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Total Film
Total Film
Bradley Russell

Knuckles review: "A confident trial run for Sonic 3"


Sonic may be all lightning-fast quips and even quicker action, but the Knuckles spin-off TV show packs a different kind of punch. While the new Paramount Plus series – consisting of six 25-30 minute episodes – certainly highlights a ceiling to the family fun-style Sonic formula, it’s a surprisingly charming, earnest road trip that sees Idris Elba dig a little more into the red echidna’s potential for bone-crunching capers and dry humor.

The series begins with Knuckles (Idris Elba) getting used to life in the leafy locale of Green Hills after choosing to stay on Earth in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. After being grounded, he takes on a willing protege: Wade Whipple (Adam Pally, in top goofball form), the hapless sheriff’s deputy from the first two Sonic movies who has been pushed front and center here.

From there, all roads lead to Reno – and a bowling tournament that sees Wade reunite with his estranged father, champion bowler 'Pistol' Pete Whipple (Cary Elwes). While the main plot is a little Disney Channel in its execution, Knuckles and Wade’s unlikely double act does the heavy lifting in a series of scenarios filled with slapstick, a sprinkling of anarchic OTT energy from Wade, and one-liners from an often bemused Knuckles. While some of the jokes are predictable and low-hanging, Idris Elba frequently pulls a gem out of nowhere – with Knuckles’ surprise fandom of Paul Blart: Mall Cop being a standout.

Hot on their tail are Agents Mason (Scott Mescudi, AKA Kid Cudi) and Willoughby (Ellie Taylor), and it’s here where the seams start to show. In truth, their game of cat-and-echidna never excites in the same way Robotnik’s efforts do, and it all amounts to resembling a pale imitation of a Sonic movie instead of its own thing.

It’s especially frustrating, too, because when it does strike out on its own, it can be occasionally brilliant. Take the title theme, for starters – the ‘80s rock anthem 'The Warrior' by Scandal is a genius song choice on par with James Gunn’s decision to use 'Do You Wanna Taste It' for Peacemaker in how effectively it sets the desired tone.

A Knuckles adventure

(Image credit: Paramount)

Speaking of music, Knuckles inexplicably turns into a rock opera halfway through. No, that’s not a joke. While we daren’t spoil the details here, fans of Alan Wake 2’s We Sing interlude will certainly perk their ears up for a surprisingly daring left turn for a series that mostly sticks a little too closely to the sort of fish-out-of-water action formula that brought the Sonic series so much success in cinemas.

There are other downsides, though. Despite what the title suggests, this is less Knuckles and more Wade Whipple: The Series at times. It’s likely a budget constraint – though the CGI we do get is a confident trial run for Sonic 3 – and the series can’t help but feel a little empty when the echidna glides off stage for more Whipple family drama.

The product placement, already reaching critical mass in the Sonic movies, also reaches a new level here. Knuckles professing his love for Doritos may be funny the first time, but similar attempts to shoehorn in a brand or product might have the viewer feeling sick of the sight of Cool Ranch by the time the oddly abrupt ending rolls around.

(Image credit: Paramount)

Generally, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that some people simply won’t be the target audience for Knuckles – and that’s OK. The Paramount Plus series is more of the same when compared to its bigger box office brothers. So much so, in fact, that it feels like Sonic 2.5 in places, despite a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Sonic cameo being one of only a handful of connections to the wider universe.

Still, it’s a light, fun, and relatively safe adventure that manages to flesh out Wade and Knuckles just enough that you’ll be fist pumping a little more when they show up again down the line. In that sense, it’s a job well done and resembles what the MCU originally aimed to do with WandaVision before bloating its line-up with more middling Disney Plus efforts. 

After this endearing Knuckles detour, one where Idris Elba unlocks the character’s comedic potential, it’s full speed ahead for the Blue Blur’s next adventure – with Keanu Reeves in tow. On this evidence, it’ll have no trouble racking up the coins at the box office. 

Knuckles is premiering on Paramount Plus on April 26 in the US and April 27 in the UK.

For more, check out the new TV shows coming your way later this year.

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