Thursday, 20 February 2020

Sonic The Movie - Did It Suck???


Okay first things first, there's something we need to get out of the way before we start. I was always going to love this movie. I love Sega. I love Sonic. I love anything that celebrates, promotes or endorses  either. I'm an unrepentant fanboy.A movie about Sega's mascot in 2020 did not seem very likely a few years ago, as Sonic's decline seemed to be as meteoric as Mario's ascent. Beloved of Retro-gamers in the US and recognised by even the most ardent of non-gamers, Mario could do no wrong. Nintendo seemed to get all the love in the 21st century - the DS, the Wii and the Switch have all been a smash. Every Mario game is hailed as a classic and a plethora of games featuring supporting characters like Luigi, Kirby, Wario and even the lizard guy, all seem to be met with both critical and commercial success. 

Sega on the other hand, and Sonic in particular, have been on the decline since we passed from one millennium into another. First of all, Sonic Adventure 1 & 2 failed to ignite enough interest to save the Dreamcast. Whilst Mario's first foray into 3D gaming (in Mario 640, had been met with rapturous applause, Sonic's Adventures had been met with mixed reviews. Over ambitious, glitchy and with some poor supporting characters, the main criticism was one which would be oft repeated when reviewing Sonic games for years to come... they just didn't capture the pace or feel of the original games. So Sega abandoned it's hardware production and became a developer of games for Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, PC and mobile gaming.

And so with each subsequent release, Sonic slipped further and further out of the public consciousness. People still bought the games, released across every conceivable platform, but in significantly smaller numbers. The cartoon franchise stopped, the toy production slowed down and images of Sonic stopped being used as a tool for selling children clothes, shoes, hats, canned pasta and hamburgers. At one point, during the 1990s, at the height of the Megadrive's success, Sonic was as universally known as an icon, as Mickey Mouse. Twenty five years later, children are very unfamiliar with Sonic, unless a determined Sega-loving parent has taught their offspring about him. On purpose. Much the same with Jim Carrey.

The main draw for the movie apart from the inclusion of our favourite amphetamine fuelled rodent, is Jim Carrey playing Dr. Robotnik. Although the supporting cast of James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally and Neal McDonough do an admirable job, it is neither remarkable nor particularly memorable. We won't be discussing them here. That's not a diss, there is just little to discuss. The reason this became such a must see film as soon as it was announced, was the inclusion of Carrey.

Carrey's decline may have been less dramatic than Sonic's. It may have been a decline of equal stature. Carrey was the hottest comedy property in Hollywood during the 90s. Films like The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura and Batman Forever had established Carrey as an actor who would literally throw himself into a performance. The films were money spinners that did great box office, VHS and DVD sales - and spawned cartoons, toys and a similar variety of novelty tat aimed at children, as Sonic himself.

During the 2000s, Jim both developed and expanded his acting talents, taking on serious roles in films such as 23, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Man In The Moon. This last role involved some hardcore method acting. He actually felt that as a person he had literally disappeared and assumed the personality of Andy Kaufman and his obnoxious alter ego Tony Clifton. Jim began acting very strangely. Rumours circulated that he was difficult to work with. That he acted like an asshole around his co-stars. That the production was short on laughs and high on drama.

Carrey began to withdraw from the Hollywood life, still taking roles, but never really re-capturing his 90s appeal. His private life seemed to be littered with allegations of drug use and things seemed grim when his girlfriend died under tragic circumstances, some more malicious commentators (incorrectly and unfairly) placing the blame on JIm. Carrey's appearances on talk shows and proclamations on social media, did little to endear him to the more conservative members of his audience. His prophet-like beard and often bizarre behaviour began to alienate some of the Ace Ventura fans. But I never stopped loving him.
I loved beardy Jim. Weirdy Jim. Cosmic, spacey, mystical Jim. But I'll be honest. I missed straightforward comedy Jim...

So... for me, seeing Carrey take on the role of the maniacal Dr. Robotnik in a movie about Sonic - such an important icon in my life, was something I never thought I'd see. But would it be as good as I'd hoped?  We all know the story of the Sonic first build that was leaked to the internet. It was universally hated - a dis-proportioned nightmare that showed the ineptitude of the CGI artists and the production team. Not a good omen. With a year to go, the people at the director Jeff Fowler, announced that Sonic would be redrawn  - redrafted so to speak - and the newly proportioned, wider eyed Sonic was introduced to the world, much to the relief of fans. 

Whilst I'm not going to tell you the plot (you can read a synopsis here, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone) I will tell you about Sonic and Robotnik. Voiced by Ben Schwarz, Sonic is the hedgehog we wanted. Sassy yet cute, independent yet vulnerable, self reliant, yet desperate for human interaction and acceptance, Sonic has plenty of 'tude, but never gets cocky or annoying. In fact, his demonstrations of self reliance (playing a game of baseball with himself and commentating on his performance) seem funny and cartoon-like, they end up looking sad and lonely. We end up wanting Sonic and his reluctant human  foster 'mum and dad' (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter) to end up as a happy family. In other words, Sonic becomes a believable, likable character. We root for him. 

Carrey, you may be unsurprised to hear, is superb. Playing Robotnik as a narcissistic, unhinged inventor - the nerdy victim of bullying, who offloads his childhood traumas by bullying anyone he addresses in adulthood. Robotnik is mustachioed and militaristic, but also weak and ill disciplined. His megalomania is fascistic, He wants to capture Sonic on behalf of the military, not because of the potential damage that can be caused by Sonic's power surges, but for the glory of being the only one capable of doing it.

Robotnik is pompous and obnoxious. Absurd and overblown, bombastic and belligerent. A cartoon, pantomime villain, he huffs and puffs his way through the movie with comic aplomb. Always setting himself up to fail, his technology at first looking awesome and intimidating, but like the game, never any match for Sonic. 

Which would seem to be a good place to sign off. After all, Sonic is a movie based on a video game. How did the movie relate to the game franchise? 

We do see Sonic's island at the start of the movie -  and the producers have represented Sonic's hub world well. Sonic is transported to our world because of a lame ass plot device relating to baddies in his own world. He could possibly have gone to the "mushroom world" (a friendly jibe at Mario), but as soon as he gets to our world, the links to the game become tenuous. The film sets us up beautifully for a sequel, with a newly bald and even more unhinged Eggman stuck in a different dimension, vowing revenge on his nemesis... It also introduces a favourite character from the franchise that we'd all love to see as a character in Sonic 2.

In summary, as predicted, I love this movie. Nostalgic in just the right measure, feel good and optimistic, with enough humour, action and drama to keep my non-Sonic loving nephew and niece entertained. Go and see it!

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