddy cop drama.
And then you have the third key player — Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik. While Sonic is a relatively grounded film, Carrey is (typically) acting in a league of his own. While he’s certainly capable of lower key, dramatic acting (his recent turn in Kidding comes to mind) he has no interest in subtlety here.
Dr. Robotnik is an unhinged scientist looking to capture and study Sonic. He’s a military contractor that the U.S. Government calls on unwillingly because he’s brilliant, but extremely weird. Jim Carrey clearly took one look at this role and said, “So, we’re going full Riddler again.”
It works. Sonic is a strange blue hedgehog capable of super speeds. Sonic needed a truly unhinged antagonist to match.
It’s strange to note that in a movie starring a blue hedgehog, a human man is the weirdest part of the film — but that’s certainly the case, and it’s brilliant.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s Humour
Past game adaptations have given fans a reason to be wary — so I wasn’t expecting much when I first watched Sonic. Not twenty minutes had gone by when I stopped to message a mate: “how is this movie funny tho”.
While many of the gags are tailored towards kids (at one point Sonic does the backpack kid dance, a reference that would’ve been dated even during filming), the humour is still highly accessible for adults and always entertaining. Jim Carrey does a fair share of the heavy lifting here, but everyone in the cast has their moments.
Sonic‘s script is tight and while the story itself is unremarkable, the dialogue is excellent. It’s witty, fun and importantly, doesn’t talk down to its audience. You don’t need to be a Sonic fan to enjoy the movie. If you are, there’s plenty of subtle gags, clues and characters to love even more.
Video game adaptations are a difficult art, and it’s only in recent years that we’ve seen films like Sonic the Hedgehog rise like a phoenix from the ash. Sonic fan or not, this is one adaptation that you should make time for.
Sonic the Hedgehog is now available on all digital platforms.