What does Knuckles want? Where does he come from? What does he represent to Sonic? What does the Master Emerald mean to him, really?
When Idris Elba signed on to play a superpowered red echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the actor was looking to mine for backstory and identity, and find “everything that an actor needs in order to create a character and a kind of craft performance,” says director Jeff Fowler. “He was just so eager to absorb it all, and workshop him into best version of the character. Which was awesome. It was great to see how much he cared about getting it right.”
In the first trailer for Sonic 2, released this week out of The Game Awards, fans got a taste of Sonic stepping into his well-known hero role, Tails joining the crew as the high-flying sidekick, and Knuckles, who made his first appearance in 1994’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3, entertaining the spotlight as a new villain. And it’s not lost on Fowler what bringing the character into the fold means to longtime fans of the game. While 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog saw Sonic taking baby steps from his place in the Green Hill Zone into our universe (aka the “James Marsden-verse”), Sonic 2 gets a little darker, and a lot bigger.
“You’ve got Sonic’s speed, you’ve got Knuckles’ super strength, and we just put them in an environment and let them go at it,” Fowler says. “It’s like a little Captain America [and] Iron Man; it just offers so much opportunity in terms of fight choreography and action.”
And while the movie isn’t some pivot to a dark, gritty, for-adults mode, Fowler does take a character like Knuckles as seriously as a guy like Elba. Knuckles does have a motivation — anyone who is familiar with the lore behind Master Emerald from Sonic & Knuckles knows where Sonic 2 is headed — and in Fowler’s mind, Knuckles’ dynamic with the blue speedster is quite deep.
“Obviously, the nature of Robotnik and Sonic’s sort of rivalry and their battles have one sort of look and feel,” the director says. “But when you bring in a character like Knuckles, who has power, and in his many ways is just better suited for combat than Sonic is ... When we ended the first film, Sonic’s been in one fight. That does not turn you into a superhero overnight, and you bring along a character like Knuckles whose entire existence is about honor and about being a warrior. And like right off the bat, Sonic is no match for that dude. So to tease that kind of confrontation like we did in the trailer, for fans to realize that that’s kind of where we’re going with it, where Knuckles is just a force of nature, and Sonic is out of his element at first because Knuckles is just more than he can handle — it felt like such dramatic sort of material, and such a great foundation to build a movie story around.”
Heavy. But Fowler, who came up in the industry working in animation and visual effects at Blur Studios, says Knuckles also provides him with plenty of opportunities to just go hog wild with spectacle. As Sonic franchise stalwart (and Sonic movie storyboarder) Tyson Hesse put on Twitter when the trailer went live, Sonic 2 is even more Sonic-y than the first movie, which the director says comes out in recreating familiar moments of action.
“The tornado with Tails and Sonic, Tails delivering Sonic into battle, that’s just as iconic as it gets in my book,” Fowler says. “So to incorporate those kinds of visuals, and then characters, bringing in Knuckles as a heavy, and really just making him the badass that he is in the earliest versions of him, going all the way back to the ’90s, that’s what I would attribute to the Sonic-ness of it all.”
As for Elba’s performance, Fowler says he thinks the actor “absolutely nailed it.” And despite the actor’s attempt at de-hunkifying the character, Knuckles is a little sexy. Perfectly natural.
“Let me just say that the fact that [the sexy voice debate] resurfaced in the last 24 hours. Everyone saying that he lied makes me so happy. Big smile on my face. I don’t think anyone saw that conversation or dialogue happening, but here it is, and I’m glad it’s here. He’s such a great guy. He really wants to get the character right.”
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 hits theaters on April 8, 2022.