Sonic The Hedgehog is an inoffensive diversion with a well-realized title character, but he’s stuck in generic movie plotting.
The Sonic franchise is largely an unfortunate one. Though the classic games left an undeniable stamp on gaming and pop culture, a litany of subpar (which is being generous) titles throughout the 2000s proved that updating the adventures of a quick little blue hedgehog and his pals for whichever modern iteration of gaming consoles is out at any given time is more difficult than one would think. As such, even the film adaptation couldn’t escape the curse: the trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog released early last year was met with an outcry of jokes and criticism about Sonic’s design; even people outside the devoted Sonic fandom were more than a little put off. As such, the film’s visual effects team were locked inside their underground workplace bunker and lived off of canned preservatives for the next several months to essentially re-do the entire movie in time for release, though it ended up being bumped from 2019 to 2020.
Kudos to that team of workers whose department is notoriously overworked and underpaid because if there’s one thing that is indisputable about the final product, it’s that Sonic looks like Sonic. The original design looked downright weird and bordered on surreal; it was like someone made him from memory and also wanted him to have a conventional aspect of human attraction. His face looked too much like an actual person while simultaneously looking like no creature anyone has ever seen, his teeth were weirdly conspicuous, and his figure was that of a dude that takes mirror selfies with his shirt off to post on Instagram under the #workout hashtag. The overhauled Sonic looks exactly like what any normal person would expect a cinematic CG-rendered version of him to look like, and it’s curious that this wasn’t what we got in the first place.
As for the film itself? To be honest, Sonic the Hedgehog is the most inoffensive and inconsequential version of this movie we could have gotten, which is good and bad I suppose. Video game adaptations have a long history of not being able to translate the game to the big screen in any capacity and Sonic the Hedgehog at least delivers a version of the character that is altered enough so that he can sustain a character arc but will be perfectly recognizable for fans of the franchise.
Ben Schwartz has a knack for expressive voice work (as proven by his numerous appearances on prominent podcasts including his recurring Solo Bolo episodes on the long-celebrated improv comedy show Comedy Bang! Bang!) and his Sonic sounds like his lines could have been lifted from any of his video games — it’s a very natural fit. Of course, general audiences will be most enticed by Jim Carrey’s performance as Sonic’s quintessential nemesis Dr. Robotnik, or Eggman if you’re nasty. Aside from a small role in Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch and some television work, this is his first prominent film role since 2014’s Dumb and Dumber To, and one that sees him returning to his absurd physical comedy roots in earnest. He’s as delightful to watch as always, carrying every scene he’s in with a tremendously goofy comic grace that many physical performers aspire toward but fall short of. His tumultuous relationship with his partner played by Lee Majdoub is one of the most reliably funny parts of the movie.
James Marsden is perfectly serviceable as an anchor for Sonic’s antics, but even as a co-lead some of his scenes suffer from a real lack of flare. He has a generic everyman quality about him with no real remarkable charm to back it up that it’s no wonder why he doesn’t get more significant work, unfortunately. His presence is indicative of the cliche movie plot that Sonic gets stuck inside of here. For a series with such a rich, colorful visual history, the movie forces it’s title character into some pretty dull environments, with most of the film taking place in a small town. The plot hinges on Sonic getting to San Francisco to retrieve a lost bag of rings, though once we finally get there hardly any time at all is spent getting to watch him zip around city streets or interact with the architecture of an environment that’s actually interesting. They stick him in a car for a large chunk of the movie! I understand how they had to form-fit Sonic’s central gimmick into a live-action plot but it feels disappointingly neutered from some of the game’s ludicrous situations. There’s a sustained effort to be as broad as possible here, not attempting any truly weird nonsense until the mid-credits scenes which scratched the absurdist itch I was feeling for most of the runtime and hinted at the potential for an insane sequel if the filmmakers are able to follow through.
That aiming for broad appeal is where the film suffers most, as the worst bits of Sonic’s writing see him calling Keanu Reeves a “national treasure” (true, but directly lifted from any innocuous Film Twitter account), doing the floss dance twice, and farting after saying he ate some chili dogs. Couple this with a pretty meager plot and you’ve got a movie that is passively enjoyable but feels anticlimactic and sort of barren. Kids are gonna be into it and the true Sonic Heads are gonna go buck wild hooting and hollering at the MCU-style sequel setups, but for the movie adaptation about a fast, quippy hedgehog who runs lightning-fast and routinely fights a mad scientist called Eggman who looks like an actual egg man, this is frustratingly ordinary.
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