As a matinee adventure for kids, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is okay entertainment for the wee ones. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that there was something more I should be appreciating here. I grew up with Sonic The Hedgehog being my favorite video game character (I was in the Sega Genesis camp of the console wars). I recognized the reference to the game Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine with Robotnik’s secret base in the film is a coffee shop called Mean Bean. I smirked a little shrug, reluctantly admitting I understood that reference like Captain America in The Avengers but much less enthused.
While the film didn’t do much for me, there are clearly some major improvements over the previous picture. Since the first film didn’t seem all that interested in the fish-out-of-water angle for a road trip movie, the titular hero of Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is given a simpler but more interesting arc. All of his zany nature is not exactly flying when he’s a superhero that causes more damage than good. With no Doctor Robotnik around causing the chaos, Sonic needs to be less destructive and learn to take responsibility like a grown-up. It’s a notion that is pushed by Sonic’s human friend Tom (James Marsden) and kinda-sorta pushed aside for the big climax of Sonic fighting a giant robot.
In order for that giant robot fight to happen, Doctor Robotnik, reprised with endless wit by Jim Carrey, needs to get back to Earth. He’s able to find a way off his prison of a mushroom planet with the aid of the evil echidna Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba). Though Knuckles is evil, he’s bound only by a sense of honor and revenge, traits that could easily make him switch sides, especially with the simplistic goals of Robotnik in mind. In terms of all the CGI alien creatures in this movie, Knuckles is the most charming. He feels more fish-out-of-water than Sonic and has some dry humor in his fascination with Earth culture.
Not so fun is Sonic’s eager fan of the fox Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey). He shows up to deliver the exposition of finding a Chaos Emerald (standard lost treasure MacGuffin of ultimate power) and gush about how cool Sonic is. He’s more useful as a chance for Sonic to show he can for somebody more than himself. Tails tags along for this adventure and it’s up to Sonic to ensure his safety on their quest for the almighty emerald!
The adventure is pretty par for the course, feeling like your standard globe-trotting hi-jinks. There’s a temple that contains a map and will then crumble. There’s an encounter in Siberia with some quirky bar patrons who have an unorthodox manner of resolving conflicts with strangers. There’s an ancient maze loaded with booby traps, containing such classics as the rolling boulder and the swinging blades. One would think Robotnik might have some comical commentary on such old-fashioned traps but, no, the movie still wants you to be impressed by these old-fashioned adventure tropes.
I’m very grateful that the film takes a baffling turn in the second act and nearly forgets about Sonic. While Tom is initially pushed aside to Hawaii so that his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) can attend her sister Rachel’s (Natasha Rothwell) wedding, they’re thrown back into the narrative in a weird way. Through a combination of a secret military operation and catfishing, Maddie and Rachel take control of the action like they’re in a buddy spy movie. What does this have to do with Sonic? Not much but who cares. Natasha Rothwell drifts an electric cart into a speaker system that explodes while walking away from the flames with a bottle of wine in her mouth. That’s a funny sight.
There’s plenty of action present and the visuals are certainly more elaborate and creative than in the last picture. I particularly dug the introduction of Knuckles in a creepy ambush of Sonic in Tom’s house. I was less enticed by the climax of Sonic fighting super-powered Robotnik in his super-powered giant robot that fans of Sonic 2 (the game) will recognize. The special effects and compositing all look great, sure, but the combination of the explosive carnage and Carrey’s lukewarm pop-culture zingers adds few thrills.
All of the comedy is a severely mixed bag. You’ve still got characters doing the Fortnite floss dance and Fast & Furious references that fall flat. But there are also some smirk-worthy moments of Knuckles struggling to comprehend text messaging and ice cream. I certainly can’t deny that everybody is throwing all the energy they have into these roles, even if they’re served up a script that most actors could just sleepwalk through.
There’s a moment in the movie that I feel perfectly encapsulates the off nature of the adventure. Sonic and Tails seek refuge in the house of the loser stand-in sheriff of Green Hills. While Sonic and Tails talk about emeralds and Knuckles, the sheriff brings up how he used to know a kid called Knuckles in schools and that he was a mean bully. Sonic and Tails shrug off his joke, more focused on the ultimate power at play. It feels like there’s a battle going on here, where human characters desperately try to push themselves into a picture that is primarily action, composed of all-CGI characters in a narrative that makes one question why this wasn’t just an animated movie from the start. By the time more Sonic characters are added by the sequel, half the cast is going to be voices for animated beings.
While Sonic 2 never wowed me with its theatrics, it has just enough charm and earnestness to be an okay adventure picture for kids and a mildly entertaining farce for adults. Even while being slightly embarrassed at all the references slathered about the screen that I recognized, there’s still some genuine fun beyond just gushing about how much the games the film is following. Perhaps I’ll regret these words by the time this franchise gets around to Sonic 5 and they’re starting to include even more obscure characters with less engaging storylines of finding emeralds, fighting robots, and citing pop culture, where the only joke is Sonic exists in our world and has probably seen a few Marvel movies.