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“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” Succeeds By Embracing the Source Material (Review)

Image courtesy of Paramount PicturesSega

I found the new Sonic the Hedgehog film resoundingly more satisfying and enjoyable than the first. In video games, including the Sonic series, often the second or third entry is the best iteration of a long running series. The first game cracks an idea wide open while the initial sequels are able to refine and tune the central premise into something more effective – mistakes are corrected, graphics are improved, feedback is addressed.

And so too it seems like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has benefited from the lessons learned from the first film. The key decision is to lean further into the core video game elements of the story. More trust is put into the audience to go along with the story when it mostly, or entirely, lacks human characters.

Image courtesy of Paramount PicturesSega

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 picks up shortly after its predecessor. Our blue hero has settled into a life as a teenage mutant ninja hedgehog attempting, poorly, to thwart bank robberies and other villainy by night. When Dr. Robotnik returns with the help of a newly enlisted ally, Knuckles the Echidna, Sonic is thrown back into action movie shenanigans. Sonic adds a new ally to the fold, stalwart game companion Miles “Tails” Prower, as he heads off into a globe trotting macguffin hunting adventure.

Let’s dispense with the unpleasant elements first. The human focus B-stories remain a bore. I found my attention waning through much of the very broad wedding subplot led by comic Natasha Rothwell (Wonder Woman 1984). She’s clearly trying to wring laughs from the material but a tired “scorned woman” character just brings the otherwise pleasant proceedings to a halt. I watched the film with my four year old son and her human focused sequences are the only ones where I could feel his focus ebbing as well. Sonic’s “found family” of James Marsden (X-Men) and Tika Sumpter (Southside with You) are far more effective at adding a human element to the story, but still not as effective as the simple pleasure of our titular Erinaceidae.

Image courtesy of Paramount PicturesSega

That said… the movie just works best when it leans as far as possible into lovably silly video game hijinks. Jim Carrey (The Truman Show) once again plays Dr. Robotnik as a cartoon character in human form – it’s broad, dopey, and perfect for the material. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwarz) and Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey), CGI doohickies they may be, are simply better company for the audience. The addition of Knuckles (a pitch perfect Idris Elba) adds a burst of energy. The character carries an edge Sonic lacks which serves as an effective counterbalance to the hedgehog’s pluck. Elba (Luther) is hilarious in the role turning Knuckles’ aggression into a signature trait.

We’re facing a future where video game movies are the new normal. There are almost countless movies and shows en route from the very serious (The Last of Us) to the very family friendly (Super Mario Bros.) to the very violent and strange (Borderlands). Halo is on Paramount+ now and Uncharted came out weeks ago. That Sonic works best when it leans into the source materials gives me hope that future gaming stories could work best with a bit more fidelity to what brought in fans in the first place. As this film’s stinger teases, there’s certainly reason to hope that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 will go all-in on the nerd stuff.

Image courtesy of Paramount PicturesSega

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 will be released on Friday.