[Movie Review] Sonic the Hedgehog

Written by Abram Buehner
  • Director: Jeff Fowler
  • Starring: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz
  • Release Date: 14/2/2020

Gotta go fast!

Apparently, adapting video games into film is incredibly hard. The good video game films can be counted on one hand, and depending on who you ask, one or two fingers from that hand might suffice. From the films I’ve seen, 2019’s Detective Pikachu is the only one that truly works. With its thick aesthetic, neo-noir trappings, and engaging storyline, it totally exceeded my expectations and proved to me that a future in which video game cinema is actually good does truly exist. Sonic the Hedgehog, on the other hand, seemed determined to undercut that momentum with its underwhelming trailer and atrocious design. After the film’s delay, redesign, and some surprisingly decent pre-release buzz, though, I became cautiously optimistic that Sonic the Hedgehog would be genuinely enjoyable, or at least, gleefully bad. Having now seen Jeff Fowler’s take on the Blue Blur though, the truth lies directly between both extremes as the film is startlingly mediocre.

Speedy spectacle

The lion’s share of its inherent mediocrity is a direct result of the fact that the film is positioned as a family-friendly blockbuster. As such, it operates squarely as cinema of reassurance—cinema that features simple plotlines, familiar tropes, clear delineations between good and evil, clear-cut themes, and a happy ending. Not much about Sonic the Hedgehog challenges the audience, not that I expected it to, but I had hoped that it would operate more efficiently on multiple levels in the vein of a great Pixar film, providing depth that can be enjoyed by all different ages. That is largely absent here, considering that the characters are incredibly underwritten, and the film’s messaging is blatantly obvious as soon as it is set up.

As such, Sonic the Hedgehog relies on spectacle and charm to captivate its audience, and to this effect, the film is fairly successful. There are a lot of bombastic, action set pieces here that kept me engaged throughout Sonic’s runtime, and they help keep the film jaunting along at a good pace. When the action slows down, the quips speed up, and the chemistry between James Marsden and Ben Schwartz, who play Green Hills Sheriff Tom Wachowski and Sonic respectively, keeps the movie fun. Their banter and antics evoke a breezy, buddy-cop atmosphere that comes off as rather endearing, particularly in light of the way the film reproduces Sonic as a curious, child-like figure.

Crazy Carrey and a bit of boredom

But, while Sonic held my attention, Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik stole the show. Carrey gives one of the most blatantly manic and overacted, over-the-top performances I’ve seen in years, and I’m entirely here for it. He’s a charisma tsunami, and whenever he was on screen, I was grinning. Almost everything he does, from his movements to his inflection, is absolutely unnecessary but simultaneously enrapturing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Carrey provided an energy that the film desperately needed, and he is both the best part of the film, and a perfect illustration of why the rest of the movie doesn’t really work.

Jim Carrey is the only facet of Sonic the Hedgehog that feels bombastic and eccentric. If the rest of the film adopted this ethos, the overarching project would’ve been much stronger. The high-level issue with Sonic the Hedgehog is that the film simply doesn’t leave much of an impression, nor does it do much to engage fans of the games in a meaningful way. For as solid as the action sequences and the chemistry are, I truly believe that Sonic could’ve been replaced by any, generic alien and the film would’ve operated just the same. Save for Sonic and Eggman, the film does little to engage with the mythos of Sonic the Hedgehog. There is no real-world parallel to Casino Night Zone, and the film’s Green Hills doesn’t share any similarities with that of the game. Sonic has been transplanted from his universe to ours, and that simply isn’t very engaging. Further, neither Sonic nor Eggman utilize their skillsets in ways that feel that iconic or evocative of the games themselves. In the absence of familiar Sonic touchstones, locations, and characters, the movie just feels incredibly generic.

The bottom line

The film isn’t devoid of fun, though. As a family-friendly blockbuster, it serves its function relatively well and does provide a handful of genuine moments, but it just doesn’t hold much value beyond that. Detective Pikachu impressed me last year with the manner in which it was able to evoke the spirit of Pokémon while telling a fresh story that organically synthesized the Pokémon world and ours. Sonic The Hedgehog lacks that sort of ambition and creative edge. The liveliest aspect of the film is easily Carrey’s Eggman, but that sort of comical, Saturday-morning cartoon aesthetic isn’t carried into any other facet of the film. Elsewhere, Sonic the Hedgehog is a familiar, forgettable family blockbuster that doesn’t fully understand or capture what makes Sonic special. The post-credits scenes set up much more imaginative and fun looking ideas, though, so there may be hope for the Blue Blur yet. This film may have been a misfire in large part, but I’m willing to give the inevitable sequel a shot—if only to see more of Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik.

Pros

  • Fun action sequences
  • Jim Carrey’s Eggman
  • Ben Schwartz and James Marsden’s chemistry

Cons

  • Predictable themes
  • Underwhelming plot
  • Lacking energy
  • Feels generic

Verdict

While the Sonic the Hedgehog is propped up by some great performances, the film isn’t saved from feeling like another, generic family blockbuster.

2.5/5

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