Sonic the Hedgehog and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jeff Fowler
Remember when that first Sonic the Hedgehog trailer came out with the horrifying monster design? Good times! I do wish that design stuck around a bit longer though because I REALLY wanted a plushie of that ghastly version of Sonic so he can sleep with me in my bed and devour my nightmares, but then again the redesign looks pretty good and will surely add a lot to this movie! Yeah, it could almost be an inspirational tale of a studio realizing its mistake and actually taking proactive steps to correct it if it wasn’t for the fact that the studio that made the new design a possibility crunched to do it and closed down as soon as the work is done! Sounds like Paramount should have gotten a visit from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, but in any case the story of this film has finally come to its conclusion and we’re all on pins and needles to find out how it all ends! Was Sonic’s face lift enough hto save this movie from being a total train wreck, or is there only so much that you can polish a turd before you’re just wasting perfectly good polish? Let’s find out!!
Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) is a happy go lucky blue alien that calls himself a hedgehog for some reason who was teleported to Earth to escape from bad guys when he was but a wee lad. Now that he’s grown up to the ripe old age of… sort of teenager, he’s starting to realize that spending all his time hiding in the woods just outside the town of Green Hills is leaving him with a lot of emotional scars and abandonment issues, and one day he has a super powered moment of angst that knocks out all the power on the West Coast. The super power blast is enough for the US government to call in Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) who wants to track down whatever caused the anomaly and uses its powers for his insidious and tax payer funded ends, so now Sonic has to escape from this planet to go to ANOTHER planet where I guess he’ll be even safer. To transport himself there he has a bag of magic rings that open ports to wherever it is he needs to go, but through wacky happenstance and poor timing his rings get lost in San Francisco which he has no idea how to get to. Fortunately the local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), after being somewhat responsible for Sonic losing the rings decides to take this strange creature across state lines to the city of San Francisco so he can get the rings and get the heck out of Dodge. It shall not be a straightforward road trip however as Robotnik is hot on their heels and is ready to not only dissect Sonic in the name of Sonic but ruin Tom’s life as well in pursuit of his prey. Can Sonic and Tom make it to San Francisco before Robotnik and the US government find a way to stop them? Will Sonic learn valuable lessons about friendship along the way and perhaps find a true home instead of just jumping from place to place on his own?
This movie is like a big bag of popcorn that also has some candy and Brussel sprouts thrown in. For the most part it’s simple, bland, inoffensive, and gets the job done, but as you work your way through it you’ll occasionally find a sweet surprise that makes it all the more delightful… before bringing the whole party back down after inadvertently eating a lousy, half baked, and complexly out of place Brussel sprout. I’m a pretty big Sonic fan, particularly the media and ephemera outside of the games themselves, so I REALLY wanted to have a strong opinion about this movie one way or the other. The truth is, it’s just a competently put together kids movie that just so happens to star Sonic the Hedgehog; no more, no less. Maybe there’s an important lesson there for all of us in our twenties and beyond still clinging to this franchise and wanting it to cater to us in some way, and considering where the comic is right now it’s hard to argue that they aren’t trying to do just that, but sometimes a cartoon mascot is just a cartoon mascot. Sometimes it’s also a bizarre decades’ long fantasy comic, a game where he’s making out with a human princess, and whatever the heck Sonic Forces was supposed to be, but here he is definitely just a cartoon mascot.
We’ll start with what doesn’t work in this movie because it’s mostly straightforward issues that you could spot from a mile out; even AFTER they release the redesigned trailer. The story is contrived and very small in scope, the humor is pretty hit and miss despite Ben Schwartz and the animators putting SO much into the character, and I’m sad to report that Jim Carrey’s return to broad comedy ends up being one of the worst performances he’s ever given. There are a few bright spots here and there which makes me think that it has more to do the material given than his performance in it, but he’s not really elevating himself above the material and I just never got the proper vibe off of the guy. Robotnik isn’t complicated as a character as he’s your typical megalomaniacal genius, but the way he’s written is more in line with the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog version than any of the more interesting variants we saw in the Sat AM series, the later Archie Comics books, or even the recent IDW series. We know that Jim Carrey has nuance for days and that he CAN play over the top smart guys way too full of themselves (just look at his stunning work on The Grinch), but very little of his potential manages to come across here. James Marsden at least fares better since he doesn’t have as much BAD dialogue to deliver, but he’s also at least fifteen years too old to be playing this character and it’s distracting that a guy close to forty is trying to escape his small town and see the big city while driving around with a blue alien hedgehog. Speaking of the driving, it’s a pretty contrived setup all things considered and the bulk of this movie is without much in terms of danger or tension; rather it goes for something oddly melancholy which is… interesting, and we’ll get to the interesting choices they make for Sonic soon enough, but it’s not enough to feel TRULY impactful and ends up making it all feel like more of a slog than it should be.
BUT all is not rotten in the state of Mobius on this adventure. I said the humor was hit and miss, and if you look at things as the glass being half full then I’m sure you’ll find more than a few things to laugh at here. There’s a bar scene that’s straight out of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (or The Spongebob Movie for all you youngsters which… now that I think about it was fifteen years ago) and ends up being quite a bit of fun even if a total cliché, and the films does a lot of creative things with Sonic’s super speed to great effect. The bit where he’s so fast that he’s in multiple places at once is actually REALLY funny and they do it JUST enough so that it doesn’t get old, and while the scenes of him moving through time normally while everyone else is frozen is ripped right out of those X-Men movies, it’s still fun to see them do it here as well. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is what they do with Sonic himself; namely how much he ISN’T like any version of Sonic we’ve seen before. Yes, the redesign is more accurate and is absolutely for the better, but Ben Schwartz doesn’t sound like any of the other Sonics, the story of this movie is not like anything we’ve seen in the other games, and he’s written to be a completely different character. One of the big problems that has stifled a lot of the attempts to expand Sonic as a character is that SEGA has him in a permanent state of “coolness” where he’s always wise talking, above it all, and never out of control of the situation. It certainly makes for a kind of ironic cheesy charm in some of the games, but it’s not something that you’d want to do for a movie and so he’s reimagined from the ground up into an insecure joker who masks his loneliness and isolation in a constant stream of one liners that he picked up from watching movies; repressing his emotions to the point that even acknowledging them briefly causes an overload of his powers that kicks off the plot. Throughout the movie his primary motivation is not saving the world or fighting bad guys; it’s to make friends and live his life a bit before he HAS to move onto his next home which is even more isolated than the one he has now. I wouldn’t say they are COMPLETELY successful at getting this across, especially when it comes to the crisis moment in the second act where he comes up with a pretty arbitrary reason to get mad at James Marsden, but I’m surprised they even tried to do THAT much with him when the video games have kept him on such a tight leash for decades.
So really, that’s about it; a perfectly serviceable kids movie that we’re all going to forget about in a matter of months but at least mildly amusing while it’s there in front of you. If you are curious about any sort of references or call backs to the SONIC LORE however, well let’s go ahead and cover that while we’re here in the least spoiler filled manner possible. Be advised though that we’ll be right up on the edge of spoiler-ville and if nothing else we’ll be confirming a few things that AREN’T in the movie, so turn back now if you REALLY wanted to go into the live action Sonic film completely fresh.
We good? Alright, so if you’re wondering about cameos, plot points, or even references to the games, there really aren’t any. There’s a BIZARRELY deep cut right at the beginning that I’m sure will surely get Ken Penders’s hackles up, but once that’s over there’s almost nothing to note here. I mean sure, there’s a post credits scene that’s liable to cause a few squees from the fans out there, but I liken it to the Sinestro scene at the end of Green Lantern; totally predicable sequel bait that frankly should have been part of the movie in the first place. It’s a movie set in the real world, so you don’t get any of the Mobius stuff or the Freedom Fighter stuff, heck you don’t get ANY references to the Adventure Series or Sonic X that ostensibly took place in the real world! It’s Sonic, Robotnik, and some very minor sight gags, but nothing substantive to make it feel like an extension of the Sonic universe that we are familiar with. Then again being too self-referential or trying to throw in things like Shadow at audiences that are either too young to know about that or only knew of the Genesis games when they were kids would have probably turned them away or if nothing else made the narrative far too convoluted. Heck, you only have to look at the patchwork continuity of the IDW comic to see just how many different directions you can pull from and how much of a juggling act it is to keep all the balls up in the air, so simplicity was the definitely the prudent move here. My favorite bit of nostalgia bait that did make it into the movie was toward the end where we get a nice piano cover of the Green Hills Zone theme which is perhaps at the perfect level of being fun for fans of the series without stopping the movie in its tracks to point it out. I wish they had maybe done a bit more of that (perhaps a few more remixed tunes or a Yuji Naka cameo), but no amount of fan service would have really done much to make this movie better.
If you’re disappointed that this movie isn’t great (or isn’t even bad enough to go alongside the other beautiful failures of the franchise), then honestly I’d recommend checking out the music video for Speed Me Up. The song is by far the best thing to come out of the movie and the video will surely satiate all your nostalgic feels to boot. Look, if you HAVE to see this movie because you’re into all things Sonic then I can’t imagine you’d come out hating it; especially since the franchise has produced FAR worse things than this. I’d recommend waiting for the home release if you have any inclination of seeing it, but then it also feels like a very OF THE MOMENT thing so it might be worth checking out a matinee while the conversations are still happening. If the Mario film is this mediocre though, heads will roll! I’ve been Mr. Nice Guy on this movie, but I’ll be darned if that one is anything less than the best animated film of that year!!