In my review of the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie, I suggested that the film had managed an incredible task – it had exactly the same amount of good and bad within it and therefore somehow hit a neutral state. The sequel, which is arriving at theaters this week, is not quite as successful, but it is also not a total disappointment. If the first one is neutral, this one tilts slightly negative.
Director Jeff Fowler is back at the helm for the new movie which features a script form Pat Casey & Josh Miller and John Whittington (the first two also receive a story credit and wrote the first film). In fact, not unexpectedly, many folks from the first film return here. Ben Schwartz is back as Sonic; James Marsden is back as his human companion, Tom; Tika Sumpter returns as Maddie. Adam Pally is back, as are Lee Majdoub and Natasha Rothwell. Most importantly though, Jim Carrey is back and every moment he is on screen the film finds its footing, no matter how bad the plot itself happens to be.
Yes, Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik figures out a way to depart the Mushroom Planet at the outset of this film, forging an uneasy alliance with Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), a red Echidna with a set of superpowers similar to Sonic himself. That’s okay though because Sonic has help in the form of Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a yellow fox with two tails who is even less equipped than the Blue Blur (Blue Justice?) for the world at large and Robotnik’s nefarious plan to grab an all-powerful crystal that’s hidden on Earth in particular.
The story itself here winds up feeling like 1,000 well-worn, and bad, sitcom ideas all mashed together into one big ball of ridiculousness. So, Sonic is left home alone even though he’s clearly incapable of acting responsibly. Tom and Maddie go to Hawaii to be able to attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Rothwell), shunting them to the side for much of the film. The team-up between Robotnik and Knuckles from the outset is clearly going to be full of silly betrayals. More than once in the film events occur at locations that are near/important to the main characters, not because there’s anything that demands they occur at those locations, seemingly other than the fact that it involves less travel time. We are even forced to sit through moments like Tom feeling like an out of shape shlub in comparison to Rachel’s fiancé, Randal (Shemar Moore, a great addition to the series), despite the film doing little too hide Marsden’s clearly well-built nature.
It is one poor moment after the next, with nothing keeping us in our seats except Carrey’s stupendous scenery-chewing performance and the promise of an epic showdown at the film’s climax. Carrey, with his preternatural ability to appear nearly cartoon-like himself, is perfect as the foil for the CG hedgehog and fox. He is big and over-the-top and absolutely in keeping with Schwartz’s taking on Sonic.
The reversals with Knuckles, and the character’s general storyline through the movie, are a vague disappointment. He feels like someone who was shoehorned in because it was pre-ordained that he appear in the sequel, not because anyone making the film had an interesting take or something worthwhile to do with him.
For his part, Schwartz, to be sure, is excellent, but the script doesn’t do terribly much to keep us engaged with the hero. The film starts from the point of how Sonic still has a lot of growing up to do and then kind of coasts to the inevitable conclusion for the character before the credits roll. There is only so much that an actor, even one as charming as Schwartz, can do with that.
To its credit, the film generally looks great. There are multiple shots of Sonic and his computer generated pals where one might swear they were truly there (to be fair, a couple of eyeline matches feel off). The whole thing is wonderfully bright and colorful and the camera offers not just great vistas but a sense of kinetic energy, particularly when Sonic or Knuckles is in motion. All the CG creations are enjoyable to watch, even if the reasons for their doing anything are less than satisfying.
“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is not going to go down in the history books as one of the rare sequels that tops its predecessor, but nor will it be remembered as an abomination that destroyed the franchise and sank Sega’s ambitions of ever putting another video game character on the big screen. Instead, it will just be a bit of mild dissatisfaction, perhaps liked by some, not by others, and generally remembered with the phrase “oh yeah, that’s the one where…” rather than for any sort of excellence.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures