When the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie came out just over two years ago, a lot of flaws were forgiven because Paramount as a studio engendered a ton of goodwill by listening to fan reactions to the film’s first teasers and delaying its release in order to fix Sonic’s nightmare fuel design. The final product still had a lot of problems, particularly in how Sonic was depicted as a character and the overall derivative road trip movie plotting, but a lot of it could be set aside because the studio cared enough to take the time and spend the money to make sure it at least looked right. And even with its faults, the film did show potential that could be realized in future sequels.
Two years later, the highly-anticipated Sonic the Hedgehog 2 corrects many of these issues. The film is still far from perfect, but just like its predecessor, the creative team really does seem to be listening to its fanbase, tweaking and fine-tuning in hopes of getting that much closer to a true winner. As such, while there are still some things worth knocking, I can safely say that this film can join Detective Pikachu in the ranks of GOOD video game film adaptations.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first, mostly because a lot of it is crammed into the beginning of the film. The movie opens on the “Mushroom Planet,” filled to the brim with the exact drugs the design team must have been taking for this opening sequence. There we find Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey, adding shades of the Grinch and the Riddler to his Ace Ventura-esque scenery chewing) using a massive Rube Goldberg machine to make mushroom coffee. It’s completely illogical for such a cheap gag, and it’s nonsensical that he would set up such a device every day. He also still has one of Sonic’s quills, which he uses to activate a high-powered beacon, which draws the attention of Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba), who forms an alliance with Robotnik and takes him back to Earth to hunt our beloved hedgehog.
We then cut to Seattle for an absolutely pointless action sequence where Sonic (Ben Schwartz) foils an armored truck robbery, referring to himself as the vigilante hero Blue Justice, but ultimately destroying entire city blocks in the attempt. He returns to Green Hills to go fishing with Tom (James Marsden), who attempts to lecture Sonic about responsibility, blurring the line between friend and parental figure.
At this point, I have to say my hopes are not high for an improvement over the last film. Carrey’s still fun, but there seems to be no attempt at cohesive logic in the story, Sonic is still obnoxious and self-centered, and the plot already seems prone to meaningless diversions, as we never return to Seattle or even reference it again. What we do have is an absolute slew of pop culture nods that the film’s target audience won’t understand. And even the ones they do get are drowned out by fart jokes and/or poor delivery.
Once Tom and wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) are disposed of for the first half of the film – Sonic uses a ring to send them to Hawaii for Maddie’s sister Rachel’s (Natasha Rothwell) wedding to a strapping man named Randall (Shemar Moore) – things take an undeniable turn for the better. It’s not that Tom and Maddie are bad characters. Honestly, their reduced role makes a lot of sense, and when they do return to the action, it’s largely proper from a narrative standpoint, save the deus ex machina intervention of Tom Butler as Commander Walters in a scene that couldn’t have possibly worked if Sonic didn’t insert himself into the proceedings.
Instead, with the arrival of Miles “Tails” Prower (Colleen O’Shaughnessey, who’s voiced Tails throughout the Sonic franchise since 2014), who uses his inventions to track Sonic and warn him of Robotnik and Knuckles’ impending threat, the adventure shifts into what genuinely feels like a living video game. Our two antagonists represent the first encounter with a boss that the player isn’t yet ready to face. A chase scene through Green Hills feels like an introductory tutorial level. Exposition about the “Master Emerald,” a fusion of all the Chaos Emeralds, plays like a cinematic cutscene in between worlds. The quests to retrieve it also play like milestone levels in a game. And of course, Robotnik gives us a full-on giant robot boss fight at the end.
Maybe this was the secret all along. So many video game adaptations try to tell the game’s story through film, and so many times it just doesn’t work. Instead, this film, like Detective Pikachu before it, came up with a believable story that could be executed using the game’s elements. Easter eggs like Sonic being able to breathe underwater by inhaling an air bubble is great fan service, but it also feels organic within the scene that’s been created. It’s not exactly logical, but it doesn’t leave you screaming “BULLSHIT” at the top of your lungs, either.
There are some pretty surprisingly good elements at play as well. The visual effects are vastly improved, not the least of which being the fact that with the character models settled, the human actors have an accurate focal point for their eyelines and physical interactions. Apart from a few truly cartoonish bits, the action sequences look much more realistic than your run-of-the-mill Marvel movie.
Aside from that, the new characters are developed well, and the alterations to the franchise mythos work within context. The opening sequence of the previous movie, where Echidna warriors (I was right!) chased down baby Sonic and supposedly killed Longclaw (Donna Jay Fulks) provides adequate backstory for Knuckles and plays into his more antiheroic traits while still acknowledging his sense of honor. The instant rapport between Sonic and Tails works perfectly, rehabilitating the former’s earlier annoying behavior, and in a surprise twist, the script for once eschews the cliché of a third act friendship conflict. Even Knuckles’ voice grew on me. At first I was skeptical about Idris Elba, as he’s an A-list superstar with a very recognizable voice working alongside veteran voice actors in Schwartz and O’Shaughnessey, but after the rather stilted early dialogue he’s given, Elba’s performance does get increasingly naturalistic, and he eventually complements the other two with relative ease.
There are problems, certainly, and I could nitpick the various holes for days. Hell, there’s a scene where Sonic loses all his rings yet can somehow casually use them later in the film without ever finding them. There’s still a ways to go before we reach something truly special and groundbreaking, but for what we got here, it’s more than fine. It’s no masterpiece, but the film certainly accomplishes what it sets out to do. The jokes mostly land. The plot works within its purpose. Carrey is still a ton of fun as Robotnik. And most importantly, the character of Sonic evolves through a well-meaning story that plays out like a cinematic video game, which has been an insanely tough nut for Hollywood to crack for decades.
As Sonic himself is forced to acknowledge in the film, the franchise still has some growing up to do, but just like the last movie, this one goes to decent lengths to show that it’s trying. Director Jeff Fowler and the entire creative team have shown once more that they want to do right by their audience, and that goes a long way towards making us see through the flaws and enjoy what they’re giving us, warts and all. This is very much an improvement over the previous installment, and it instills confidence that when the next chapter comes up, it’ll get even better.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Who’s your favorite character from the franchise? What video game would you like to see in movie form? Let me know!