Review: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 Arrives Dizzy
Jim Carrey headlines a Sega video game sequel; with Idris Elba, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, James Marsden and Natasha Rothwell.
Two years and two months ago, I gave Sonic the Hedgehog a pass for finding its footing in the dreck-filled junkscape of video game-based movies.
That said, the fact that Sonic 2020’s new quick-on-the-uptake sequel expects us to recall the central who’s-who and what’s-what of that initial outing is asking entirely too much.
(At least it is asking too much of me, the middle-aged lifelong non-gamer/film critic who’s seen and written about hundreds of movies since my one time seeing that one).
For me, the most memorable thing about Sonic the Hedgehog was that it was the last theatrical release pre-pandemic lockdown to score at the box office. (Remember all the comic-relief open wondering about if the Oscars would be held that year? Would Sonic the Hedgehog have to win everything by default?)
Which can’t help but prompt the follow-up observation: Will Sonic 2 mark a post-pandemic rallying of the family audience returning to cinemas? Never mind that for that to be manifested, the pandemic itself must officially be declared over. At the time of this writing, that is -- no matter how much we wish it and attempt to move on -- absolutely not the case.
Yet somehow, Paramount and returning director Jeff Fowler have managed to eek together not only an inevitable follow-up, but one that is a notably bigger and bolder entry. As reasonably satisfying as Sonic the Hedgehog apparently was as a lightweight VFX-filled blockbuster, Sonic 2 impressively ups every ante, both story-wise and spectacle-wise. As its running time (and I do mean “running”) surpasses the two-hour mark, the film goes bigger and bigger, more and more grand… and less and less comprehensible.
If you are among the legion of longtime Sonic gamers, feel free to disregard that last bit. But speaking only for myself, as someone who had to have my plugged-in kids explain to me what the heck happened in the third act, the whirling and brightly colored Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an increasingly weird experience to behold. I refrain from saying “something to endure,” as its mounting structure far too closely resembles the old familiarity of a Marvel or DC movie’s tiers of indulgent stakes-raising.
In its most trying moments, Sonic 2 approaches the mind-numbing, too-many climaxes of a Michael Bay Transformers bout. All that to say, the construction of the movie itself is too contemporarily run-of-the-mill to be truly incomprehensible.
I recognize the beats, even as the specifics have no meaning. For the kids, it was all a furry, zippy hoot. New characters, new gewgaws- hooray! Where’s the arcade in this theater…?
Sonic 2, like Sonic 1, is at its very best whenever Jim Carrey or Natasha Rothwell is on screen hamming it up. Carrey returns as the warped tech genius Dr. Ivo Robotnik, freed from his exile on The Mushroom Planet, and not at all happy.
He is now ready for his fan-pleasing close-up, sporting a more game-accurate bald head, huge mustache, and goggles affixed to his forehead by unexplained invisible means. (If the straplessness of Robitnix’s goggles takes you out of Sonic 2, you’ve come to the wrong movie). (I guess I came to the wrong movie.)
Carrey does a most admirable job of channeling his own Ace Ventura-era twenty-something self. In this context, the more gloriously, nonsensically unhinged that he is, the better the movie is for it. None of the other actors (including returning players James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, and Adam Pally), who are fine, fine, all fine, nor animated speedsters (Sonic, voiced by Ben Schwartz, and newcomers Tails, portrayed by Colleen O’Shaughnessey, and tough anti-hero Knuckles, played by Idris Elba) can keep up with him, even as he makes it all look so easy.
Far ahead in the running for the title of “next best” is Natasha Rothwell, back as the verbose and disapproving Rachel. This time, Rachel is getting married to the impossibly handsome Randall (Shemar Moore) in picturesque ... Hawaii.
Hawaii, one can openly presume, was key in getting Sonic 2 made. For one thing, the pandemic hasn’t been nearly as bad there. Liability is therefore that much lower. For another… how many actors are going to turn down a project that, for them, is primarily scenes leading with, “EXT. HAWAIIAN SEASIDE - DAY”?
Plus, in-world, one has no trouble believing that Rachel would insist on nothing less than a setting this majestic for her big day. When things inevitably go sideways at this extremely lavish wedding, Rothwell gets to truly uncork comedically. She manages to avoid embodying most “bride-zilla” clichés, and, for her brief scenes, is a breath of fresh air in a movie that at times, could really use it.
That’s not to say Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a bad film. The target audience, including my own gamer children, were quite satisfied with it. But for me, it overstayed its welcome while also running circles around me.