If you told me I’d be sitting in a one-second screening Sonic the Hedgehog The movie, on opening day, to hear the cheers at the end of the movie as loud as I heard at the end of the midnight screening of Avengers Endgame, I will never believe you. If you told me after the first disastrous trailer for the first Sonic movie, I’d have you divided. Yet here we are: it happened.
I’m really glad I’ve never been to any pre-release screenings Sonic the Hedgehog 2, because while it’s nice to see it sooner, it does reward the more organic experience I have today. I saw it in an actual movie theater, about two-thirds of the audience, the first screening near me, early in the afternoon on the day of the show, in a room full of the movie’s intended audience – with parents The kids, teens, and the occasional older fan.
There is an energy in a screening room like this that can tell you a lot about a movie. What it told me about Sonic 2 was simple: I liked it not only because the laser calibration was how I felt about Sonic fans for decades – I liked it because it was a good movie. It’s by no means perfect, but the very high highs and fairly moderate lows make it an easy recommendation, and definitely one of the best video game-based movies to date.
In a way, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has the strong second album genes found in some Marvel movies (though, to be clear, it’s more Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Compare Thor: The Dark World). After a slightly unwieldy, faltering origin story, the writers know what they’re doing with the characters now – making for a very confident script that really takes advantage of the film and source material.
Leading the charge is Jim Carrey, with his hilarious, over-the-top performance as a now-completely unhinged Dr. Robotnik that feels like a late-career revival for him, back to what made him so beloved in the ’90s of exuberant quirks. Ben Schwartz returns with the perfect Sonic, this time joined by Idris Elba (Knuckles) and Sonic gaming veteran Colleen O’Shaughnessey (Tails).
The other supporting human characters from the first film also return, although all are slightly reduced. A common point of these films is the annoyance that time is spent on humans instead of Sonic – but perhaps Sonic 2’s biggest trick is to put James Marsden and Tika Sumpter’s Tom and Maddie Wachowski together And their extended family is fully integrated into the storyline of Sonic and his friends. Their adoption of Sonic as a strange little alien son is central to the film’s theme, and it’s actually hard to imagine this version of Sonic lore without these characters going on to play at least one secondary role. Considering I left the last movie thinking they weren’t bad, but wished the sequel would write them out completely, I think that’s a big upgrade.
The way these characters are used is largely due to the carefully planned script for the “video game movie.” To be honest, the story has to do several things: Sonic and Tails have to meet in record time and become believable best friends. Sonic and Knuckles must compete. Robotnik needs to come back from where he was banished at the end of the first movie and evolve into something closer to his gaming counterpart. Legends must be established about Chaos Emerald and ancient society, and Sonic must strengthen his relationship with his human caregivers. That’s a lot for any film to do well in its two-hour run time (including credits).
But, somehow, inexplicably, director Jeff Fowler and screenwriters Pat Casey, Josh Miller and John Whittington made it. It’s not painfully pretentious when the movie has to sideline the humans and give Sonic and Tars time to go on a mini-adventure to cement their friendship. The solidification of Sonic and Tails’ friendship involves a goofy action scene, but ends in a surprisingly emotionally raw, solidification of their relationship. When humans come back into the story, it feels like a natural transition. If you step back, you can definitely see the cold, skilled reasoning behind this structure, but at best you don’t care about it at all. Aside from the jarring product placement and pop culture references that don’t land well, it’s equally going to appeal to you.
A good adaptation should use a shift in media to enhance the source material. Detective Pikachu, for example, succeeded because it tried to keep the canon in line with the game and show the world of Pokemon from another angle. Tomb Raider and Uncharted are good, but feel more rote because they share a lot of the same with the games without actually adding much. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat feel like they exist in the shadows of the game, mostly to make it worse. This is arguably due to the simplicity of the source material, but Sonic was able to elevate the simplest concepts in the series thanks to its medium.
Take the trio of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, for example. The advantages they portrayed in the game are replicated here – speed, intelligence and power. But it works better in movies. The power of Knuckles can be shown without, you know, inaccurate combat and garbage emerald hunting. Tails and his gadgets repeatedly play key roles throughout, but that doesn’t boil down to throwing him into some boring mech as the anti-robot Nick.
Much of this setup may be due in part to Marvel showing a scalpel-precise way of weaving different heroes into their superhero crossovers.I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the third act of Sonic 2 features a circular shot of the three getting ready to face the onslaught of the enemy and then go into battle, it definitely echoes similar shots The Avengers and Age of Ultron. Oddly enough, that moment also feels better than any DC movie that tries to emulate those moments.
The core story is fairly inconsequential — a globe-trotting romp, it’s useful, but mostly to facilitate Kerry’s scenic chew and the interaction of the three anthropomorphic heroes. It’s a mashup of the second and third Sonic games that fans will love, with elements and references from other games, including Sonic Adventure 2, the military organization GUN, and owning a coffee shop called “The Mean Bean” Robotnik lackey.
Crucially, the way these things are executed is fun for fans, but more like a wink than an elbow on an elbow. It doesn’t get in the way of the most important thing: It’s a family movie for kids, including those who’ve never even seen the ancient game that came out decades before they were born. The source material is revered, but not an invulnerable god.
The result is a raucous adventure that’s a subtle but measurable small upgrade over its predecessor. As mentioned, the biggest objection I can make is length. There’s a lot to cover, but two hours still feels too long for a kid-friendly caper, and one can easily see where sequences like Sonic’s home alone montage, a human character’s wedding gone awry, etc. And one dance could have been cut down to around 15 minutes of running time.
But we come back to that ending. People began to applaud as the credits were decorated with some truly gorgeous game tribute sprite art. It started in a corner with a group of teenage lads sitting, and then spread. I have to make it clear here: this is also in the UK. Movie theater applause is not common here. I’ve almost only experienced it in Star Wars and Marvel movies. Now, Sonic. In a room packed with the film’s target audience, the response seemed to be downright delighted. As a late-credits stinger teases what’s coming next, a girl who’s impossible to be over 10 in the first few rows jumps out of her seat in excitement, whispering a character’s name to her parents.
This is probably the most impressive thing here. From the disaster’s first trailer to the redesign, the Sonic movie is a story of redemption. In a way, the sequel is completely imperfect—much like a Sonic game. But it sticks to the landing, which is pretty fun. I expect it to make money — a third movie, plus a Knuckles spinoff TV show starring Elba, is already on the way.
Does Sonic 2 or its predecessor deserve the title of the best video game movie of all time? I have no idea. This is definitely up for debate. The difference: as a complete series, Sonic’s leap from game to movie is the most successful of all time. The future seems bright; a second golden age of blurry blue may still be in the early stages.
Anyway, until Sega releases another 5/10 smelly game.