Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Movie Review
Let me tell you a little story. About a time before it all went bad. About the last of the good times.
The year was 2020. The date was February 24th. Anything seem significant to you about that general timeframe? Yeah. Sonic the Hedgehog was just released in theaters, and it was crushing it at the box office - defying every trope about video game movies in its path.
Oh yeah. There was also something else significant happening at that time as well. But we'll get to that.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 In Theaters Now!
February 23rd happens to be my birthday, and my son was born on the 24th. That year, my wife planned out an elaborate joint birthday augmented reality scavenger hunt for us. We woke up in the morning to find her gone and a series of clues that led us around our backyard. Finally, there was a clue that prompted us to jump in our car and go on a grand adventure around the city of Los Angeles. We were guided to various restaurants, stores, and friend's houses collecting clues. Ultimately the final clue directed us to the glorious AMC 16 theater in Burbank, CA where we discovered a pair of tickets to see the eponymous blue hedgehog in all his cinematic glory. We had an absolute blast.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first Sonic movie. Examining its various building blocks, it SHOULD have been bad. The plot to the film is incredibly generic and seems like it was cobbled together by a committee of stoic Japanese businessmen with an eye for maximizing return on investment. Most of the characters are inoffensive and unremarkable. Jim Carrey's Dr. Robotnik is nothing like his video game counterpart - not to mention he's kind of annoying. As much as I love Carrey, his Dr. Eggman is nothing but a series of too-clever-for-their-own-good comedic one-liners. Somewhere buried in his performance is the semblance of what could be an interesting character - a know-it-all genius who is too blinded by his own arrogance to realize the value of human life, and therefore in his own obsession with the banality of the human condition and obsession with himself, he doesn't realize how crushingly lonely and isolated he is. And because of the disconnect between his own inner pain and the reason for it, he is driven to madness and evil. Yeah, there's a little glimmer of that in there somewhere but it's overshadowed by Dr. Ace Ventura's Mean Quip Machine.
Not to mention we all remember the massive controversy leading up to the film's release - when Paramount dropped the first trailer for the film which revealed the toothy nightmare fuel that was Sonic's original design. That spurred a massive fan campaign that prompted the production to completely re-design the Blue Blur from the ground up to much more palatable effect. But it didn't stop us all from collectively questioning the judgement and vision of the team behind the movie. How could they have thought THAT was good?
And yet somehow, despite all that, the movie as a whole is really entertaining! It's mostly carried by how lovable and charismatic Sonic (voiced by Parks & Rec actor Ben Schwarts) is, the great chemistry between him and co-star James Marsden (AKA the Donut Lord AKA Cyclops from the X-Men movies), and the funny jokes and scenarios throughout the runtime.
I have a lot of love for this film for many reasons. It was a great day out with my son. We both really enjoyed watching it together. It was also the last movie I watched in a theater for a LONG time - as the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent country-wide closures and lockdowns happened mere weeks after we saw it. In many ways, it felt like the last good thing to happen in the world for a while there.
Sonic 1 Is A Road Comedy. Sonic 2 Is An Epic Adventure
Cut to April 2022. It's been over two years, I've been to the movies a few more times since closures eased, and I was ready to go re-live the nostalgia of the beforetimes yet again with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. But could it live up to the emotional investment I had in the original?
The short answer is...somehow yes and then some? Despite how ridiculous the premise of making a movie about a running video game hedgehog whose only defining characteristic is that he's fast truly is, and how much video games have historically sucked, Sonic 2 is The Godfather 2 of furry hedgehog superhero movies!
In case you don't know, the general premise of this franchise sees Sonic the Hedgehog, a blue hedgehog alien who runs really fast, escaping his home planet through a magical portal after his caregiver, LongClaw the Owl, is attacked by a tribe of Echidnas. Sonic escapes to Earth - specifically Green Hills, Montana, a tiny town nestled away in the heart of the country - where he can hide out from these evil forces seeking to track him down.
Sonic lives in the woods and develops a fixation on the town's citizens - namely Tom Wachowski, the town's sheriff played by Marsden, and his wife Maddie played by Tika Sumpter. After Sonic is discovered by the US government and being chased by a maniacal, narcissistic scientist named Dr. Robotnik (Carrey), Sonic reveals himself to Wachowski and they go on a cross-country adventure escaping capture. That's the first movie, and it's a pretty straightforward road comedy with some light fantastical elements.
Sonic 2 picks up where the first film left off. The entire town of Green Hills now knows about Sonic. But he's sneaking off at night to other, bigger cities to try his hand at being a superhero - and failing miserably. Sonic wants to use his powers for good, but he doesn't know how. Meanwhile, Dr. Robotnik is stuck on a mushroom planet (which he was exiled to in the first movie) and builds a machine that sends out a help signal. The signal is answered by Knuckles the Echidna, voiced by Idris Elba. Robotnik and Knuckles team up to go find Sonic and defeat him - it seems Sonic is the key to tracking down the Master Chaos Emerald, and Knuckles wants it. Tails the Fox, who has been observing Sonic from afar, comes to Earth to warn him of Knuckles' plan, and what ensues is an epic, globetrotting adventure where Sonic and Tails race to escape the clutches of Knuckles and Eggman while also searching for the Master Emerald.
The Characters Are the Movie's Strongest Asset
So let's address what is great about this movie in order of smallest to largest. First off, the delightful character writing jumps over from the first film. What many people might not know is that it's very easy to make these cutesy mascot video game characters annoying. It's one thing to control them in a game and hear their little one-liners here and there. It's a whole other thing to make one the main protagonist of a 2-hour movie. And somehow they pull off making Sonic, not only fun and funny, but also endearing, relatable, cool, sympathetic, and possessing of a genuinely compelling emotional core. Sonic is a great movie character - pulled off in large part because of Schwartz's heartwarming and hilarious voice performance.
In addition to this we also get Miles "Tails" Prower himself (my personal favorite character) voiced by original video game voice actor Colleen O'Shaughnessey. O'Shaughnessey also puts in a great performance, characterizing Tails as a somewhat naive super-genius that idolizes Sonic and struggles with self-esteem issues. This movie somehow pulls off having TWO solid, functional emotional anchor points for the film - both Sonic AND Tails serve this function without overcrowding the other or things getting too sentimental. The friendship that buds between the two pals and the bond they form throughout Sonic 2 is heartwarming and rich with good character moments.
Another really awesome thing about Tails is the fact that the production even chose to cast O'Shaughnessey in the first place. She's a veteran voice actor who's been voicing Tails in various video game iterations for years, and the fact that she was cast in this big budget Hollywood movie adaptation is actually groundbreaking. Usually, studio films based on video games or animated series opt to cast bankable celebrity voice talent over smaller voice acting talent. Just look at the fact that Sonic and Knuckles are voiced by celebs who aren't known for voice acting work instead of the people who have been voicing them in the games for years as proof. O'Shaughnessey voicing Tails, and absolutely kicking butt at it, in this movie is a huge win for the voice acting community.
Knuckles Is This Movie's Shining Star
Then there's Knuckles. A fan-favorite character in the games and comics, he also might be the best and most interesting character in the entire film. Knuckles is typically characterized as a kind of smartass anti-hero. Think Raphael from the Ninja Turtles or the tone of the entire Borderlands franchise. And while this is all great and fine, Sonic 2 chose to portray a different version of Knuckles. He is an honor-bound warrior, monastically devoted to concepts like loyalty and tradition. Throughout the film, he is driven by the motivation that his father and most of his tribe were killed during the battle with LongClaw all those years ago (the battle that Sonic originally fled to Earth to escape). He believes that Sonic is responsible for the death of his tribe, and he feels that he needs to carry on the legacy of his people by finding the Master Emerald and protecting it from those who seek to use it for evil.
But he's also kind of...dumb. Elba perfectly strikes a balance between straight-laced warrior and meathead in a way that results in many funny moments as well as a few genuinely compelling ones. We feel for his grieving of his lost tribe, his loneliness in the world as the last-living Echidna, and his anger towards Sonic. His character arc throughout the movie is also the most well-written and interesting as he slowly discovers that Dr. Robotnik is not the type of person he should be teaming up with, and maybe his feud with Sonic is a little more complicated than he assumes.
The extended cast of humans from the original movie (Tom the Donut Lord, Maddie, Maddie's sister Rachel, Wade the Deputy Sheriff, etc) are all still here, but they take more of a backseat than in the first film. This movie is all about Team Sonic. Because of this, the movie contrives a plot that has all of the human characters attending a wedding in Hawaii for most of the film. And while the screenwriters clearly just wanted to get rid of the human characters for most of the movie so they could focus on the worldwide battle between Sonic and Knuckles, the human side plot still ends up being interesting, entertaining, and playing an important role in the climax of the film.
The Plot Rivals the Most Epic Fantasy Films
Speaking of plot, this is one of the single-most interesting aspects of the movie. As I previously mentioned, the plot of the first film was not its strong suit. It was a fairly generic, by-the-numbers action comedy and there really wasn't much Sonic-specific stuff in the movie. It was a Hollywood road comedy that happened to star a blue hedgehog. There weren't many references to the games, no nods to any of the deeper lore of the Sonic universe, and the screenwriters just generally didn't seem to actually know that much ABOUT Sonic the Hedgehog.
Well, if the first movie seemed like it was written by somebody who had never actually played a Sonic game, Sonic 2 seems like it was written by the guy who maintains the Sonic the Hedgehog Wiki.
The movie dives pretty deep into the greater lore of the Sonicverse - with tons of references to the story laid out in the video games and comic books. There are also plenty of Easter eggs throughout the film that really gives the sense that a Sonic fan wrote this movie. They even officially made the switch from calling Carrey's character Dr. Robotnik to calling him Dr. Eggman (if you don't know, the character's original Japanese name is Eggman, but he was renamed Robotnik for the American release of the first few original games - although in later American installations of the franchise they've switched to calling him Eggman).
Now, for context, Sonic 1 was written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller. Whereas Sonic 2 was written by Pat Casey, Josh Miller, and John Whittington. Something tells me Whittington was the resident Sonic fanboy in the room because the difference in authenticity to the Sonic franchise between the two films is like night and day. If Sonic 1 was good IN SPITE of its generic plot, the plot of Sonic 2 is one of its best parts!
In addition to the deep cut Sonic fanboy stuff, Sonic 2's plot is also just epic and thrilling. The first movie was a small road comedy with a few cool set pieces here and there. Sonic 2 is like the Lord of the Rings compared to that. The characters explore ancient ruins, travel across the globe, and have epic battles in freezing tundras. This is a seriously cool movie. The fights are exciting and cleverly constructed. But, ultimately, everything is tied together by the strong characters and the emotional clash between the three of them (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles).
Eggman Is Still Annoying
There are a few issues with the movie, of course. Eggman is still kind of annoying. He takes a backseat to Knuckles throughout the movie, and is even more reduced to a series of quippy one-liners than he was in the first movie. I wish they'd focus more on what could be compelling about the character in the movie. He's a super genius who is so intellectually isolated from the rest of the world that he is convinced that he's the only person with any value - but in reality he only feels this way because of how lonely he is. They set up many opportunities to do something interesting with this dynamic. His assistant, Agent Stone played by Lee Majdoub, is clearly in love with him. But Eggman is completely oblivious to it and treats Stone like dirt on the bottom of his boot. And yet, when Eggman is stuck on the mushroom planet for years, he chooses to create a companion out of a rock that he names Stone. But they never do anything with any of this! It's all just reduced to side jokes and throwaway lines. They never take any of these details and solidify them into any character moments for Eggman. And, yes, this is a kid's movie. It's not that serious. But at the end, when Sonic is engaged in an epic battle with Eggman, the fight could have had more stakes and felt less like an empty spectacle of CGI if we actually cared about WHY Eggman was fighting.
But the good far outweighs the bad here. Seeing this movie in theaters, there were some moments that caused the audience to erupt in applause and screaming. At some point in the film we see an old-fashioned two-engine aeroplane flying through the sky. If you know anything about the Sonic franchise, you'd know that this is the kind of plane you can see Tails flying in various iterations of the games, comics, and tv series. Usually this is accompanied by Sonic standing on one of the wings of the plane. When we saw that plane, we knew we'd eventually get that moment in the movie. And we did. And we were ECSTATIC.
There's another moment in the movie that elicited the same kind of applause and screaming, but I won't spoil it. You'll just have to see for yourself.
This is a movie about friendship, betrayal, loneliness, finding a place to belong in the world, and creating a new family for yourself. That...also happens to be about some CGI talking animals punching each other.
Gamelancer Score: 8.5/10
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