In the ever growing use of the “bingo-card” trope, in which people comment “I bet no-one had [insert thing here] on their 2020 bingo-card”, no-one could possibly foresee Sonic The Hedgehog being one of the most successful films to come out of 2020. Albeit there was a slight world-changing event such as a global pandemic that was currently happening, which meant that any other major film aiming to be released that year couldn’t get a look in.
But Sonic The Hedgehog was a film that had a nice charm to it. The plot was extremely wafer thin, and James Marsden’s character seemingly took more screen-time than was necessary, but the film managed to deliver a satisfactory story that sparked joy in even the more cynical of Sonic die-hards. Throw into the mix Jim Carrey being free to do the zany that he is one of the best at doing, and you had a nice surprise hit movie.
So it was no surprise that a sequel, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 was commissioned fairly quickly. A teaser at the end of the first film showed Sonic’s long-time sidekick Tails appearing, hinting we would start to see more of the game lore in the sequel. Director Jeff Fowler has stated he wanted to use the first film to establish character before bringing in more lore from the games. So when it came round to the sequel… he did that. Oh boy, he did that.
Following up from the previous film, we see Sonic (Ben Schwartz) moonlighting as a really bad hero trying to help people but causing more damage than it’s worth. As Tom (James Marsden) and Maddie (Tika Sumpter) head off to the wedding of Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) and Randall (Shemar Moore), Sonic finds himself under attack by a returning Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey). Robotnik, managing to escape from the exile that he found himself in at the end of the first film, teams up with echidna Knuckles (Idris Elba) to look for the mythical master emerald. Sonic is not alone however, teaming up with a young genius fox called Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) to try and race Robotnik and Knuckles to the aforementioned emerald.
Tails. Knuckles. Emeralds. A gigantic robot version of Robotnik. A snowboard chase. A very quick platform section of Sonic running through an ancient temple. A moment where Sonic inhales a bubble for air whilst underwater. The references to games are no longer just references, there are moments that incorporate elements and lore from the game series as part of the plot.
The incorporation of these elements is part of a bigger role of nostalgia for an old game series, something to grab the attention of long-time Sonic fans who may have been a little disappointed with some parts of the previous film. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 takes the nostalgia and aims beyond just Sonic. Whereas young children may have watched the original movie, there are a lot of references to 80s and 90s pop culture to appease the adults that may not be a fan of the original games. So when ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’ suddenly starts playing it feels like a weird choice for the character of Sonic, but is probably there to appeal to the parents’ sense of 90s nostalgia.
But aside from this nostalgia and the bits that would make Sonic fans giggle with glee, the film feels similar to its predecessor. The plot is again thin and occasionally the dialogue feels like it’s stretching in sentimental unsubtle life lessons. But a key difference here is that the movie just about reaches the two hour mark, feeling much longer than the original. For the most part, the story breezes through its story beats but does have a bit of bloat on it.
It’s immediately easy to pinpoint the human characters being the culprits of the bloat, but bizarrely the human characters are both guilty and innocent of this. Marsden has a lot less screen time in this, and scenes involving the family wedding do overlap mostly with when Sonic is referenced. But then when the inevitable crossover happens there’s suddenly a strange shift, where a film where Rachel is the lead character takes over proceedings for a good ten minutes. Not only that, but the circumstances around it feel weird, and add a lot of time to the movie and really guts the pacing of it. But then the movie continues and the characters are never witnessed again!
The movie lightens up when there’s CGI or Jim Carrey on screen. There’s more focus on the animated characters, and Sonic spends a lot more time interacting with Tails than he does with Tom. It’s very welcome, and it does feel as if the movie is beginning to see if it can work with less focus on humans (it does). The inclusion of Knuckles also means that there’s the chance for some epic set-pieces that the previous film couldn’t really achieve. These moments are exciting, and when the story heads up to its epic finale, they again work just as well.
Schwartz continues to imbue Sonic with a sense of immature fun, but with a growing sense of self-awareness as he starts to understand what it is to be a hero. O’Shaughnessey has been the voice of Tails for over a decade so she knows the character inside and out, helping deliver a new but also familiar take on Tails. Slightly in awe, insecure but also intelligent, he’s the way you would like to see Tails on screen.
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Carrey lights up the screen every time he’s on it – fully embracing all of his trademark mania, as Robotnik gets even more insane. His interactions with Lee Majoub are almost sweet and entertaining. But the star of the film is Elba’s Knuckles. Coming across as a hybrid of Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic and Sonic Boom’s versions of the character, there’s a decent amount of sympathy towards him and he does get some of the better moments in the film. There’s a surprising amount of screen time dedicated to the Sonic/Knuckles relationship, and a moment in the film where you think it’s coming to the end suddenly has a very welcome extra half hour to fully expand and let the climax breathe. It will leave Knuckles fans satisfied, anyway.
So even the die-hard Sonic The Hedgehog fan will probably find little bits to niggle about, but when you grit your teeth past those thankfully weird detours, you have what could possibly be a very strong Sonic movie. But for those in 1991 who are the same age as their kids are now – this might be as close-to-perfect a Sonic movie as you could get to.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is out now in cinemas.