2022 | rated PG | starring James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter and Voices of Ben Schwartz, Idris Elba and Colleen O’Shaughnessey | directed by Jim Fowler | 2 hrs, 2 mins |
Few movie surprises have shocked me out of my chair as as much as seeing the running time for Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Over 2 hours. For a Sonic the Hedgehog movie. If there is a breaking point in the expanding running time of movies as they cram in extraneous storylines with extra characters to pad out diversity quotes – this should be it. As much as this movie tries to keep itself at a quick clip there is scene after scene of this movie that drags on way too long and could have ended up on the cutting room floor. I would love to see a Director’s Cut of these movies that are actually shorter, trimming out all the fat for a more streamlined experience. Anyway, after decades in development with Sega, a pandemic and a famous character redesign, Sonic the Hedgehog shocked the world by hitting big in 2020, which lead to an immediate sequel with a dump-truck full of money to fuel it. Money that returning director Jim Fowler throws up on the screen with all it’s thunder, turning the first film’s quaint alien-in-hiding story into a globe-trotting adventure.
After being exiled to the Mushroom Planet, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey, leaning into his worst-rubber face impulses) finally finds a way back to Earth when he accidently summons Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), an ancient alien in search of an all-powerful Emerald. The new partners converge on Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) on Earth whose mentor Longclaw held the secret to the Emerald’s location and the group, along with gadgety Sonic fan Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey) race across the world to get the gem.
As with the original film, there is a hint of an endearing quality to the Sonic movies. In that while they are Kid’s Movies ™ and they are based on video games, they also feel like real, fully fleshed out movies made by fans of the character – as much of a character as the silent, speedy protagonist there was. That somewhat sturdy foundation is what keeps this movie from completely collapsing, because the script is awful. It’s an obnoxious series of random out-of-context pop culture references. Based on the games, Sonic was a blank slate of a character: he could have been a warrior, a Doctor Who humanity savior, any number of things. Instead he’s a wise-cracking generic emoji. He is broadly defined with one-liners he seems too young to even get – only to be outmatched by Carrey’s endless groan-inducing Robotnik puns. That every character in these movies all sounds the same is why the introduction of Knuckles is so refreshing in this film. A warrior looking for a mission and perfectly voiced by Elba, Knuckles’ no-nonsense approach to everything is a welcome change from the puns. Yes, Sonic references The Fast and the Furious, dances in an endless scene to “Uptown Funk” and Jim Carrey makes the inevitable Donald Trump reference.
Bigger is the name of the game here, with the sequel-afforded budget allowing Fowler to realize a massive, bizarre adventure here. The opening scenes are the best, featuring a Robotnik booby trap and Sonic engaging with street-level criminals in Flash-style acts of heroism. The movie wisely dials back the Quicksilver slow-motion action from the first film and in a lot of ways is better. It spends most of it’s time with our animated heroes, smartly punting Sonic’s human guardians James Marsden and Tika Sumpter out of most of the movie by sending them to a destination wedding. I discussed in my Godzilla vs. Kong article about why these movies insist on inserting human actors and storylines into works that should be animated – this movie blends that pretty well actually, partly because Carrey comes off so much like a cartoon himself.
Is bigger better? In this case it would be, if it didn’t also come with Michael Bay levels of indulgence. Both the action scenes and particularly the comic scenes wallow in their own wackiness. Sonic and Tails’ pit-stop to a Bavarian tavern – cut it. A lengthy detour into a reveal that the destination wedding of Maddie’s (Sumpter) cousin Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) was a hoax and her Bridzilla revenge on fiancé Randall (Shemar Moore) – characters that we just met and have no investment in – cut it, burn it and bury the ashes. It’s enough to make any kid in the audience wonder, Who is this woman and where is Sonic?
This movie shows hints of cribbing from all the worst impulses of Marvel films, Michael Bay films, Video Game movies and Kid’s films. Between the Blue Light in the Sky, the dance numbers and the lessons about friendship it’s practically a bingo card of Hollywood tropes. But it’s also so committed to it’s weirdness, is ambitious in it’s scope and scale and moves at a good clip. It’s a light and sound show, you won’t laugh, you will cringe but you might be entertained and feel terrible in the morning. It’s moments of invention push it up beyond the glut of other live-action-animated Kid’s movies. Maybe these things have been so bad for so long, they’ve conditioned to expect less than the big, brash, splashy Sonic the Hedgehog 2.