Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
Director: Jeff Fowler
Screenwriters: Pat Casey, Josh Miller, John Whittington
Starring: Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Idris Elba, Natasha Rothwell, Shemar Moore, Adam Pally, Lee Majdoub, Colleen O’Shaughnessey
In 2020, the first Sonic movie from SEGA, Blur Studios and Paramount, Sonic the Hedgehog, built on the success of The Pokemon Company’s Detective Pikachu to rewrite the rule that dictated that all video game-to-movie adaptations must inevitably be disappointing, instead offering “a high score-worthy account of itself”, a “fun family film”. Two years later, and without a Detective Pikachu sequel in sight, Sonic and his gaffer tape family have returned, and under the guidance of sophomore feature director Jeff Fowler have done it all over again. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is funny and hearty, and while it may not rip up any trees, it is another 2 hours at the cinema that will prove enjoyable to families, children, those nostalgic for their old console days, and anyone looking for some innocent escapism and a few laughs.
What made Sonic the Hedgehog such a success was its earnest approach towards its family-orientated material. Sonic may have flossed, and the design of the hedgehog itself may have come under immense scrutiny ahead of release (causing a re-design), but Sonic the Hedgehog was one of few studio films from the past decade or so to offer simple, relatable, and most importantly innocent fun. Like DC and Warner Bros’ Shazam!, it felt no need to cater to the same audience as a Marvel movie or a Transformers movie, and was more than content with going after the same feelings as those great 80s and 90s PG films like The Goonies and Matilda. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 hits many of the same markers, the titular hedgehog this time having to embrace change and evolution to both his present and his perspective of the past in order to grow into a more rounded being, his arc being one that anyone who has ever been through change (or simply lived a life) can associate with, but the core themes of found family, of finding love, remain at the forefront of this universe, of the director’s intent.
In Sonic 2, the dastardly Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) makes his way back to earth with a little help from a new ally in “Sonic” video game and animated series regular Knuckles (Idris Elba). Intent on revenge first-and-foremost, but also a little bit of eternal power, Robotnik uses Knuckles’ physical mite and own Sonic-related motivations to bring monumental change to the little hedgehog alien, his new-found family and some friends they make along the way, including “Sonic 2” video game mainstay Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey). It’s a narrative that demands you take some things with a pinch of salt, and it even lacks logic in some minute ways, you could even say that it is offering nothing new, but for what it is and who it’s aiming for, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has more than enough by way of focus, of laughs, of references, and of heart, to earn your suspension of disbelief and encourage you to buy into the journey of the CGI hedgehog and his friends.
Sonic 2 can become distracted by side stories, and with more characters to cater for than the ultra-tight six or seven in the original film, this 2022 release does in parts flutter between stories that seem less-than connected, with some even coming across as less interesting. As was the case with the original however, these diversions inevitably pay off in memorable ways, increasing the overall enjoyability of the film whilst padding out the universe. Director Jeff Fowler had already earned our trust with his stellar focus in the original film, and in Sonic 2 he solidifies himself as a worthy big-budget family filmmaker capable of spinning many plates while never losing sight of his intentions. Sonic 2 isn’t exactly complicated, but with so many new characters to bring to the fore and a large focus on video game references no doubt expectant from fans and the studio, Fowler must be praised, his work no doubt illustrating the beginning of what should be a long and successful career.
Those in the know about the original “Sonic” video games will be overjoyed by the way that SEGA have handled their debut cinematic outings to date, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 having just as many Easter Eggs as the original film but importantly developing the 2nd video game’s addition of Tails and the ever-iconic Emerald Zone into the foundations of this film. Perhaps most impressively, these inclusions don’t become a movie of their own, passing over the heads of the casual audience members in attendance, and are instead small and simple ways for fans to appreciate the filmmaking even more. It is clear, with these titbits, nods and winks, that the filmmakers respect where the Sonic character has come from, and what fans of the character might wish for, whilst never losing sight of their filmmaking intent, of releasing a film for people young and old to enjoy.
Jim Carrey is again the standout of the on-screen collection of actors, his portrayal of Sonic’s ultimate foe evolving ever-closer to the video game character and Carrey once again making gold from every small or large (or even larger) moment he is given. His character, and his continued interactions with Sonic 1 favourite Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub), earns all the screen time he’s given and the love he has been shown. Meanwhile, Idris Elba’s debut in the Sonic universe as Knuckles is at times hilarious, Elba’s performance succeeding where the material succeeds and falling flat in moments where he’s less of a focus. His portrayal, and the character at large, are as Thor is to the Avengers, or Drax is to the Guardians of the Galaxy; he’s an earnestly intense fish out of water, and that makes him funny. Fans of Sonic 1’s side arc of Donut Lord James Marsden, his on-screen wife played by Tika Sumpter, and her on-screen sister played by Natasha Rothwell, may at first be disappointed by how the trio are ousted from the central narrative, but the pay off is more than worth it; Rothwell in particular getting highlight after highlight in a sequence that wouldn’t be out of place in a film likes Bridesmaids.
Even after two years of lockdowns, cinema closures, studios taking less risks and audiences no longer buying into anything other than a guaranteed entertainment fix at the box office, Sonic remains and Sonic thrives, and that speaks of Jeff Fowler and co’s ability to capture the innocence and excitement of youth. Jim Carrey is excellent, there are some scenes that will prove to be as memorable as any in video game cinema, there are call-backs to the roots of Sonic’s history, and there are plenty of laughs, but what everyone will remember most about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is what they remembered most about Sonic the Hedgehog 1: the heart. This is family filmmaking for a new generation; enjoyable and funny albeit flawed big screen entertainment.