“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” demonstrates that video game movies don’t have to be lifeless shells.
This review contains spoilers for “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.”
Sonic goes fast. That’s it. That’s the review. Pretty fast right?
Jokes aside, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” released April 8 and directed by Jeff Fowler, was a movie that I was looking forward to. I originally watched and reviewed “Sonic the Hedgehog” for The UCSD Guardian back in 2020 — this was literally the last movie I watched in theaters before the pandemic hit — so I went ahead and looked back at my thoughts on the first movie. If Sonic One was the studio breaking in a new pair of shoes, especially after the initial Sonic redesign debacle, then Sonic Two was the studio running at full speed.
One of the reasons why I enjoyed this movie was because the people who made it understood the core audience and what they wanted to see, while still appealing to the average child and adult. This balance between core and mainstream audiences is something that video game movies typically struggle with — in addition to the myriad of other issues including completely altering the source material— but “Sonic 2” doesn’t struggle with this issue.
The creators of “Sonic 2” understand the viewer on multiple levels. Let’s start with the small details. One of the most noticeable details is the love that Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) also known as Eggman, receives. In this film, Robotnik receives a redesign from his look in the previous film. Carrey in this film sports a bald head and mustache exactly like Robotnik in the cartoons and games, and his costume design is also closer to the games with a black and red coat with some gold accents. In the film, Robotnik reveals a huge mech suit built to destroy Sonic, the outside of which has the villain’s signature mustache. Inside the suit, several Robotnik logos from the original source material can be seen decorating screens. The last detail of love is when Stone (Lee Majdoub), Robotnik’s assistant, lifts up a manual for the suit and the design of the manual is modeled after ’90s SEGA game box cover art. To go along with tapping into the franchise’s ’90s roots, the end credits were entirely in a 16-bit style, which just really put a smile on my face and reminded me of my childhood, playing Sonic games with my cousin on his SEGA Genesis .
In addition to the small details, the movie also gets correct the more important aspects like casting. For example, hiring Colleen O’Shaughnessy to voice Tails. O’Shaughnessey has a history with the franchise, voicing Tails in “Sonic Boom,” an animated series quite beloved by the fanbase, and is an established voice actor in the industry. Her performance in the film was great, and her voice quite frankly made to play small, scrappy, uppity characters like Tails.
Another notable voice acting performance was Idris Elba’s Knuckles. Unlike Tails being similar to his character in “Sonic Boom,” Elba’s Knuckles was closer to 2003’s “Sonic X”: a deep, powerful voice that commands authority. Throughout the movie, he plays the role of the “fish out of water,” being the beef head warrior, which I think is fine. However, what I don’t really understand is how he couldn’t see Robotnik’s betrayal coming, as Carrey says in the movie, “from a mile away, or 1.6 kilometers” (other than for plot convenience). Knuckles describes himself as a trained warrior and he was a child victim of war, which I talk about momentarily, so you would expect him to be very cautious about who he trusts.
Other aspects that were enjoyable in the film include Jim Carrey’s acting and his dynamic with Stone. Carrey continues his over-the-top performance from the first Sonic movie, and, in usual Jim Carrey fashion, finds another gear in him to take it to another level. If “Sonic”’s Robotnik was a crazy scientist, then “Sonic 2”’s Robotnik is a deranged lunatic. Carrey’s lunacy is complemented by Stone’s own type of crazy: the all-admiring assistant willing to do anything for their boss. Despite one cringey scene where Robotnik flosses—which is to be expected as this is indeed a kid’s movie in 2022 — Carrey’s performance was a great send-off to his career.
However, the CGI for some of his scenes is bad…really bad. In one scene, where all the characters find themselves in Siberia to find the McGuffin compass, Robotnik is floating in the air in his flying pod vehicle, and because Carrey is bald for this role, you can see where the green screen just ever so slightly flickers, and this isn’t even the only instance of blatant green screen. Other times, Carrey’s CGI scenes, like where he unlocks the power of the emerald and begins to use it against the protagonists, looks straight out of the early 2000s. Another critique of the visuals I have is that sometimes the film, when switching between shots, would lower in visual quality as if the file was compressed, then immediately become high definition again, but I am willing to chalk this up to my theater being bad . While I may have these grievances, it’s clear that the majority of the CGI budget went towards Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, which I think is a good thing because the trio makes up the bulk of the movie and they have some of the best scenes .
The fight scenes between Sonic and Knuckles were so mesmerizing, the way the two characters would glow in their respective colors of blue and red as they demonstrated the extent of their powers. To go along with the smile-inducing fight scenes was the sound design of the anthropomorphic characters. Both the sound of Sonic charging his speed and the fast tapping of his shoes were just so satisfying to listen to. Thus, despite questionable CGI for the human characters, the non-human characters got some of the best-looking CGI around.
My only other and final complaint are the other human characters, not including Jim Carrey. The B-plot of the film involves Sonic’s caregivers heading to a wedding in Hawaii, which I thought was a good, albeit very simple approach to get the human characters out of the picture to make the non-human characters the primary focus — a clear improvement from the first movie. However, this subplot soon takes center stage towards the latter half of the film, and for a movie whose main character is all about speed, this portion of the movie couldn’t have been any slower. I would argue that the entire human subplot really should’ve been left out to make the movie flow a bit smoother and faster.
Despite the subplot for the humans and the occasional cringe and bad CGI moments, the Sonic movie franchise demonstrates that video game movies can be good; they can have passion and understand their core audience while making money, bagging $71 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is a good kid’s movie, a great addition to the franchise, and is paving the path for future video game movies.
release date: April 08, 2022
director: Jeff Fowler
starring: Jim Carrey, Ben Schwartz, Idris Elba, Colleen O’Shaughnessey
Image courtesy of Game Informer