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Well, with two of the year’s biggest theatrical releases belonging to the same sub-genre, I think we can all stop pretending that there’s a “curse” for video game-based movies. Two of the year’s first breakout sequels both coming from Paramount, with the studio now going 4/4 in 2022 with Top Gun: Maverick on the way next month. It’s possible that the Paramount comeback that they were aiming for just before Covid (when Sonic the Hedgehog was about to be followed by A Quiet Place part II and Top Gun: Maverick) was merely delayed by two years. With a sky-high opening weekend for Sonic the Hedgehog 2, there’s ample evidence that audiences will show up for more than just Marvel/DC superhero movies and that films explicitly targeting younger audiences can do just fine.

Buoyed by decent reviews, an A from Cinemascore, a well-liked IP and a well-liked predecessor, the $110 million-budgeted Sonic the Hedgehog 2 shattered records for video game movies, earning $71 million in its initial Fri-Sun frame. That’s up from the $58 million Fri-Sun/$70 million Fri-Mon President’s Day debut back in 2020, or “tied” if you argue that folks who showed up over a long weekend otherwise would have over a conventional Fri-Sun opening. Since the film plays like gangbusters to general audiences (the Friday night crowd, including all three of my kids – ages 6-14 – very much enjoyed themselves), I’m expecting a leggy run. Throw in no kid-friendly options since Sing 2 last Christmas and little else until Lightyear on June 17, and you have (if it legs like Rampage and Skull Island) potential for the first $200 million-plus video game movie.

As far as “what went right,” Sonic the Hedgehog cared less about IP exploitation and more about just being a solid kid flick that didn’t pander (all that much) to parents. What pandering there is mostly in the brilliant casting of Jim Carrey as Doctor Robotnik, as the audience most nostalgic for the early Sega Genesis games were also teens when Carrey first broke out in the broadly comic likes of Ace Ventura, Batman Forever and Liar, Liar. Remember what I wrote back in February about well-liked actors as marquee characters who are also variations on popular roles or onscreen personas, like Will Smith in Aladdin and Tom Holland in Uncharted? Yeah, same thing here, as Carrey’s manic schtick plays great to younger kids and to those old enough to quote Dumb and Dumber.

The first Jeff Fowler-directed film offered “regular people” played by James Marsden (who is quite good at grounding these kinds of movies in relatable humanity), Tika Sumpter and scene-stealer Natasha Rothwell. That Rachel, Tom’s comedically judgmental sister-in-law, gets her own subplot in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 shows that the filmmakers know what made the first film work. It’s not just the CGI characters and “Easter eggs.” Sonic 2 was more of what worked last time, with two fun new video game characters (Tails and Knuckles) and an extra $30 million worth of spectacle which upped the fantasy without minimizing the gee-whiz. There’s a third-act sequence that feels akin to the train fight in Spider-Man 2 in terms of “finally, this feels like a living, breathing version of the respective source material.”

That’s not to say that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is some grand masterpiece of cinema. However, video game-based movies are now as likely to be pretty good as not. Moreover, it’s nice that these films can be three-star big(ish) budget fantasy adventures without everyone online tearing each other to shreds over whether they should be considered high art or Oscar-worthy. Like Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Rampage and Detective Pikachu, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a very good version of what it wishes to be. Unlike Morbius, fans are laughing with, not at, the film’s mid-credits sequel tease. Me? I just want to see Sonic 3 with a “brave and the bold” subplot involving Rachel teaming up with Idris Elba’s “What if the Winter Soldier talked like Star Fire from Teen Titans Go! and was also an idiot?” version of Knuckles.

Paramount now finds itself with its first “new” successful IP franchise in a generation. As someone who has been tearfully writing their obituary since mid-2016, as studio programmers collapsed and the Viacom-owned distributor found all of their previously mighty IP going elsewhere (Marvel, DreamWorks Animation) or running out of gas (Star Trek, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.), Paramount’s recent streak is nothing short of miraculous. They’ve scored two breakout sequels (Sonic 2 and Scream), revived two hibernating IPs (Scream and Jackass) and even pulled off the first star-driven original comedy hit since mid-2019 (The Lost City). As much as I question how much Tom Cruise is worth outside of the Mission: Impossible franchise, Top Gun: Maverick now has my benefit of the doubt. Maybe they can cap off an unthinkable comeback by winning the Best Picture Oscar for Damien Chazelle’s Babylon.

Source: Forbes

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