Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Review)

There is a sequence in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 where Sonic (the hedgehog) is running at high speed through a trap ridden temple. He is bouncing off walls, narrowly missing spikes and blades and, well, just platforming. He is doing the thing that Sonic does in the Sonic games. It is cool to see in movie-motion, a Mega Drive level presented as a 2022 filmic reality.

This sequence is, at most, five seconds long.

This new Sonic movie, much like its predecessor, makes me feel old, old and grumpy and like the worst kind of critic that is just complaining about how something used to mean something, and how something isn’t their version of that thing. It’s not a nice mode to be in, but these films actively invite it by taking a specific property, with a specific history and a specific fan base, and loosely applying it to something not only incredibly different but also something very bad.

The Sonic movie being for kids and families isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s Sonic, that makes sense. The Sonic movie not feeling like Sonic, but using Sonic, is an issue. It is a cynical move by boardroom executives, a calculated business deal of a film so obviously built by the out of touch as they constantly gesture at facades of relevancy. It is a 2022 film featuring an extended Uptown Funk dance sequence, flossing and frequent, dated meme humour.

All of this is par for the course with this type of film: an attempt to grab the largest family audience possible designed by people that don’t want to speak to an audience, that don’t want to bring anything to them, that instead only want their money. You throw in a bunch of Sonic stuff, though, and the issues become much more blatant, as this structure and approach so barely fits around this thing. Like the last film, the narrative of this film (and the conflicts within) could consistently be nullified by Sonic doing things Sonic can actually do. That last film shows us he can go fast to the point of basically stopping time, this film has Tails the Fox turn up in a car so that he can be a getaway driver for Sonic to get him out of trouble. This is one of many moments where the film is undone by its status as an actual sonic film.

But, this being said, the film is a step up from the last instalment. It feels less disjointed and broken, with a coherent through line that is never good but is engaging, on a very surface level. The film moves along and exists on screen in a primarily inoffensive way. There’s also a ridiculousness to it, coming from the sense that nobody at all cares, that can cause some fun. Stupid moments will cause titters, like how Sonic’s human pal, played by James Marsden, is shown as being humiliated by a bunch of muscular men only for Marsden to then flex his muscles, and to show the audience that (don’t worry) he too is incredibly muscular. It totally undercuts the previous sequence but it is laughably stupid, though it is the audience firmly laughing at rather than with. It’s also funny when the film plays thirty seconds, or so, of the Pantera song Walk. Because that song in this setting is so wonderfully incongruous, and again links back to the feeling that nobody cares. That this is all just noise.

It’s nice to see Tails and Knuckles in this film. Genuinely. Seeing them on screen alongside Sonic (and very occasionally doing things that you would expect of them) carries a little thrill. Both characters are executed well and have a charm to them (and look how you would want them to). The arcs of each of woefully predictable, and ultimately empty and disposable, but they work well enough. The film, though, barely even tries to motivate the presence of either of them, especially Tails. Tails is just there for the sake of being Tails, because Tails should be in a Sonic movie. It is nice that he is there, but I wish the film actually found a way to more logically involve him.

But that’s the film, it is antithetical to wider thought. It is a whole bunch of disposable-pseudo-fun that is also, quite often, just very annoying. The characterisation of this very specifically quippy and referential Sonic (it’s very Sonic by way of Deadpool, or in line with the typical MCU dialogue style, but for kids) continues to annoy the hell out of me. Jim Carrey as Dr Robotnik gives an insufferably loud performance, constructed of dated riffs, but that’s what you’d expect. Many will like it, it’s certainly Carrey doing the Carrey thing. But it feels like empty imitation, a kind of almost self-plagiarism where an actor comes across as doing an impression of themselves. It is such an uninspired turn, just giving you what you have seen before but in a weaker context and with so much less around it. Maybe I’m just tired of Jim Carrey performances, but this one does just bring so little.

Ultimately, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is fine. It provides the occasional laugh and has enough visual noise to keep your eyes on the screen. But it just feels so cynical. It has no interest in trying to link itself to people’s relationship with a beloved franchise, but will also take advantage of that. I enjoyed noticing that a business was named as a reference to Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, then realised I was being pleased by literally nothing. That this kind of gesture brings nothing, especially when the film built around it doesn’t actually capture the thing it is adapting. I then also got a bit excited about a certain thing that was going to happen to Sonic, that I knew from the video games. It happened. It meant basically nothing. I felt taken advantage of again. Because, this film doesn’t matter. It is forgettable, disposable entertainment and it does that in a totally fine way. It is nothing art, but it will bring some joy to people. The problem is, the thing it is based on (and ostensibly pulls from) is not these things. Sonic means something. Sonic does something. Sonic is something. Until these films actually link into that, they will always never work or me.

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