A sequel to a surprise success fails to achieve greatness
I grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog. When I was little, my brother played Sonic constantly — my first memories involve the opening cutscene of “Sonic Heroes,” with my brother playing various levels of “Sonic Adventure 2: Battle,” and me, trying my hand at the Tails-Eggman mech battle and failing gloriously at the meager age of three years old. On Saturday mornings, the local over-the-air station played episodes of “Sonic X.” My first handheld console, the Gameboy Advance, was handed down to me by my brother, and I distinctly remember almost beating “Sonic Advance 3” during the 9th inning of a minor-league baseball game.
Sonic was my childhood — probably more so than any other franchise — so needless to say, I was beyond excited when the first movie was announced, then beyond worried when the first Sonic design was revealed.
Despite these worries, I had the best possible experience when watching the first Sonic flick. It was Valentine's day, and my girlfriend at the time and I decided to make that our date. We walked into the theater expecting it to be hilariously bad but found that it was just hilarious. Jim Carrey was a gem as Dr. Robotnik, and Ben Schwartz was the perfect Blue Blur. Even James Marsden, who I’ve never been a fan of, had his moments. Although, when watching the film without a full theater that cheered when tails came on screen, I noticed its flaws, realizing that it’s objectively mediocre. Still, compared to other video game movies, it was pretty spectacular.
To prepare for this review, I went goblin mode. Every moment of free time for the past two weeks I’ve spent playing Sonic games that may have elements relating to the upcoming movie. I first focused on the first appearance of Knuckles, who, despite what the promotional material for the new movie might have you believe, actually appeared in the third mainline Sonic game entitled “Sonic 3 and Knuckles.” Next, since it’s the movie’s namesake, I played “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” with the Knuckles expansion attached. Since Knuckles also appeared as an antagonist in the first “Sonic Adventure” game, I played that as well, as it had background information on the master emerald which appears in the trailers for “Sonic 2.” Finally, I played through all of “Sonic Generations” — just for kicks.
Was all this preparation justified?
No. Not in the slightest.
While “Sonic the Hedgehog” took risks with its casting, rules, humor and world, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” manages to be painfully safe while attempting to be the most bombastic film imaginable.
The film — which is hard to summarize — follows Sonic, played by Ben Schwartz, after an encounter with a newly bald Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey, and newcomer Knuckles, played by Idris Elba, on a journey with his new buddy Tails, played by Colleen O’Shaughnessey, to obtain the master emerald before Robotnik does.
In the worst way, this film seems like a Marvel movie. Every time there’s an opportunity to do something serious, Sonic or another character ruins it with a joke. One thing present in some Marvel films that this movie doesn’t have is a good villain. Jim Carrey, who used his jokes sparingly and wonderfully in the last film, has almost no appeal here. He’s not intimidating, and perhaps most painfully, he’s not funny — no matter how hard he attempts to be. This may partially be because of the editing. Jokes that could have been throwaway gags are now focused on with space for laughter, often creating awkward silences after some of his weak one-liners.
An issue that comes with both the pacing and the writing is a severe lack of tension. There are no points where the film takes time to build. Instead, the film either goes at a blistering pace or grinds to a halt. Both feel jarring, and both make the movie feel far too long. Things just happen with no sense of direction. It’s as if Sonic himself was giving us a tour of an amusement park — unaware that our legs were getting tired.
Though I disliked a majority of this film, I must give credit where credit is due. The creatures and those who played them were delightful for the most part. Once again, Ben Schwartz embodies the blue blur perfectly, truly making this hyperactive pre-teen of a hedgehog his own. Colleen O’Shaughnessey plays Tails in the games, so in my mind, there is no divide between movie Tails and game Tails. Idris Elba brings forth a great rendition of Knuckles, who feels more “Drax” than John Cena. The action scenes starring these three characters are exactly what any Sonic fan would want them to be. They’re fluid, quick and a joy for the eyes.
My praises end there, though.
When walking out of the theater, I thought about the nature of my enjoyment of Sonic. Why do I like Sonic? I guess I like the gameplay — I like going fast, I like getting better and better at the levels and hopping over obstacles. Do I like the story of Sonic?
I thought about this for a while. Sonic is the flattest of flat characters. His main character traits are that he’s fast and funny. That’s it. It’s hard to do anything of substance with a character like that. Robotnik, on the other hand, has even less going on. In the games, he’s more of a plot device than anything. Sure, in the newer games he’s become a sort of comic relief character, but once again it’s hard for a character to contribute anything of substance to a well-developed plot. Perhaps that’s why the movie failed so hard for me.
Then I remembered the kids in my theater. For the most part, they were laughing their asses off — they were having the time of their lives. As a kid, perhaps I would have felt that way too. This movie is made for kids and seems to appeal to them, so maybe it did all it needed to.
For everyone else, though, this movie is nothing more than a distraction.
Final Score: 3/10