The following review contains major spoilers for Sonic the Hedgehog. For our spoiler-free review, click here.
Sonic the Hedgehog has been speeding through my heart for quite some time. From the very first time I fired up my Gamecube and set my eyes upon Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, Sonic hooked me. In those days, I fantasized about the prospect of the Blue Blur coming to the big screen. As I grew older, that dream became more muted, so when we finally got our first glimpse of “the Sonic movie”, I approached it with an air of cautious optimism.
Now that first-time feature director Jeff Fowler’s film has finally hit theaters, I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Sonic the Hedgehog is good. It’s a well-paced, sweet-natured family romp that often succeeds in evoking a smile. However, it falls short in some critical areas that require taking a deeper dive.
For the first five minutes or so, Sonic the Hedgehog is perfect. The extraterrestrial hedgehog Sonic (Ben Schwartz) speeds through his homeworld as a child, pushing his super-speed powers to the limit. In addition to bringing the iconic Green Hill Zone to life, Sonic’s homeworld is spectacular, brimming with color and life courtesy of Blur Studio’s excellent visual effects work.
The story playing out here is captivating, too. Sonic is raised by an owl creature of sorts named Longclaw, who warns him not to display his powers too much. A few moments later, we find out why: a tribe of hunters who seem to be masked Echidnas (the species to which Sonic villain/eventual ally Knuckles belongs) attacks Sonic and Longclaw. In a last-ditch effort to save Sonic, Longclaw gives him a bag of rings that teleports him through space. As she stays behind to hold off the Echidnas, Sonic makes his escape.
The prologue of Sonic the Hedgehog fires on all cylinders. It features many references to the early games for fans, introduces the audience to an intriguing world, and establishes character motivation and conflict. Sure, the rings don’t have the same function as they do in the games, but that’s a petty nitpick. The opening is so good that I wanted to stay on Sonic’s homeworld. Fowler and co. have other plans, unfortunately, as Sonic’s ring transports him to Earth.
From here, Sonic the Hedgehog is something of a mixed bag (of rings). It’s a movie best broken down in three aspects: two that work exceptionally and one painfully generic. The first part is, of course, the Hog himself. Schwartz brings effortless charm to the role of Sonic, and screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller imbue him with the same attitude that rocketed him to classic status.
Moreover, Sonic is a three-dimensional character. He’s spunky, sure, but underneath that is someone who just wants to have friends. A scene where he stares longingly at children playing baseball, wanting nothing more than to have the kind of pure experience they’re having, is positively Spielbergian in its execution. Not to mention, Sonic looks great! After a much-publicized re-design, he’s now the instantly identifiable, charming figure we all know and love. Big ups to Blur Studio, once again!
Another element of the movie that works just as well is Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). The narcissism of the video game character is fully present, with the virtue of the quirks of a legendary comedian in top form behind him. We haven’t seen Carrey be this on point in over a decade. He’s a sniveling, over-the-top blast, the type to say “nice… rub it in my orphan face why don’t you?” back to a character who mentions being breastfed. His arrogance, his obsession with his “egg” robots, and downright goofiness is a sight to behold. If this were simply a duel between an alien hedgehog and an eccentric doctor, I would have no complaints.
That’s where Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) comes in. For whatever reason, Sonic the Hedgehog feels obliged to be a typical “fish out of water” story, where an animated character tags along with a small-town sheriff unsatisfied with his life. Marsden and Tika Sumpter, who plays his wife Maddie, are just fine, but the story plays out exactly how you think it would.
It’s a generic road trip story, full of obvious gags that reek of a “been there done that” quality. It’s enjoyable, but they give us no reason to care about Tom other than him being our stock human to relate to. We know he’s going to feud with Sonic, become friends with him, have a change of heart about his station in life and choose to stay in his hometown. It’s all painted out clear as day and dilutes the inherent appeal of Sonic to fitting into a mold that it just doesn’t need to.
The third act brings Sonic the Hedgehog from the buddy movie template into something far more enjoyable. As Tom takes a backseat, Sonic and Robotnik engage in a bombastic duel punctuated by great effects. Cue my third shout out to Blur Studio. It’s speed vs. brains, good vs. evil; a Saturday morning cartoon brought to life. And as Sonic defeats Robotnik, the movie ends on my good side.
A series of credits scenes further sweetens the deal. One shows Robotnik stranded on a mushroom planet, equipped with one of Sonic’s quills and vowing revenge. More Jim Carrey? Count me in! The other one features the debut of Miles “Tails” Prower, Sonic’s famous two-tailed fox sidekick who appears to be looking for him. Both scenes promise a follow-up that leans into the creative aspects that have made the Sonic franchise so endearing.
And you know what? I really hope we get a follow-up. For all of its generic trappings, Sonic the Hedgehog still ranks among the better video game to film adaptations. The lead character, its villain, and hints of a wider, more colorful universe (and Blur Studio, of course) make Sonic the Hedgehog a promising start to a franchise that may be a little slow out the gate, but overall a great experience. –James Preston Poole
Sonic the Hedgehog is now available in theaters.
The film stars Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, Lee Majdoub, and Adam Pally.