There are a lot of reasons why Sonic the Hedgehog fans are excited for the second live-action movie, chief among them being how much it is leaning into the franchise compared to the first one. Out of everything, however, it’s the inclusion of Knuckles that seems to have garnered the most attention and praise.
Part of this is most likely a mixture of the casting of Idris Elba and how Knuckles is established in the trailer. His appearance is brief, but his introduction sees him almost effortlessly catching Sonic with one hand and slamming him into the ground, complete with a one-liner that, between the cool factor and Elba’s delivery, has become legitimately popular and instantly memed within the fan base.
But for longtime fans of Knuckles’ character, this isn’t just an opportunity to see him do cool things on the big screen. The trailer seems to set up a return to form for the red echidna, depicting him closer to his original characterization. Not to mention, combined with certain details from the first movie, we could see an especially interesting dynamic between Sonic and Knuckles that the games never attempted.
Knock Knock, It’s Knuckles
Knuckles is one of the oldest members of the franchise’s cast, having debuted in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 back in 1994. Nowadays, everyone knows him as just another of Sonic’s wide circle of friends, there to be an extra playable character to pad out a roster in a racing spin-off or just appear in cutscenes to remind everyone he exists.
What younger fans may not know is that Knuckles was initially an antagonist. Sonic 3 starts with him punching the Super out of Super Sonic and stealing the Chaos Emeralds before going on to hinder Sonic and Tails as they trek through his island home. He wasn’t evil; he had simply been duped by Dr. Robotnik, who convinced Knuckles that Sonic was the villain. Upon figuring out Sonic wasn’t his enemy, Knuckles eventually aided the good guys and helped thwart the doctor’s schemes. Afterwards, he went on to be a regular ally of Sonic, although they would still butt heads, no thanks to Knuckles constantly falling for Robotnik's lies.
This was essentially Knuckles' role for the next decade or so. He was the complete antithesis of Sonic, not just in terms of color scheme and power set (super speed vs super strength), but also personality. While Sonic is carefree and aloof, Knuckles is stern and serious. Sonic is free to do whatever he wants, whereas Knuckles upholds his duty to protect the Master Emerald. Sonic has Tails’ constant companionship, but Knuckles remains forever isolated, which in turn justifies his somewhat gullible nature. This even carried over into his cartoon appearances, namely Sonic Underground and the Sonic X anime, where the latter saw him regularly come into conflict with Sonic due to their polar opposite personalities. But at some point, that changed.
A Shadow of his Former Self
It’s probably fair to say that Knuckles nowadays is a very different character to how he was originally. Over time, his rivalry with Sonic took more of a backseat. The games rarely ever acknowledge his job as the Master Emerald’s guardian anymore to justify why he keeps showing up to hang out with Sonic and friends. Even his personality became a lot simpler, although some fans may call it a regression. Instead of a hard-headed, somewhat gullible loner with social issues, he became Sonic’s meathead friend. If Sonic was the cocky leader and Tails was the smart one, Knuckles rounded out the trio as the dumb muscle.
Granted, he was never completely stupid, but him being less intelligent than those around him definitely became more of a defining trait of his character. It eventually reached its apex with the Sonic Boom continuity, where he was well and truly depicted as a complete moron. Admittedly, he had some of the best jokes in the show, but it’s understandable why fans of Knuckles weren’t especially impressed that a character they loved now existed to be a punchline.
Perhaps this had to do with the newer, hipper rivals that Sonic was accruing, such as Blaze the Cat, Jet the Hawk, and especially Shadow the Hedgehog, the last of whom quickly became the Vegeta to Sonic’s Goku, as evidenced by his popularity. Whatever the cause, Knuckles has lost a lot of the traits that made him popular in the first place; traits that the movie looks to be bringing back in full force.
More Than a Rivalry
Aside from the great first impression from the trailer, a Polygon interview with director Jeff Fowler shows that Knuckles’ character is in good hands. Fowler is clearly treating him with a lot of respect, and apparently Elba, who could easily have phoned in a performance and treated the whole thing as a dumb kid's movie and an easy pay check, did a lot of research to truly understand the character. To quote Fowler himself, "He was just so eager to absorb it all, and workshop him into the best version of the character."
However, while some key details concerning why Knuckles has teamed up with Robotnik in the movie have yet to be fully explained, there’s already a precedent that Sonic and Knuckles’ antagonism won’t just be a result of a misunderstanding or tricky on Robotnik’s part. And funnily enough, this comes from the first movie, specifically the opening three minutes. As a reminder, the movie began with a baby Sonic and his caretaker Longclaw being attacked by a group of masked strangers. Although they’re never explicitly identified, fans instantly recognized them as echidnas. While Sonic escaped to Earth, Longclaw stayed behind and was presumably killed.
In addition, Sonic and Knuckles’ respective superpowers appear to operate similarly, with the two glowing and radiating lightning whenever they use them. Is it possible they come from the same source? Did Sonic inadvertently steal his power from the echidnas, and they were trying to take it back? Right now, it’s pure speculation, but the point is that Sonic and Knuckles’ antagonism in this movie looks to be a lot more personal than it’s ever been before.
In the games and cartoons, whenever Sonic and Knuckles came to blows, it was always Knuckles who was the instigator, and nine times out of 10, it was because Robotnik told him a big fat fib. In the movie, Knuckles being an echidna could bring back bad memories for Sonic, perhaps associating Knuckles with the loss of his mother figure. Not to mention the trailer suggests their first encounter comes about because Knuckles attacks him in his home, replicating one of the worst moments in Sonic’s life.
The movie sequel already won fans over thanks to the amount of fan service and pure Sonic-ness that the trailer already offers. And while it’s unlikely the movie will affect Knuckles’ depiction in the games, fans stand to get not only his best appearance in years but also the most interesting take on his and Sonic’s relationship yet.