April 8, 2022

“Sonic the Hedgehog” Returns in a Pleasant but Familiar Sequel (Review)

A sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog was inevitable. Because of pandemic shutdowns, it finished third in the domestic box office at the year’s end, placing sixth worldwide. My special connection comes in the fact that it was the last film I saw theatrically until May 2021, and for that reason Sonic the Hedgehog will always hold a special place in my heart.

That said, I’ve never been one for video games, and so there was a limit to my anticipation for the sequel. It came more from a place of traditional expectations — I enjoyed the first film (perhaps more than it deserved), and its follow-up looked like a lot of fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

Happily, Sonic 2 measured up almost exactly to those expectations. Nearly every named character returns from the first film, and in that way Sonic 2 is perhaps one of the best direct continuations when it comes to children’s films. There’s a surprising amount of carryover from its predecessor, especially when it comes to character dynamics, leading to some genuinely hilarious moments.

The previous film’s impact extends to its lore and mythology, and in all the world-building there’s bound to be a few retcons in order to serve the sequel’s story. That inevitability was why it didn’t bother me too much, and the new developments work in the context of Sonic 2’s arcs. People who haven’t seen the original since its release will most likely not even notice.

The story of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 begins when Dr. Robotnik (once again portrayed with ferocious audacity by Jim Carrey) escapes the mushroom planet he was stranded on at the end of the previous film. He’s assisted by Knuckles (voiced by Luther’s Idris Elba), an echidna warrior who is pursuing the Master Emerald — the source of ultimate power in the universe. It’s up to Sonic (Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz) and his new friend Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey, who has played the character in various mediums since 2014) to stop the Emerald’s capture and corruption.

Jim Carrey has spoken about retiring from acting, and while I was questioning the idea of Sonic 2 being his last film, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. With flamboyant gesticulations aplenty, Carrey is hamming it up here, big time, and remains the best part of this franchise by a long shot. He’s effortlessly hilarious, drawing on decades of physical and vocal comedy to deliver what genuinely might be one of his best performances (if only in the past decade). As Robotnik, Carrey can go from energetically silly to dismally gaunt in an instant, and I never want to tear my eyes away.

It’s also refreshing to see that, despite being incredible then, the visual effects have improved since the first film. While it’s true that they have cartoonish features, Sonic, Tails and Knuckles look astoundingly real, and interact with their environment in some really fun ways. The climax, which is mostly computer-generated, is remarkably rendered, and it just goes to show how far CGI has come and how far it still has to go. I have faith that Sonic 3 will look even better.

Sonic 2 goes out of its way to remind you that the titular character is still a kid, just around 13 years old. When we catch up with him in the sequel, he’s fighting crime, attempting to build a brand for himself as “Blue Justice.” Of course, he’s not the best at the superhero gig, and still has a lot to learn. It feels like a natural progression for the character, and as we see him grow up he becomes more like a typical teenager, getting wild while his surrogate parents are away and constantly clashing with his family. In fact, family values are a major element in Sonic 2, and our main character’s relationship with Tom (Westworld’s James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Ride Along’s Tika Sumpter) is one of its primary focuses. The themes and messages are things we’ve seen before — mostly in much better movies — but it’s meant to appeal to the kids watching, who are certainly this film’s primary audience.

Sonic 2 is actually more kid-friendly than the original, and that hurts it a little bit. There’s still witty one-liners (many of them obviously meant for the trailer) and great visual gags, but it’s not as funny as the first, which was willing to push boundaries and had much punchier jokes. Sonic 2 merely flirts with the idea and doesn’t commit to most of its better gags, which doesn’t bring it down story-wise, but instead makes it abundantly clear they were appealing to a slightly younger audience this time around.

As much as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 tries to differentiate itself from its predecessor, it ends up feeling more and more like the same movie. There are loads of contrivances that are never explained, and plot mechanics behave exactly how the story needs them to (the futuristic tech is the biggest offender), but for many, the gap between films will make the sequel more refreshing than not. Sonic 2 is charming and pleasant, and is more than happy to skate along on its visuals and performances — and when you have solid discussions about moral responsibility and a climax better than most Marvel movies, that’s a luxury you can afford.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is playing in theaters.

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