So, this is about Sonic 2, but also not. It works as the catalyst for this article, along with other things, some of which I will not address here, per the scope of this zine. As a fan of the Sonic series, I can say: Sonic’s fans are already its biggest critics. There are plenty of series whose fans are pretty endlessly supportive of the series. I’ve had my time in many fandoms by this point in my life, and I’ve seen plenty of perspectives.
Sonic is a fandom with plenty of people who love everything, plenty of people who hate everything—yet still follow the series—and plenty, like me, who pick what they like and let others be. Here’s the thing, though: the Sonic movie—now series—has had an overwhelming level of support after the initial response to the backlash.
For those who don’t know, which might be a tricky thing at this point: the first Sonic movie was originally scheduled to release in November 2019, but there was a big snag: universal mockery by fans and nonfans (including critics,) alike, because of the awkward original design.
Now, I will say, I don’t know if it is just immersion of memes over the years, but the original design isn’t as bad as the backlash declares, to me. It’s bad, it’s weird, the human teeth became a meme for a reason, but it really could have been much worse. However, the redesign is remarkably good.
This marks a unique point in history, though. The director and studio listened to the fans on the criticism, and went back to the drawing board, pushing back the release date and totally redesigning the character (not entirely good, as the redesign studio actually shut down before the film even released.) The redesign received an enormous amount of praise, and with reason.
Further, this acknowledgement of the fans isn’t the first, but is certainly one of the most well known examples. The effort was rewarded by outselling Detective Pikachu for game adaptation opening weekend. That’s nothing to scoff at, because Detective Pikachu was also a remarkable success and had to toe similar lines.
What of it, though? Fans went to see a movie directed at them. Big deal. Well, as all three of these films show, the viewers: fans, kids, parents all agree—the films are enjoyable, and critics declare them all middling. Examine those three critic scores—all of them don’t even get a D when it comes to a school grade. However, the fans give, at the lowest, a C+ nearly a B- at the worst.
Critics Look Down On You
There’s more to this, than just a numbers discrepancy, but a concept worth acknowledging. In one of the first articles I wrote for this site, I was discussing remakes and why many (though not all) get divisive or middling reviews, and I argued that, at least in part, has to do with passion. This is still a stance I keep to this day. Passion for the subject goes a long way, compared to a cash-in.
The problem is, in this cynical world, the elite: many critics, many producers and many “leaders” look down on you and me. They see us as foolish or lowly for our preferences. They often evaluate things without what would seem like full effort for their opinions.
Now, it is unfair to expect a critic or opinionist to know everything about everything, but if something is outside their knowledge, they may do best just to examine something else. Now, I’m doing something here that every one of you owes me for–I am going to read (and thus give views to) several reviews of Sonic 2 and then give my (spoiler free) review of it near the end.
Critic 1: Johnny Olekenski
We have several aspects of snootiness that come with these reviews. A critic from New York Post said such:
The filmmakers gave the little guy a makeover and the movie made a respectable $319 million at the box office.Johnny Olekenski, New York Post
At that point, Sonic should have scooped up his magical golden rings and — like Carrey — called it quits. But, oh no, Hollywood’s ravenous appetite is never fully satisfied. And so now we have an often grating sequel that shoves in more of Sonic’s annoying animal friends.
The characters included in this film are the characters nearly as iconic as the mascot himself. Tails and Knuckles have been there since 1992 and 1994 respectively. They’re popular in the history of the series. I can’t find a particularly good aggregator of fans for this, but I can say from—you know—interacting with fans, that there’s a lot of love for both characters.
These characters are arguably the lifeblood of the series, just these four, in specific. However, all those “annoying animal friends” Johnny refers to are the characters of the series. Not including relevant characters would be making “a movie with Sonic in it” as opposed to “a Sonic movie.” Continuing the story, which has plenty of willing fans to support it (and happily, it seems,) would require using more themes and characters that series has to offer.
Alas, this critic declares Tails “a cutesy Fox with a helium voice like Tails on a chalkboard that would be more at home on a kids morning TV show than a cheeky live-action movie,” as well as merely “another talking alien.” and Knuckles is referred to as “a rival red hedgehog.” During the film itself Knuckles refers to himself as an echidna and talks of echidna several times (even if he still looks nothing like an Echidna, though that’s probably for the best.
When a critic can’t even refer to the characters by their correct species, and shrugs off a plot device (a thing every story is going to have) as a knockoff of another series’ plot device (he refers to The Master Emerald as a knock off of The One Ring,) how can you really value the input? Welp, one person wrote a story about a powerful thing, better call it a day, no more powerful things can exist.
Critic 2: Nell Minow
Off the bat this feels foolish with Nell stating: “But movies need more character, dialogue, and plot than video games.” While I will give the steel man analysis of this and argue she might mean films’ minimum storytelling requires more of the things above than games do at a minimum, however, that is not even relevant to the Sonic series in its games. My favorite narrative-driven Sonic game (basically anything after Sonic 3 and Knuckles, which still has a story to it) has nearly an hour and a half of cinematics, alone. That is, it doesn’t even include the dialogue that plays over the story mode of the levels.
She also opines the film is “a movie aimed at younger children,” and while, sure, it is a family movie with a theme accessible to younger children, assuming a franchise that has been around for three decades is targeting “younger children” and not “fans of the series” is foolish, at best.
Nell also asserts that there is a “lot of mayhem” and “a scary giant robot” as if that is too much for children to handle. I grew up with The Land Before Time. Wreck-It Ralph (which critics actually praised) has a humanoid-bug-monster-fusion and guns. The Lion King (both versions, obviously) has actual, literal murder.
This critic’s final claim is that parents will enjoy some “retro songs” and seems to make no acknowledgement of the thirty year old game series that the film is based on. Those who enjoyed the series, even if only at intersections, and not continuously, will enjoy many acknowledgements to the game series as a whole.
Critic 3: MontiLee Stormer
This one has a remarkable comment, smacking down even Jim Carrey’s hilarious work as Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik: “A silent Robotnik is far more menacing than a Robotnik that enjoys the sound of his own voice.” This is clearly spoken by someone with no familiarity of the subject material. Every voicing of Robotnik throughout history has had a hammy, rambling doofus who may be technically smart, but will always be outdone by a team of tenacious friends.
The only critique I can give some credence to in this critic’s review is in this, and it takes a grain of salt: “Marsden and Sumpter feel sketched in the background for a story that doesn’t need them.” The human characters are a mechanism for parts of the plot, so I disagree, in part. However, the story doesn’t fully need the humans in this, but I find their inclusion and performance fitting, and certain aspects would be lacking, without them. Context matters.
The conclusion of the review claims “I know it’s aimed at kids, but grownup fans are peeking in on this too and wondering what exactly happened to a beloved Sega property. It’s sad watching your heroes age badly and die.” Which, again, is a misinterpretation of what is happening. Sure, there is, again, a market for kids to see this film, but the franchise was picked for its fans to be enticed, not solely to get kids to go.
Further, I would say it is aging well—frankly, better now than it was a decade ago. I will get into that more in my review, below. For now, let’s continue.
Critic 4: Lindsey Bahr
Another critic who seems unfamiliar with the topic, referring to the film as a “soulless attempt to up the stakes and cash in.” Which seems odd to me, because as a person who has experienced Sonic 1-3 & Knuckles, the film feels as if it is doing a pretty thorough job of trying to movie-ify the second and, especially third(/fourth) games pretty reliably.
Further Bahr claims the film “relegates its human counterparts to the background to its own detriment.” Which is a peculiar remark, since the humans aren’t the focus of a movie called “Sonic the Hedgehog”—I’d presume a movie with a title like that would be about a hedgehog named Sonic. The humans, truly, were a mechanism by which to hybridize the plots of the games into a more accessible setting for new viewers, the were never going to be the focal point, that’d be silly.
The final major assertion this critic has for the masses is thus: “Sonic is also now being positioned as a fledgling superhero who still has a lot to learn. Sure, what else can you really do to stretch this character into a big movie franchise that people care about?”
While, yes, this is deviating from the games’ storyline, where the characters all seem loosely matured in their roles, shrugging this off as “the only option” is blind: they could have just been Big Damn Heroes with new villains or new villain antics, or gone off-world without rings and needed to find a way back, plenty of options abound, this just happened to work as a particularly family-focused and reasonable concept.
Bahr concludes with a claim that Carrey’s performance doesn’t outdo the “CG counterparts”—i.e. the protagonists and, thus, most focal characters. That claim also feels contradictory to other critics who say Carrey is the biggest personality. People are allowed to disagree, of course, I just definitely don’t find this claim accurate.
I will freely admit I am biased in favor of the film, being a fan, but it isn’t really something that can have an objective response, because I highly doubt a person would be able to be familiar with the characters, plot, concept, and history and have no interest in it, but my review, like the film, is for the fans:
The film has flaws, a couple of chronological oddities, and some jokes that might fall flat, or fly over someone’s head (what pop culture you grew up with will decide what jokes you’re going to get, in any film where references are made.) There is still particularly… egregious product placement? Olive Garden returns (though I will remark that the “family” concept works decently well, but it is still front and center,) there’s a couple comments about The Four Seasons, and a couple others, which I find an underwhelming use of the writing.
However, if you recognize the series, you know the characters, and have a decent awareness of the lore, you’ll enjoy the nods to the series’ past, and clear references to the source material. There’s a scene that is obviously a reference to the beginning of Ice Cap Zone Act 1, there’s a Mean Bean Machine reference, and some spoilery references also come to mind, which will be rewarding to people who are familiar with the series.
The pacing, action, animation, characters, and continuity is generally pleasing, and the overall film is a lot of fun. Unlike what the above critics say, the film is not a cash-in. It is clear a lot of passion went into acknowledging things the fans will appreciate. I would assert the “job,” as it were, of a critic, is to demonstrate whether people will enjoy something, not whether it is some sophisticated piece of media.
Why This Matters
So, with a bit over a week abroad, and a couple days of early showings in the USA, the film already seems to have had support from fans, yet some (not all, as noted above) critics seem to pawn it as mediocre, rushed, focused on the wrong characters, annoying, and something adults won’t enjoy.
Further showing the care the film has, people noted that they updated the model for Tails several times over the film’s production.
I don’t go to a movie, or buy an album, or view art because I am looking to upgrade my cultural capital. I don’t go to a play because it is something sophisticated people do. I consume entertainment to entertain. If the media succeeds, it’s good, if it fails, it doesn’t work for me. Can a product be bad? Of course. However, I would look up a review to see if I enjoy something, not to see if it is society-changing.
Part of the problem is also with aggregators, which define positive and negative, sometimes, on arbitrary lines, but my sticking point in this discussion is more about the condescending attitude a person in “authority” has for layfolk—especially when some don’t even bother to contextualize the story of a derivative work (in this case, that Sonic was not produced in a vacuum.)
The discrepancy is this: the elite, establishment critics don’t match the wavelength of the common folk. Complex, deep and original does not always mean great. Something can be complex and original and still be boring. Primer, for example, is brilliant, but it is dense and dry, and hard to follow (on purpose.) This does not translate to something many will enjoy.
It received decent ratings from both viewers and critics, but I assure you, the people who viewed the film were enticed in by people explaining that it was complex and difficult (so much so there are multiple [spoilery] guides to the film.) A person wouldn’t be so likely just to stumble into the film out of nowhere.
It has impressive writing, but, at the end of the day, a critic willing to do it injustice could say “it’s a time travel movie with a time travel plot, we’ve seen this, before.” The claim isn’t wrong. People have seen time travel films before, but this film has very thorough writing and is very careful. You can paint the image however you wish, but if you are describing the film with the intent of asking if the audience will value it, you should address it with the respect that that means.
However, a critic, or, really, any elite class, seems inclined not to respect the riffraff. They talk to their other elites on high, and ignore what you, the supposed target audience, care about. If I were to take critics at their word, I would have missed Miss Congeniality (41%), Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (39%), The Fox and the Hound 2 (20%), and, if they had reviewed them, likely every Land Before Time sequel. All of the above I enjoyed greatly, even if they weren’t worth much of anything to critics.
That is to say this: there’s nearly no point or value in following what the elite thinks. Any critic may have some input worth considering, but their word certainly shouldn’t be gospel. This doesn’t go solely for critics, though. This also goes for may celebrities, gurus, supposed experts on subjective subjects, and many others. They likely don’t care about you, so you shouldn’t feel any obligation to care about them, either.
Make your own path, even if someone else finds it cringe. Enjoy the 1993 Super Mario Bros. Movie (28%) if you like it. Don’t let someone else dictate what you can and can’t enjoy, life’s too short for that.—Tails_155