As much as some people like to slam the current wave of superhero and Star Wars movies, they may not realize how much we’ve been spoiled by them. Those films certainly have their formulas. But their core franchises actually branch out into following newer stories and characters. Even the maligned DCEU went from Justice League to Aquaman and Birds of Prey. The old formula for sequels used to be much simpler. Add more characters, make bigger action sequences, and then stitch them together with an exposition dump. This formula killed the Batman franchise the first time around. And it’s in full effect for Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
The first Sonic the Hedgehog, which arrived just before the beginning of the COVID lockdowns, was a crowd-pleaser. Following extensive redesigns of the horribly toothy initial CG character model, the film had a reasonably accurate depiction of a childhood favorite game hero. It even had Jim Carrey back in classic rubberman comedy mode as the villain, Dr. Robotnik. It was wholesome and sweet without being cloying. Plus its battle of an overthinking madman with tech toys versus a fast blue blur felt like a live-action Roadrunner cartoon in the best way. Two years into the pandemic, the sequel, ironically, feels rushed. And not just because the story is disjointed. Many of the effects also look unfinished. Dr. Robotnik may have photo-real drones, but Sonic’s favorite chili dogs look like a ’90s CG commercial.
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The sequel’s main goal is to introduce fan-favorite characters Tails (Colleen O’Shaugnessy) and Knuckles (Idris Elba). The latter, a warlike echidna, helps free Robotnik from exile on a mushroom planet, via a combination of convolution and coincidence. More avid gamers may be able to fill in blanks that the movie does not. Tails, a two-tailed fox with helicopter powers, arrives on Earth to help Sonic (Ben Schwartz) after having idolized and admired him from afar. Meanwhile, Sonic’s new human guardian Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) heads off with wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) for the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), in Hawaii.
Ironically for a movie that’s ostensibly all about the CG characters, it’s the wedding portion that’s the most entertaining. Partly because it’s really incongruous for the middle part of a Sonic the Hedgehog movie to suddenly play like a Tyler Perry comedy. It really works because Rothwell’s commitment to the role of a testy and righteous Bridezilla is a thing of beauty. It also requires Tom to do an incredibly stupid thing to set the plot in motion. But Marsden can sell it. This actor is best known for playing a literal Marvel superhero, and yet he is also convincing as an awkward nerd compared to Shemar Moore.
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The other MVP of the movie is Idris Elba as the voice of Knuckles, which will come as a relief to fans who were previously concerned about the character’s spin-off TV show. Elba plays Knuckles as a literal-minded warrior, and he brings to mind episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Worf had to act relatively human in an undercover situation. Knuckles’ accent is a weird mix of English and American, which only adds to the sense that he’s from a slightly skewed culture. Casual fans of Elba may be upset that he’s never physically present in the movie. But he can hold an audience’s attention with just his voice.
The movie is not immune to the common animation tropes of characters dancing to overly familiar pop songs. Although hearing Pantera in a kids’ movie may be a first. But at least it makes some organic sense. Sonic is portrayed as a kid on a constant sugar-buzz who devours Earth pop culture. So of course popular songs and dances would be his jam. Several chili dog fart jokes feel a bit out of place, but children will probably take to them. While this is a movie designed to provide reasonable entertainment for parents and older gamers, it’s specifically aimed at the very young. More so than the first film.
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Still, there’s something amusingly absurd about a larger cosmology in which every alien planet except Earth appears to be populated by cartoons. While Jim Carrey may feel weary about this type of role, he gives it his all, and never acts like he’s above the material. For many in the audience, betraying the Sonic mythology would be a sin worse than changing key details in a book adaptation. None of the games follow Sonic lounging around the house with a dog. But the spirit of the franchise remains intact. In particular, the finale feels much more drawn from a game level than anything from the real world.
It’s hard to expect too much from a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, and yet another script rewrite and a few more months to polish the visuals might have gone a long way. The characters remain appealing, but like a particularly time-sensitive level in a platform game, the structure beneath them keeps crumbling.
Also: the inevitable sequel tease is only a mid-credits scene. There’s nothing else at the end.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 opens Friday, April 8th.
Recommended Reading: Sonic the Hedgehog, Vol. 1: Fallout!
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