Shortly after the events of Sonic The Hedgehog, the eponymous blue speedster (voiced by Ben Schwartz) spends his nights fighting crime, believing his calling is to become a hero. But due to his impetuousness and immaturity, his efforts largely result in chaos. Meanwhile, Dr Robotnik [Carrey] has managed to find a way off the mushroom planet he was imprisoned on, with the help of an anthropomorphic alien echidna named Knuckles [Elba]. Realising Knuckles is after Sonic and the resting place of the fabled Master Emerald, Tails [O’Shanussy] travels to Earth to warn Sonic that he, his family and the entire universe are in grave danger.
If you couldn’t tell from that brief synopsis, there is a wonderfully cartoony feel to this entire endeavour. Granted, its predecessor had a similar vibe but due to that surprise success (Sonic went on to be the sixth highest grossing film of 2020 and the highest grossing video game film in the US), the writers had the space and leeway to create a wholly more confident and unabashed story; safe in the knowledge of who its key audience is: young kids. Armed with this bold trajectory, the film takes us on a big video-gamey adventure that doesn’t feel too restricted or lashed down to the grounded middle-America fish-out-of-water tale in Sonic The Hedgehog.
It’s also worth noting that part of the only reason this was possible, was due to the severe backlash and redesign of the central character. For those unfamiliar, the public did not react kindly to the initial design for Sonic and a more video game accurate look was eventually used. That strong “authentic” visual aesthetic returns and once again hits all the right chords; taking us from mountain caves to jungle temples – as one would expect from an adaptation of a 90s side-scroller. That said, some of the CGI does come off quite ropey and green-screeny at times, which is remarkably unfortunate. This tends to crop up when the sole physical component is Carrey himself, surrounded by computer generated backgrounds and characters. But by the time we get around to the audaciously fun and silly mech fight, with a giant stompy robot doing a chicken dance, any sort of concerns for immersion or realism slip away and you can simply sink into the playful absurdity of it all.
As with the first film, this release shines when its heart is in the right place. Sonic remains an orphaned space refugee in search of belonging. While he attained a family in the previous instalment, this time he acts as an anchor for similar lost, disenfranchised souls. Admittedly, there’s little peril when it comes to Sonic himself – we know he won’t suffer any lasting pain or misfortune – but adding Tails to the mix, heightens the stakes and forces Sonic to learn and accept responsibility. We’re talking incredibly straightforward moral mechanics here but for the primary demographic, it covers this without feeling overly insulting or pandering.
A byproduct of these new bombastic globetrotting hijinks, is the curtailing of a lot of the human characters. There will be those who will feel they take too much of a backseat, only called on when necessary but I’ve gotta admit, that’s fine. One of the biggest complaints, when studios work on these properties, is letting their fears of audiences not relating to the little hedgehog boy cloud their judgment, thereby insisting on a heavy injection of superfluous characters. And unfortunately, we do still have a few remnants of this but I’ll save my thoughts on that for later. Instead, I’d like to talk about Idris Elba as Knuckles. In truth, Elba is perfectly fine as one of the main antagonists. The problem is, with O’Shanussy doing such a stellar job as Tails, I feel we need to get back to the days of voice actors featuring in prime voice acting roles. This isn’t intended as a point of discredit to Elba but there was very little that he specifically brought to the role, leaving it a little two dimensional, for the sake of a bankable name that kids don’t especially care about.
The biggest thorn, however, stems from the comedy. There are a handful of heavy and frankly inexcusable writing contrivances – cases in point, the map which leads to the Master Emerald activates a hologram seemingly without any prompting, solely because the script requires it, and Tails often pipes up with lazy exposition dumps – but these could be glossed over, if the film could charm its way out of it. But it can’t. So many of the quips and jokes are a product of the Big Bang Theory school of writing. Which is to say, you reference something that the audience might recognise and everyone laughs. There’s no real setup or payoff, it’s just a brazen reference that inevitably falls flat and ensures the film will immediately date itself. Worse still, Jim Carrey, despite being on a return to form in the first film and front-and-centre here, still somehow manages to feel a little pushed into the background. And when he finally muscles to centre stage, the buffoonery is pleasing but doesn’t push the envelope as much as we may want it to.
But ultimately, these feel like fairly minor gripes. The film isn’t groundbreaking but it has found its audience and picked its lane, which I think is the right move, rather than trying to please or placate a wider viewer base with mediocrity. And to have such a vibrant and lively family adventure that doesn’t need to preoccupy itself with self seriousness feels like a palate cleanser. If they can just nail the comedy in a unique and earnest way, I think the next Sonic feature will be a real winner.
UK – 01 April 2022
US – 08 April 2022
The Scene To Look Out For:
I mentioned earlier that this film is burdened with the vestiges of the first film and yet there are times when we retread familiar ground. Trekking through Siberia, Sonic and Tails find themselves in a bar populated with rough patrons. Only for the conflict to be resolved with a dance-off. It’s not bad, it serves a purpose for character bonding but we’ve also kinda done this before. On top of that, we also have a subplot about a wedding taking place in Hawaii. It’s probably the weakest part of the film and comes off as genuine shoulder-shrug filler that ultimately benches the heroes for nothing. And with a 2 hour runtime, a lot of these dead-end moments stymie the flow and could have been cut.
Tails is great. There’s an innocence and bounce to the performance that isn’t reliant on pop culture references or one liners because it earns its place in the audience’s heart with a welcome unequivocal sincerity.
“It seems I’ve become the feature player in this theatre of the absurd.”
In A Few Words:
“A marked improvement over Sonic’s first outing but hasn’t evolved enough to impress more skeptical audiences. Maybe third time’s the charm?”
Total Score: 3/5