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Review: “Sonic the Hedgehog 2”: Act 2 Doesn’t Quite Earn An ‘A’ Rank

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By now the production of the 2020 Sonic the Hedgehog movie is internet legend. Conceived as a generic “popular IP character comes to our world” family movie, the film provoked enough outrage and revulsion thanks to its nightmarish design of the title character that the release was delayed to replace it with a more recognisable take on the blue blurr. The film received minimal other changes but went on to be a major hit, enough so that a sequel was quickly announced. A sequel fans hoped would thus be a more loyal and better Sonic film.

So I’m sorry to say that, honestly? The first movie might be better.

Before I go any further, please allow me to clarify my history with Mr Needlemouse. I am a lifelong Sonic fan, the series starting when I was five. I blasted through the Mega Drive games (Carnival Night barrel is an overrated threat), read Sonic The Comic and watched the DiC cartoons. Even when Sonic’s initial popularity faded I was one of those who remained loyal to this childhood icon. I can assure you I’m viewing these films from the perspective of a genuine fan.

It’s been some time since Sonic clashed with the fiendish Doctor Robotnik and saved his home, the rural town Green Hills. Bolstered by his success Sonic attempts to use his speed abilities as a hero elsewhere in America, only to find the vigilante path is harder than comic books make out. Soon enough though Robotnik escapes his exile and seeks revenge, aided by new ally Knuckles the Echidna. Sonic is aided by the likewise surprise arrival of Tails, a young fox who idolises the hedgehog. The two sides face off in a clash for a powerful artefact from Sonic’s home planet- the Master Emerald.

Now on paper that sounds great. A clearly more Sonic focused movie adapting a game plot to work as a two hour movie. The problem is that we get is different from what carefully edited trailers sold.

When the movie is focused on the Sonic elements it really is a lot of fun. But the film is continuously at war with sticking with that story. A perfect example occurs early on when Sonic and Tails stumble on a surly Siberian tavern and have to compete in an elaborate dance off in order to leave alive. This is a sequence that feels plucked right out of the most cliche formula for a family movie, being little more than loud noises and bright colours for kids. Worse, it’s about the only part of the movie aimed at building a relationship between hedgehog and fox, with the movie deciding to just rest on fan familiarity with the two. Even if it isn’t a 1:1 depiction of his game persona, Sonic in the previous movie was clearly fleshed out so any viewer could grasp or understand him. Tails gets no such treatment.

The lack of such characterisation is made worse by a sequence roughly halfway into the movie where the animal characters are taken off the table and suddenly the focus is firmly put on the human characters getting to do things of little to no plot relevance. A similar subplot pops up for all of two scenes later and it’s impossible not to notice how this feels like actors agreeing to return only if they got to do something meatier than simply react to the CGI characters. Utterly pointless scenes that belonged on the cutting room floor. I certainly don’t blame actors wanting the chance to do more in a production but none of this really adds to the story. Even Lee Majdoub’s returning Agent Stone, a fan favourite from the first film, is awkwardly cast off from the main plot quickly.

Lest I sound too negative there is good to be found here. Much has been made of Idris Elba playing Knuckles and it’s a very good take, blending a mix of past incarnations to give us a foil for Ben Schwartz’s Sonic who is intimidating without being a cartoon villain (Tails is a similar hybrid of historical takes, even if Colleen O’Shaughnessey gets little time to show her talents). Who is a cartoon villain is Jim Carrey’s Robotnik, now firmly akin to the wackier characters us 90s kids remember him for. His isolation on the mushroom planet has pushed the narcissist over the edge and there’s rarely a moment where he isn’t cracking a joke or moving as only Carrey can. This is largely entertaining but does take away from the menace of the finale where he makes a very game accurate Death Egg Robot dance around. Sega canon Robotnik/Eggman has always been comedic but he absolutely brought intimidating peril to the final act of any adventure.

There are some neat surprises I won’t give away. This includes a mid credits scene which is clearly giving a hook for the already announced third movie.

Do I recommend going to watch Sonic 2? That’s the one hundred ring question. In a lot of ways I do think this is weaker than the first movie, which had tighter pacing and was more self sufficient. Sonic 2 feels often at war with itself and relying on fanservice rather than weaving lore, but honest admission? For as cynical and cantankerous as I can be, I laughed a lot and there was a moment in the final act where even as my brain tried to dissect the film I sat there crying tears of joy and shaking. Thrown back decades to that five year old who was ignorant of the world and its horrors and just knew he liked the blue speedy hedgehog hero.

I can’t promise you the exact same experience but for the movie to cut right to the core of me and give me that joy, I can’t say it’s all bad.