MOVIE REVIEW: Sonic the Hedgehog

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 39 minutes

Let me just get this out of the way up front. I can confirm that Sonic does indeed go fast! Very fast, in fact. Almost as fast as the studio lept into action and changed the CGI animation of their titular character after extreme internet backlash following the original trailer’s release. That choice was a wise one, removing the creepily human similarities that made the character look very different than its video game origins. The newer design of Sonic is much more approachable, relatable, and adorable, and it likely salvaged Paramount’s chance at having the Sega game adaptation become a success. 

It’s no secret that films based on video games have been more miss than hit, and there are a number of understandable reasons why this is the case. Low budgets at times, a lack of talent or star power, or misunderstanding the market desire for a film version of a game to name a few. The list goes on. But one very real challenge that many adaptations face was something that “Sonic the Hedgehog” can actually count as a strength. The video game style of Sonic, you see, is not extremely narrative-driven, and thus the character is much more of an open slate with which to explore a new storytelling medium. Most casual audience members will simply go into the film knowing that Sonic is a cute furry blue hedgehog-like creature that runs super-fast and collects rings. The film smartly wastes no time in quickly getting most of its lore dump out of the way, showing us see where Sonic came from, explaining to us the power of these iconic collectible rings, and introducing Sonic’s nemesis. 

With the background in our rearview, “Sonic the Hedgehog” can get down to the business of crafting an adventure for the blue devil in the modern world. Sonic (Ben Schwartz) lives a lonely existence. He inhabits a small cave in the forest outside of small-town Green Hills, MT and enjoys watching Tom and Maddie Wachowski (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter) from afar, but he constantly dreams of a world in which he is not alone and can interact with the local humans. Eventually, that happens. After an emotional outburst sets off a special power Sonic was unaware that he has, the government comes calling, sending in their egotistical genius scientist Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and his legion of drones to capture and study what they believe in an alien specimen of great value. The majority of the movie is made up of Sonic and Tom on a quest to keep him safe, having hilarious and exciting encounters while developing a growing friendship that neither quite knows how to handle. All the while they are chased by the evil, mustache-twirling Robotnik. It’s a performance by Carrey that calls back to his comedic brilliance of the past with him commanding the screen and delivering deliciously ridiculous dialogue in the perfect tone of a video game villain. While Marsden definitely does solid work, even with some slight emotional nuance, and Sonic is competent though unspectacularly voiced by Schwartz, this is Carrey’s movie through and through. True to his name, he carries the film and keeps it enjoyable throughout.

Action pieces in the film are a mixed bag. Some are exciting and others exist only to generate hearty laughs and play with Sonic’s speed in interesting ways, like a slow-motion bar fight that is reminiscent of Quicksilver’s memorable moment in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” or comparable sequences in any number of iterations of The Flash. You probably won’t remember the specifics of any action a day or two later, but it’s never boring and the kids are going to love it. What is more surprising is how emotionally resonant the heart of the film is. Despite some really on-the-nose references to family, Sonic clearly desires one and we want that for him. By the end, you may even find yourself tearing up a bit at some of the sweet character interactions that occur. 

Film adaptations of video games have been so bad for so long that the low bar has reached a point that isn’t honestly that hard to clear. “Sonic the Hedgehog” is certainly nothing special, but it’s a perfectly fun new version of the character to spend an hour and a half with that both scratches the nostalgia itch with its frequent references to the source material and is modern enough to keep younger audience members engaged at the same time. The end of the film teases a sequel and maybe the biggest endorsement of this film I can give is that I truly hope it happens.

** There are two scenes at the end of the film, one of which is mid-credits that you don’t want to miss! **

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Full disclosure: I have a cat named after Pikachu and I am a big fan of this franchise in its many forms, including the card game, video games, and its anime series. I think with any beloved property that is being adapted it’s important to consider the fandom (or lack thereof) of the reviewer, so putting my history out there up front for context.

I won’t be surprised if a majority of adults who don’t have a history with Pokémon are meh on this, but fans and kids will adore it. My experience reminded me of READY PLAYER ONE. I wanted to live in this world of DETECTIVE PIKACHU forever. Smashing success!


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Rampage

RAMPAGE (2018)

1 Hour and 47 Minutes (PG-13)

When you think of video games that would be prime material for a film adaptation, it is usually ones with strong story that come to mind. Rampage is based on no such game, but rather a series which began as a 1986 arcade game by Midway whose primary gameplay mechanic is simply giant monsters smashing buildings. To call this video game narratively sparse would be an understatement. Its world-building is simple: three humans are transformed by various means into monstrous creatures – George (an ape), Lizzie (a lizard), and Ralph (a wolf) – who must raze city after city to the ground before taking too much damage and reverting to human form. Not exactly a lot there to go on when writing a screenplay.

The story of Rampage the film expands on this sparse source material by setting up a world in which power corporation Energyne has developed a weaponized sort of DNA using a genetic editing drug called CRISPR. The film begins in space, where Energyne has its own gigantic private space station on which to conduct experiments, and the opening sequence sets the stage for what will come in more than one way. First, it’s extremely clear right away that Rampage will be a violent film. There is almost a horror-like quality throughout and though it’s full of humor, there is always a dark tone hanging overhead. The second thing this opening sequence tells us is that we can throw any expectations for realistic scenarios out the window as this is going to be a film that doesn’t take its story seriously. Much like the video game it is based on, the narrative here only exists to drive the monsters toward smashing and bashing as much and as often as possible.

The first animal to be accidentally infected by the mysterious drug from Project Rampage is George, an albino ape living in the San Diego Wildlife Preserve. George is a very smart gorilla and has a unique bond with primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), who has raised him from birth and communicates with him through sign language. When George transforms into a violent genetically-edited rage beast and the government tries to step in and take control, Davis sets off to save his friend in the hopes of returning him to normal. It just so happens that Davis is ex-special forces military, of course, a convenience that certainly helps the plot along. Assisting Davis in his drive to return George to normal is Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a scientist responsible for helping to create CRISPR who claims to have a cure. The two don’t only have to worry about George’s temper tantrums, though. Also in the mix is Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), representing the government and generally making the situation more complicated. Morgan’s portrayal of the mysterious agent is cowboy-like and quite similar to his role as Neegan in The Walking Dead. It is one of many eccentric performances in Rampage and how you respond to these caricatures will greatly inform your overall experience with the film.

The true villains (outside of the uncontrollable mutated wolf and lizard) are the Wyden siblings (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy) who run Energyne. Their performances are wildly over-the-top as Ackerman is chillingly cold, calculated, and intelligent while Lacy plays a buffoon scared to death of being caught and incapable of making tough decisions. Like most evil corporations in blockbuster movies, their goals seem financial in nature and they are willing to do anything to protect their assets.

When it comes to adaptation, Rampage is just about exactly what should be expected. The action is big, brutally violent, loud, frequent, and surprisingly bloody. Several callbacks to the original games exist and fans will enjoy seeing and hearing those. The story is filled with nonsensical decision-making, an absurdly inaccurate portrayal of the military, and plenty of “they shouldn’t have survived that” moments. It also has some heart, though, and viewers will be more emotionally impacted by George and Davis’ relationship than they anticipated. The key in all of this is the consistent undertone of humor throughout, because never does the film take itself too seriously. It knows exactly what kind of big-budget B-movie schlock it is and embraces it with open arms. And for those wondering, yes, there are sexual innuendo jokes because this is 2018 and Hollywood just can’t help themselves.

VERDICT

Despite it’s close to two-hour runtime, Rampage feels shorter due to a tight pacing that propels the story forward with frequent intense action. There is absolutely nothing of real depth here, but much like the video game it is based on, the fun is in watching giant monsters destroy stuff. The film is quite horrific with its violence and really pushes against that PG-13 rating, so younger children may be too terrified to enjoy it properly. Teens and adults, however, should have a LOT of fun with the mayhem these giant creatures cause, making Rampage worthy of at least one theater viewing.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 101: Tomb Raider

This week we are joined by returning guest Andrew Dyce of Screenrant.com to discuss the latest video game adaptation – TOMB RAIDER. We have a great conversation about the genre’s previous failures and what this movie does to set itself apart.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:14

(Aaron – Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague)
(Patrick – The Brainwashing of my Dad)
(Andrew – Star Wars Rebels, Bob’s Burgers)

Tomb Raider Review – 0:19:15

The Connecting Point – 1:24:23


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MOVIE REVIEW: Tomb Raider

TOMB RAIDER (2018)

GOING IN

I’ve been a gamer for my entire life. When it comes to the action/adventure genre, the Tomb Raider series has always been my favorite. Its focus on exploration and historical discoveries intermingled with myth and legend makes for fascinating stories. In 2013 the series was rebooted with modern gameplay and graphics. That game, simply titled Tomb Raider, is the pinnacle of the series for me, mixing the perfect amount of tomb raiding with an intriguing and emotional narrative. It is that very story which inspires this new film, led by Alicia Vikander, an incredible young actress who is among my favorites. I, like so many gamers, have waited and wanted for a worthy film adaptation of a game. Could this be it? My excitement, and hopes, are sky high.

1 Hour and 58 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

“All myths have foundation in reality.” 

At its heart, the Tomb Raider video game series has always been about discovery. Sure, it’s evolved over the years to include plenty of gun-firing, arrow-flinging action, but where the series sucked players in was its climbing sequences and tomb exploration. Searching for, and finding, some rare artifact or relic never gets old, no matter how far-fetched the stories about them become. And far-fetched is where the story in the 2013 Tomb Raider game went, focusing largely on Lara fighting to stop a group of people bent on harnessing the supernatural power of the goddess Himiko. This adaptation of that game actually includes elements of its sequel, 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, as well. And all of the story changes are for the better.

Tomb Raider serves as the origin story of Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander). Instead of starting off with Lara as a globe-trotting treasure hunter, Lara is presented as a young woman who has not emotionally recovered from her father’s disappearance 7 years earlier. Her unwavering hope that he is still alive eventually leads her to discovering information about where he might be, and off she goes to find him. Though the primary plot may focus on whether or not Lara can stop the goddess Himiko from being released, the film’s emotional core rests in the story of a father who left his daughter to protect her, and a daughter who will do anything to save her father. This relationship drives Lara’s actions when confronting the film’s primary villain, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), a man who even himself just wants to do his job so that he can see his kids. Goggins chews up scenery as the cold-hearted Vogel and plays a great foil to Lara.

Action sequences are hit or miss in the film. At times, the CGI is noticeably wonky during the biggest moments, but in more close-up shots like Lara mowing down guards with a bow and arrow at close range, the action is an adrenaline-pumping rush fueled by Junkie XL’s frenetic score. What works in the film’s favor is how faithfully it always represents a video game perspective. Many scenes are taken straight from the source material and those who have played it will likely find great joy in reliving these. Everything about the film is consistent with it being a game adaptation. In short, the movie feels like the video game in so many way, as well it should.

The other primary area where the film really needed to deliver was in its depiction of puzzle solving/treasure hunting. There are scenes here too that are copied directly from the games the film is based on, and even when they aren’t they feel perfectly placed in the world of Tomb Raider. Lara’s eyes perk up when figuring out clues and her sense of curiosity is evident when she discovers something new for the first time. These are the qualities that make her who she becomes and what could set her off on countless new journeys in the future.

VERDICT

Tomb Raider is a fast-paced, fun, action adventure film. Its adaptation of and improvement on the excellent source material and display of many iconic game moments are a delight to see on screen, and Alicia Vikander’s performance captures the strong-willed and intelligent personality of Lara Croft perfectly. Enhanced by an emotional through-line about the love between a father and daughter, Tomb Raider rises above most of the films in this genre and proves that good video game adaptations can be made. It left this fan relieved, satisfied, and wanting more.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.