Sonic the Hedgehog is the last movie I will watch in cinemas for a month. COVID, the Great Canceller, has taken away my greatest refuge, and one of the last things I witnessed in that precious haven was a blue hedgehog flossing. The Tiktok equivalent of the great CGI dance-off that closes most Dreamworks movies. And I don't regret my decision, to make Sonic the Hedgehog the movie that defines this cultural moment for me. Because Sonic oddly captures what it means to go to the cinema in this moment, for the empty-headed feeling of escapism you can only get from a predictable nostalgia-driven popcorn flick that inevitably dominates the box office.
Some movies simply happen. They start and they finish. There are three acts, a set of known character types. They stick to a tried-and-true formula, deviating only slightly to hit some of the marks of the property they’re based on. Easy examples are the recent Tomb Raider reboot, Bumblebee last year, or DC’s Shazam! These movies aren’t bad. I thought Shazam! was a fun and easy time. And that’s the key to this. Ease.
Everything in the easy blockbuster is fed to its audience straight, unfiltered. Friendships will be put to the test and restored by the third act. Families will be rejected, then embraced. Doubt and self-loathing will turn into dignity and pride. In Sonic’s case, two unlikely companions, Sonic and James Marsden, whose character’s name I’m not even going to look up, initially grate on each other’s nerves. Marsden wants to be a big city cop and Sonic wants some friends. And guess what? Both get resolved. Because that’s the promise of the easy blockbuster. It’s going to give you what you want, no matter how simplistic. There’s going to be an easy answer because a 100 minutes isn’t enough to actually unpack our unsteady existence.
There is something innately beautiful in how movies can transport us completely. But it can do so without being predictable. Mad Max: Fury Road is by no means predictable. It is a mad-cap adventure from start to finish that consumes all your attention without ever giving you “what you want”. But most studios seem to have equated ease with shallow, making a film that hits the right notes when it needs to without any imagination.
When the first trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog came out last year, fans lost their minds. The pursuit of a “realistic re-imagination”, epitomized by Disney’s Lion King remake, had brought us something unholy. So animators returned to their desks and redesigned the character, to adhere to the fans’ demands. I am not advocating for Sonic’s initial design whatsoever. But there is something disturbing about the power fans hold. Because fans aren’t always right. In fact, they’re often wrong. Steve Rogers can’t always be perfect and Luke Skywalker can’t live forever. It’s not about Sonic’s re-design so much as it is about what that says about the popular filmmaking industry. It’s going to cater to the rambunctious hordes of fans and give them what they want. It’s the same type of decision-making that led to the disastrous train wreck that was The Rise of Skywalker.
When (spoiler) Miles “Tails” Prowler showed up after the credits, I sighed. Because we are probably going to get Sonic the Hedgehog 2. And as long as the fans have power, we’re going to keep getting movies like Sonic the Hedgehog, shiny blockbusters that are mostly hollow.
You’ll note that in this review of Sonic the Hedgehog, I have barely reviewed Sonic the Hedgehog. That’s because I’ve got nothing to say about it. All my judgments seem too heavy for a movie that doesn’t really deserve it. It is a serviceable enough blockbuster and the family sitting 2 meters away from me had a good time. And for 100 minutes, they probably forgot that this cinema was closing along with most of the country’s other entertainment establishments. If you’re looking for something to mostly distract you for a while, then you could watch Sonic the Hedgehog. It's light, it's fun, it's easy. You can’t really expect much more than that. I just hope that when cinemas re-open, we can expect more imaginative and inspired escapism in our easy blockbusters. Because hearing Sonic go “Gotta go fast” isn’t going to cut it.