We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?
Once upon a time, the very idea of a Sonic the Hedgehog movie seemed frightening. After all, the track record of videogame adaptations had not been particularly stellar, what reason was there to assume that anyone would get Sonic right? Yet here we are, on the cusp of a Sonic cinematic universe. Before Sonic the Hedgehog 2 hit theaters, Paramount announced a third movie plus a series starring Idris Elba as Knuckles the Echidna. Clearly their confidence wasn’t misplaced. As of this article, Sonic 2 has gone on to become the highest grossing film based on a videogame in the United States, and has made over $320 million worldwide. Quite a feat!
If you’ve lived in the UK, it has been a month since the movie premiered. So it’s long overdue that we give you another round of the Retro Roundtable: four mini-reviews about the latest film to star the blue blur.
If Sonic the Hedgehog were a conversation between a director and production studio that could be summarised with “See? I told you so. Now keep your hands off and let me and my crew rescue this thing”, then Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the follow-up conversation that started with a smug, knowing smirk. While a little hamstrung by narrative and stylistic choices, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a movie with purpose and direction. It knows the hand it has, and it’s playing it’s cards as well as anyone could reasonably expect. Diehards might not like it, but this is what peak Videogame Movie looks like.
This is especially apparent when it comes to characterisation. You’d be forgiven for being worried about where the first movie left Sonic off, seemingly being “adopted” by a pair of humans. I know I was; it certainly felt very strange to me that a character seemingly inseparable from the vague concept of “freedom” would have a steady home and psuedo-parents to answer to.
Sonic 2’s writing team managed to turn this awkward status-quo into what (with a little bit of retrospective understanding) feels like a movie about this blue guy should always have been: an origin story. And they manage to lay the seeds for this within the first 15 minutes of the movie without it feeling more rote and contrived than a fun kid’s movie ought to be.
While obviously not centre stage with the blue blur, it’s exceedingly obvious that the writers understand the appeal of the supporting cast. Tails is as adorable as he is capable. If you’re a fan of his arc between Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, you’ll be happy. There’s a splash of his post-Colors persona in there as well to give our cobalt kiddo someone to believably bounce off of. And then there’s Knuckles, who increasingly gets a bad deal in the game writing; he’s been flanderized to hell and back! A guy gets tricked one time and he’s turned into an idiot! Well, Sonic 2’s Knuckles (voiced by an Idris Elba having the time of his life) is far from that. He’s full of heart, possessed of a warrior’s spirit, and adorably naive. Once more for the people in the back, the writer’s understand these characters, and it shines through in the story they’ve written.
Speaking of characters, it’s impossible to not address the actual humans. There isn’t a whole lot to say about them besides they are out of the way when they need to be, and minimally invasive when they serve the story. Save for two segues: one during the start when the plot begins in earnest, and one in the middle of the second act that leans a bit uncomfortably on certain stereotypes. If you’re sensitive to this kind of thing you’ll see it coming a mile off, though, and it does still serve the plot. It just could’ve been wrapped up a bit quicker. The first one could’ve been wrapped up a lot quicker, but we get a cute Tails moment out of it so it’s quickly forgiven.
I’ve focused a lot on the characters because I find it easy to get lost in a plot and just have a good time if the characters on screen are fun to watch. If the characters aren’t connecting with you, you’ll find stuff to moan about with ease (that movie is Captain Marvel, for me). The plot itself has a lot of fun details for fans like us, and if you’ve managed to avoid spoilers so far you’re certainly in for a treat. The love for the series shines through in this aspect, too, and the changes made to the lore serve the story so well you might wonder why SEGA has left certain things so ambiguous for so long!
This got a bit long, so let me wrap it up with a tl;dr for you. If Sonic the Hedgehog was inoffensive at worst, surprisingly decent at best, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 kicks it up a notch by daring to be amazingly good fun and, arguably, hitting the mark with confidence. Jeff Fowler and his team know what they’ve got. Sit down, watch the movie, and just let them do their thing. They got this.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022) gave me more to like than the first movie did (which I did enjoy still), but it also gave me more to dislike. The highs felt higher but the lows struck me harder. The more I reflect on it the more I feel pulled in two ways. Some of the fault probably lies with my expectations being built up thanks to that wonderful first trailer. The first movie showed me how its characters would act in its own universe, but I hoped this sequel would reign in some of the sillier characterizations, and pop culture referencing one-liners. I accept that these things are going to happen to some extent, but I wish they’d shown more restraint and let some of the more serious moments fly without them. Put simply, I’ve thought more about Limp Bizkit in the past few weeks than I’ve ever thought about them before. This is without getting into the well discussed wedding and captive rescue scenes.
The positives the movie brings, though, oh man! It felt refreshing to enjoy Knuckles’ presence again. Seeing “movie Sonic” have a more serious villain to knock a bit of maturity into him was more interesting than just about anything the first movie offered. The variety of locales was a huge breath of fresh air, to boot. The first movie being a “road trip” movie with a single stop at a bar is punctuated in retrospect after a great swath of settings here. Most surprising to me of all was that a lot of the human characters left a great impression on me here. It’s a bittersweet feeling as I didn’t care for most of what their scenes brought to the table, but I enjoyed the performances nonetheless. If we’re barreling toward a future where spin-off Paramount+ series fills the off-years between movie releases, then I want an Agent Stone series.
Succinctly capturing how I feel in a few paragraphs is a process I’ve found difficult, but I think “bittersweet” is the way to put it for now. I groaned at some lines more than I hoped. I wanted one more scene between Sonic & Knuckles where the cracks in Eggman’s facade widened. I hoped that Tails would have a bit more to do. However, the movie also gave me more to chew on than stories from the mainline games have for years. The backstory of the owls and echidnas is new, and I want to see more. It was heartwarming to watch Sonic and Tails stop to take a moment, hash out their emotions, and…well, be characters again. In reaching to do grander things with this sequel it had more opportunities to stumble along the way. I hope that the experience gained here alongside some reflection of what worked and what didn’t can lend to an even greater Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (2024). Either way, no matter what happens, getting to hear kids excitedly explaining the backstory of that character teased during the credits as we all left the theater…that’s a moment that will stick with me, and I’m glad I was able to have it.
Fuck it, this movie is perfect.
I gave this movie 6 out of 7 emeralds in our review on The GHZ Podcast but I’m revising it here to be a 7 out of 7, full Super Sonic, this movie is amazing. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is peak cinema; I don’t care to complain about Uptown Funk or the pacing of the wedding scene — the GUN reveal and the priest with the bible were the biggest laughs at both screenings I attended. Yes, I’ve seen this movie twice in theaters, I am an insane person. But! I’m not alone. Might be time to face it, nerds— people like Sonic the Hedgehog! When your second Hollywood film is the biggest opening for any video game movie OR any Jim Carrey movie ever before, what other conclusion can you draw? Sonic is a major movie franchise, and my inner 10 year old was thrilled by Sonic 2. My inner 35 year old also had a great time. All ages of me enjoyed this all-ages family comedy adventure film starring my very favorite video game characters: Knuckles the Echidna, Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles “Tails” Prower, and Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik. It also starred my new favorite movie character, Agent Randall Handle. And obviously Agent Stone; this movie’s got good agents. And Maddie and Tom and Rachel and Jojo and Wade and Longclaw and the GUN Commander who likes Olive Garden – only Sonic the Hedgehog could bring together all these great characters! Anyway, there they all were, on the big-screen, created with care by artists and animators and actors and writers and directors and producers who clearly give a shit about getting this right.
I think the dynamics between Sonic & Tails and Sonic & Knuckles were what I liked most. It’s a tricky thing to get those relationships established in the timeframe, and it’s a bit condensed or rushed… maybe. I was happy with the moments they made room for; the dance scene is a highlight because you’re getting a scene of Sonic & Tails bonding and becoming friends and in 30 years of the franchise, how many of those scenes even exist? For me, Sonic 2 has the best characterizations of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Robotnik in the whole franchise; their base traits from the games are there and smartly expanded on to create a more fully-rounded character. Obviously the movie is clearly drawing from, to the point of adapting, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and using that as the primary source of inspiration and then putting those major beats in the mold of an Indiana Jones globe-trotting adventure movie while adding depth to the characters by continuing to explore the theme of loneliness from the first film. It all works pretty well. Maybe Tails gets a bit overlooked in this movie, but he’s also pretty overlooked in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Knuckles is my favorite character, anyway; that’s why I put him first earlier, too. His personality is drawn out perfectly and he looks awesome. This is Knuckles the Echidna as we knew him in 1994 fully realized in 2022. This is the cocky pest who keeps thwarting Sonic and Tails on their journey to stop Robotnik’s super weapon. He’s powerful, gullible, naive, stubborn, honorable, intimidating, and alone — the last of his kind. He’s funny but he’s cool. He even asks for grapes! I just loved the way the filmmakers handled Knuckles and I hope he gets to someday wear a cool hat when he gets his own show. But by far the best moment of the movie belongs to Tails, when he covers Sonic with his tails as a blanket. It’s too cute, folks. It’s too goddamn cute and it’s perfect.
We talked with screenwriter Pat Casey on The GHZ Podcast about that moment and all kinds of things, including Iizuka’s involvement, Angel Island’s presence in earlier drafts, cut character cameos, and why they chose to tease you-know-who. Give it a listen, it’s a good conversation!
David The Lurker
Back in 1990, when the original Sonic the Hedgehog was pitched to the higher-ups at SEGA, the original “Sonic Team” had a dream. That not only would Sonic be the star of a game, or that he would become the face of a company. Sonic could be much more than that – an icon of a generation, embodying modern youth culture, the concept of cool, and even carry a full length feature film. A franchise that could appeal to a wide audience on the level of Spider-Man and Hello Kitty.
It may have taken a while for the movie part of that equation to happen, but Sonic has proven once again his timeless appeal across multiple generations. The first movie shouldn’t have worked – a live action buddy road trip film starring Sonic and a small town cop? Yet it did, because in that framework it was still a Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is also a movie about Sonic the Hedgehog. And Miles “Tails” Prower. And Knuckles the Echidna. Even though it still operates in the universe the first film built. Which is why the film is also about coffee.
This time around, it was exciting to see the elements that make up the Sonic games come to life on the big screen. Knuckles is tough as nails! The Tornado takes flight! The Master Emerald is very much A Thing, and Labyrinth Zone comes to life. Heck, you even have Tails carry Sonic around like in Sonic 3 (the game not the movie that isn’t out yet). And that final act, plus the post-credits tease? That’s just concentrated Sonic the Hedgehog right there. We also get what might be the best version of Knuckles put on screen, which is refreshing after seeing what he’s been up to in the game universe the last few outings.
However, for all the Sonic-esque things that are in the movie, there are times where it doesn’t feel as strong as the first film. Sonic the Hedgehog was focused on his arc, of being a lonely, secluded kid who learns that he doesn’t have to be alone. That he can be accepted, have friends, care for and be cared about by others. The Sonic we meet at the beginning of the film is not the same one we see at the end. The sequel has way more to juggle. Not only do you have to introduce Tails and Knuckles, the writers also bother to give the human characters who didn’t have much to do in the first film things to do in the second (I’m looking at you, Maddie and Rachel). Which is nice! I’m glad they have things to do in the film. But if the main trio of Sonic heroes had a few more minutes of screen time? Would have helped strengthen their individual stories.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 isn’t a flawless film, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fun story with likable characters, a sprinkle of lore, and action set-pieces that would have blown my mind as a kid. Sure, some of the jokes don’t land, but it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a flawless piece of media, but that’s another topic of conversation altogether.
If you want to hear a super deep dive (nearly three hours long!) about the Sonic movie, be sure to check out the conversation Chris and I had over at FTCR. It’s a good one, even if I start to lose my mind at the end.