Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jeff Fowler
The first Sonic movie didn’t really do it for me, but I could at least appreciate the parts of it that were well put together as well as the few flashes of fun Sonic nonsense peppered throughout; especially the song from the credits! I still listen to that pretty regularly and frankly it was all I really needed from Sonic on the big screen. I’ll just keep reading the comics and playing the games over her while Paramount and SEGA keep the brand relevant with run-of-the-mill family movies. Then they started showing trailers for this one that had Knuckles in it and a more game-accurate Eggman, so perhaps they plan to lean harder and harder into the fan service with each subsequent film. It seems to be working since this has already made more money than the original film, but does the deluge of recognizable characters and iconography lead to a better movie, or is this just a cynical attempt to fleece the fans on promises they can’t deliver? Let’s find out!!
Following the events of the first movie, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) is living with Tom and Maddie (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter) and everyone just seems to be cool with the space hedgehog doing his thing throughout the state of Washington. Sure, maybe he’s a little overzealous with his Blue Batman shtick, but who can blame him now that he has full(ish) control of his speed powers? Well, he may just get a bit more than he wished for when Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) manages to escape the mushroom planet with the help of a red Echidna named Knuckles (Idris Elba) and they have a few words for the quip spouting rodent. Fortunately, he’s rescued by another mysterious creature, Tails the fox (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) who fills him in on what’s going on and why Knuckles is after him. Something from Sonic’s past leads directly to an ultimate power known as the Master Emerald and Knuckles is heck bent on finding it while Robotnik is just kind of along for the ride and will probably do something nefarious to everyone by the end of this. With such an unstoppable power at stake, Sonic and Tails must sift through his past to find the pieces necessary for finding the Master Emerald and protecting the world as we know it. Oh, and Tom and Maddie are at a wedding or something; probably not important. Can Sonic and Tails find the Master Emerald before Knuckles and Robotnik release its power upon the world? Why is Knuckles so intent on finding this thing, and how does his past tie in with Sonic’s? Seriously, this seems like a pretty big leap from the last movie! Are we sure that Sonic is ready for something that doesn’t involve slo-mo bar fights and fart jokes?
I don’t want to be the fanboy shouting about how a movie for kids is not up to my standards, but I also don’t know why they have to make this so difficult. Someone must have realized that high concept action films for the whole family are the biggest box office earners and tried to steer this ship in the right direction, and yet Paramount is still treating this like its Clifford or Tom & Jerry; a franchise that can’t stand on its own and has to be carried by a bunch of unrelated human shenanigans around it. Everything this movie gets right in regards to fan service, characters, and action is counterbalanced by the same goofy Pablum that saps out all the energy and it all feels so unnecessary. The last movie was no masterpiece but it was a simple enough story that managed to stay consistently decent all the way through, even with the story focusing primarily on the human side of things. This is just all over the place with some great moments of fun action and cheesy lore nonsense that are sandwiched between some truly terrible sitcom situations that are far worse than anything we saw in the first film. We’re taking two steps forward and one step back which means we’re technically making progress, but I’m still pretty miffed that it’s proving to be this difficult to get anywhere with this series. Also, where the heck is Crush 40? Do we seriously have to wait for another sequel to get those sweet Sonic tunes?
What works about this is everything that fans were hoping would work about it as it definitely feels more like a Sonic movie than the last one. Where that was just a road trip that had a couple of okay action beats at the end, this one feels like a legitimate adventure with high stakes, magical rocks, and a decent number of fight scenes that are sure to be amusing to fans of the games. The set pieces are impressive for the kind of movie this is, though it does have an overall problem with its editing. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of ambition as far as the cinematography so there are many shots that should be one continuous motion but are instead a series of static cuts that makes certain moments feel far too choppy. Still, when it really needs to pull off the show-stopping moments like Sonic confronting Knuckles and the big finale that harkens back to the kind of boss battles we got in the original 2D games, it manages to deliver in ways that the first film simply couldn’t. Even the Sonic-like elements that were in the first one are even better here with Jim Carrey really allowed to let loose as Eggman with a much wackier look and better-designed tech. He also gets the lion’s share of the laughs here as he’s no longer shackled to the constraints of the original film and is just allowed to be the megalomaniacal jerkwad that Eggman should be.
Where the movie falls completely off the cliff however is with everything else. Where the good parts of the last one are allowed to grow and expand on their own into a solid adventure vehicle, the bad parts are allowed to fester into a subplot that takes up far too much of the movie and looks to have the production values of a direct to video National Lampoon sequel. The human characters are either obnoxious or cloying and none of it lands which just drags down the parts of the movie that do work. Sonic is not particularly funny or interesting when he’s not heading towards some sort of goal, and yet the movie gives him ample time to exchange bad dialogue with the human characters. Tom and Maddie were hardly the highlights of the first one, but they are intolerable now with absolutely nothing to do with the plot and what’s worse is they go for this very misguided family subplot between them and Sonic that bookends the movie in a very awkward and unearned way. It only gets worse when they get to the wedding where everything from the characters, the jokes, and even the way it merges with the Sonic plot is just awful and it looks like it was shot and edited over a weekend. This movie is already running long at two hours so they could have easily cut most of the human stuff out, and even if they felt that it was necessary it still didn’t have to be this badly acted and this poorly thought out.
Now before you all start thinking that you can cut out the bad wedding subplot and turn this into a fantastic (albeit short) Sonic romp, there are some shortcomings in that part of the movie that are worth addressing. We already talked about the choppy editing, but it feels like an unbalance and haphazard production overall. Idris Elba as Knuckles is a mixed bag as he’s got a great voice and some good lines throughout, but he also seems unclear of what’s going on in the story and the context in which he’s supposed to read some of his lines. It’s almost like hearing someone read the lines phonetically, understanding how the words are said, but not the emotional weight and emphasis behind them, and since we know Elba is a great actor I can only assume that he wasn’t given enough direction in the recording studio. Colleen O’Shaughnessey fares better as Tails as I assume she’s used to working on janky productions (take THAT, modern Sonic games!), but then there’s the problem of that character being severely underwritten. This is where I give a small amount of slack to the writers because the Sonic lore is so ill-defined yet highly specific that it’s hard to thread the needle between keeping fans happy with the way the character is portrayed while filling in the gaps that the games just never bothered to go over. Who is Tails, where does he come from, and why he even knows that Sonic exists are questions the movie can’t answer because frankly the games never gave us one. Every Sonic game is in-media-res, taking place after everything has already been established, and there is no Mr. and Mrs. Tails in the games who entrusted their only son to Sonic or whatever; he’s just always been around and that’s all the writers really have to work with. Now that’s not to say they can’t at some point fill some of this stuff in as Knuckles gets a beefy enough backstory for his character and motivations to make sense, but it’s still a bit unclear how ambitious Paramount wants to be with these or if they’ll just keep hammering the fan service button. Probably the latter, given the Post Credits scene in this movie which I won’t spoil here but is certainly the kind of thing that will get fans to jump back on for a third film regardless of how loose and unremarkable the narrative is.
This should have been the Sonic movie we all wanted to see the first time around. It has an adventurous spirit to it, it’s not afraid to include a lot of the key aspects of the games, and it manages to have a few set pieces that are fun to watch. If they could get that stuff right, then why is it sharing space with a truly unfunny wedding comedy? Why does the movie feel the need to stop the Sonic action to throw inane drama at us? If you want my advice for fixing Sonic, they need to put more than just a few extra bucks into the production. I don’t like to judge what a filmmaker can or cannot do, but these are the same writers and director from the first film and they just don’t seem willing to grow past the compromised premise that got us a barely decent movie last time around which is why this still feels like a compromised mess. Having Sonic grounded by a road trip story with a bunch of human characters was tolerable, but when we can see just how much better this could be when we get away from that, it just doesn’t make sense to keep dragging those boilerplate storylines and characters into what’s going on here. At its best, the movie was within spitting distance of a genuinely good adaptation of the Sonic story. It would still have been clunky in certain spots, but we got the action set pieces we wanted to see and the copious amount of fan service to smooth over the bumps. The fact that the human characters are still hanging around that we’ve got to spend time with them just ends up dragging the whole thing down and at best are about as entertaining as watching a commercial. I don’t think I’d recommend seeing it in theaters as the high points are not quite high enough to justify the asking price; doubly so when you can’t skip over the really boring and unfunny bits. If you’re a Sonic fan, then it’s worth checking out at some point given how much more Sonic stuff is in this, but we really should be asking for better than the bare minimum with each subsequent sequel. It’s Trickle-Down Fan Service and you can only get away with that for so long, so give us something truly different with the third film, or else I’m not gonna be so nice next time!