Back in February of 2020, right at the tail end of the Before Times, the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie surprised a lot of us with a modest, old-fashioned fish-out-of-water tale that was crossed with generous helpings of Jim Carrey shtick. What could have easily been an overindulgent, pandering FX-a-thon instead found a way to make its story — about a young, wisecracking supersonic creature from another world trying to make a home for himself on Earth — feel strangely grounded. And Carrey, getting a welcome chance to cut loose again with both his mile-a-minute quips and his physical humor, seemed rejuvenated. The whole thing was an unlikely nostalgia-fest, but upon reflection it made some kind of sense, given that the first Sonic video games were themselves iconic products of the 1990s. Now the sequel is here, and, well, it’s a lot more like the movie we were worried the first one was going to be: baggy, bloated, and only sporadically engaging.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 begins promisingly enough, with Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik, exiled to a mushroom planet in another dimension, spending his days trying to make mushroom coffee and playing mushroom chess with himself, all the while plotting his return to Earth and his revenge on our furry hero. Robotnik finds an ally (and a ticket home) with the arrival of Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), an all-powerful (but still adorable) short-beaked echidna warrior, who has traversed the universe looking for the Master Emerald. Meanwhile, Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a two-tailed fox from yet another distant planet, arrives on Earth looking to warn Sonic about what’s coming his way. Right off the bat, the central problem emerges: The interactions among these fantastical beasts from outer space are a lot less interesting than the interactions between Sonic and his humans, which drove the first movie.
When we catch up with Sonic (again voiced by Ben Schwartz), he’s preparing to say good-bye to his now-parents, Tom (James Marsden) and Maddie (Tika Sumpter), as they head off to Hawaii for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), which will keep him away from the humans for a while. That breaks the story up into two strands. Tom and Maddie’s comic misadventures at Rachel’s wedding, while brief, make for a reasonably funny humiliation comedy. (I was hoping the whole thing would turn into a Meet the Parents–style spinoff, but no such luck.) Sonic’s adventures, meanwhile, which involve him connecting with Tails and heading off to Siberia to find the Master Emerald, feel like a pro forma find-the-magic-object quest tale, drained of life, humor, or suspense, but with plenty of frenetic sequences whose outcomes are predetermined. The duo do find themselves at one point in an unexpected dance-off in a remote Russian bar, but don’t get too excited: Director Jeff Fowler doesn’t seem too committed to mining that premise for any real visual wit or slapstick. As with so much in the film, the idea is funny, while the execution merely competent and mostly lifeless.
For his part, Carrey does get a few zingers off in his inimitable way, his extravagant delivery the tonal equivalent of a wink. (“I don’t want to die like this!” he bellows at one point, as he’s being chased by a giant boulder. “It’s derivative!” Once again, the actor seems capable of making the hackiest material feel new.) But even he seems tired. Or rather, tied: With most of his performance coming opposite Knuckles or Sonic, Carrey looks lost and maybe too restrained. There are a few good bits of humor here and there (Rothwell gets off a couple of good lines), but really, the improvisatory spark from the earlier film is nowhere to be found this time around. The whole movie seems like it was designed as a series of technical challenges rather than artistic ones.
It’s possible Sonic 2 will deliver something far more worthwhile to devotees of the SEGA games than to us mere civilians looking for a good movie. Both Knuckles and Tails are beloved characters from the original property and a big, globe-trotting, CGI quest for a magic emerald does indeed feel truer to the aesthetic of a video game. The first Sonic worked because it refused, against all odds, to turn entirely into product. Sonic 2, by contrast, is a disappointment, but an inevitable one.
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