Detective Pikachu vs. Sonic the Hedgehog

This year, two video game franchises that defined my childhood will be hitting the big screen as live action movies. My reaction to the two trailers is about the same as much of the Internet: Detective Pikachu looks surprisingly, strangely good, Sonic the Hedgehog… not so much. Just so we’re all on the same page, here are the most recent trailers for each:


Hollywood loves to milk us for nostalgia. A lot of people roll their eyes at that, but I’m really not bothered by that in and of itself. I’m happy to get more Star Wars and comic book movies… as long as they’re done well. That really is the key, isn’t it? It has to be done well or it just feels like a cheap cash-in.

A large part of the difference between these movies is that Detective Pikachu takes place in a different part of a much larger world than the games. It gives the writers the creative license to build a world that makes sense within the rest of the universe, but also works for a movie. It doesn’t have to connect itself too much to the rest of the franchise, but also doesn’t feel like it needs a big “this isn’t canon” disclaimer on it. It’s also adapting a game of the same name that was a lot more story driven to begin with, so there’s more material to adapt. Honestly, I haven’t played the game, so I’m not entirely sure how far the movie departs from it, but that doesn’t really matter much to me, as long as it’s a good movie with at least the same premise.

Classic Sonic the Hedgehog, on the other hand, is a game that barely had a story, because it didn’t really need one: Evil scientist shows up with bad robots. Jump on them. Then jump on the evil scientist. It’s an action platformer and that’s about all the setup you need. We’ve had a wide variety of Sonic media adaptations over the years — no less than three American cartoons in the 90s, an anime movie, an anime TV series, and recently a CGI TV series, not to mention the longest running video game-based comic book series ever, as well as its recent reboot — and they’ve all had to make up an awful lot in terms of Sonic’s world and backstory. As such, we’ve had a lot of different takes on the character, and, quite frankly, it’s starting to get old. It’s exhausting keeping up with which version of the same characters we’re dealing with here. The cognitive dissonance that it creates is exactly why you see so much in fighting among Sonic fans; everyone has a different idea of what Sonic “should be” because there has never really been a single, unified depiction of him. It’s like all the times they’ve rebooted Spider-Man, except that everyone knows Spider-Man’s backstory, so much so that they finally decided to just fast forward over it in the last couple of incarnations. With Sonic, they have to reinvent the wheel every time.

Detective Pikachu also takes place in a world where the weird looking CGI characters are just as prevalent as humans, if not more so. This makes the integration of the CGI protagonist with the live action protagonist feel a lot more natural than the human and hedgehog duo. It’s not even about CGI quality or budget, it’s about whether or not your CGI character feels out of place in the world. And Sonic feels out of place because he is literally out of place; Pokemon are just a part of life in City, but Sonic is an oddity that startles everyone. Those Sega Genesis sound effects are jarringly out of place as well. I really hope those are used sparingly… or just not at all.

Obviously I haven’t seen either of these movies, given that neither one is out yet, so I can’t really say how good or bad either one is. But if trailers are any indication (and they aren’t always), Detective Pikachu does a lot better job adapting its nostalgic IP to live action than Sonic the Hedgehog. The two will inevitably be compared a lot to each other, and to the recent rash of live action Disney remakes. I’ve already seen it all over social media. I’m not sure either will be a cult classic or anything, or rake in Marvel-sized piles of cash, but Detective Pikachu looks like a movie that I will genuinely enjoy, whereas Sonic just looks like another movie to throw on the trash heap of terrible video game movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally going to go see Sonic in the theater at least once because I’m a Sega fan and I have to, but I don’t expect to enjoy it as a movie.

Hey, at least it gives us new ammunition for the age old Mario vs. Sonic debate: Whose live action movie was worse?

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Warcraft Movie: Why the Hate? (Spoiler Free)

Durotan RoarI walked out of the theater last night after watching Warcraft with only one thought on my mind: “That was really good. Why did this get such horrible reviews?” With a current Metacritic rating of only 32, to say that film critics have not received Warcraft well would be an understatement. Ok, so movie critics are just categorically biased against video game movies. The fans will like it, right? While some did, much of the gaming media has jumped on the hate bandwagon as well. Seriously, were they in a different movie than I was?

Let me say up front that I don’t know Warcraft lore well. At all. I played Warcraft III a little, but mostly in multiplayer, and that was years ago. I have had a lot of friends who have played WoW off and on over the years, but if any of them were lore junkies, they didn’t talk about it to me much. As such, when Stormwind and Dalaran look too much like they do in the era of WoW and not how they should look at this point in history, I don’t know the difference. I’m not saying that my ignorance excuses the film makers’ ignorance (or worse, willful disregard for major details), I’m just saying that it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie the way it would if I were a Warcraft fan. If I were, I’m sure I would rage right along with them on those points.

That said, I really thought that this movie, in a vacuum, did a lot of things really well. The CGI, for example, was amazing. I went in expecting to hate the orcs–they look ok in the super-stylized fantasy world that Blizzard has created, but their exaggerated proportions and weird tusks can’t possibly make the jump to photorealism, right?–but they were so expressive, something that is usually lost with CGI-ified characters, that I forgot within the first ten minutes to try to look for places where they look fake. I would argue that Warcraft does realistic, expressive CGI characters better than Avatar did, and everyone raved about how great Avatar’s characters were (granted, Avatar was 7 years ago, but few movies have managed to top it). I simply never felt, as many have accused it, like it was a bunch of people prancing around in front of a greenscreen. Magic was also really well done, especially in 3D. Only in one scene, involving a giant wall of lightning, did I think the spell effects looked cheap, but other than that they did an excellent job with it.

Another criticism is that there isn’t any character development. That simply isn’t true. I can’t talk a lot about it without spoilers (maybe I’ll post some spoilery thoughts if people are interested, let me know in the comments), but I think a case could be made that several characters show as much development as any character in most other blockbuster movies. Again, I can’t speak to whether or not the characters develop in a way that is consistent with the games, but to say that there is no development is a gross exaggeration. Also, many people felt that the movie jerked you around a lot, trying to tell too many stories in too many different places at once, but I’m not sure how you could possibly tell the story of Warcraft without showing both sides equally as well as the strife within each faction’s own ranks.

The most ridiculous claim that I’ve seen is that it’s some kind of Lord of the Rings wannabe. This claim is simply laughable, and makes me wonder if these reviewers, first of all, have even read The Lord of the Rings books (or at least watched the movies), and second, if they actually watched Warcraft or just watched some clips and made assumptions. If Warcraft is a Lord of the Rings ripoff, then literally every fantasy story of the last fifty years is as well. Lord of the Rings has had incredibly far-reaching impact on the fantasy genre, to the point where many would say that Tolkien invented the modern Fantasy story. Yes, there are orcs fighting humans, with the occasional magic-user thrown in… but that’s literally where the similarities end.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t without its flaws. It skims over some of the details, like how exactly the Dark Portal and fel magic corruption work and how the various characters came to have access to them. What’s worse is that the Dark Portal was changed a lot for the movie, so it’s not like they’re skipping over details they figure the audience knows, it was just poorly thought out. Also, several of the main characters’ deaths are rather sudden and unceremonious, killing them and moving on before it has sunk in. And (I don’t think this a spoiler since it was in the trailer) the whole thing with Thrall being orc Moses was really weird. That said, I don’t think it was any more flawed than the vast majority of movies that get much better ratings than Warcraft.

So why all the hate? I know only a smattering of the lore from the Warcraft ‘verse, and my wife knows even less, and we both came out of the movie extremely satisfied with the story, production, and thoroughly confused about all of the hate it has been getting. What am I missing?