Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the rare sequel that more than exceeds the original, celebrating the iconic characters & SEGA’s incredible video game saga.
The first Sonic the Hedgehog film was met with tons of disdain from its very first trailer when the first look at the iconic character was redesigned to something that looked nothing like him. And after a massive fan campaign on social media, the movie was delayed to re-redesign the character back to what he looked like on SEGA’s video game series. Of course, that didn’t fix the film’s rather conventional “road-trip” story and had very little resemblance to anything that was established in the video game series. In retrospect, director Jeff Fowler tried too hard to keep the titular character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) away from doing Sonic things and make him a bumbling comedic character, with a forced father/son relationship with Tom Wachowski (James Marsden).
Thankfully, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 not only pays off the previous film’s post-credit sequence, which teased the inclusion of Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey, reprising her role from the video game franchise) but crafts a compelling adventure story that puts the titular hedgehog (and his sidekicks) front and center. No, we’re not doing a “road trip” story this time around, but one about chaos emeralds! The gist is quite simple: Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) has escaped the mushroom planet when Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba) opens up a ring portal. The two team up to defeat Sonic and obtain Master Emerald, which will allow its possessor to bend reality and control the world.
So it’ll be up to Sonic, teaming up with Tails, to beat Robotnik and Knuckles before they end up with the emerald. A relatively straightforward story is done really well because it fundamentally understands the characters they’re adapting on-screen and treats them with the utmost care and respect. Fowler and screenwriters Pat Casey, Josh Miller and John Whittington have also fixed many of the first film’s criticisms and focused on the one thing that fans want to see: Sonic. Tom and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) take a back seat in this installment, while the movie focuses on Sonic creating an indelible friendship with Tails. Both Schwartz and O’Shaughnessey give terrific vocal performances and share authentic chemistry with one another, perfectly capturing what made their friendship so fun to watch in the series.
They progressively get to learn their collective strengths and weaknesses by working together and opening up to one another, particularly during a dance-off sequence whose payoff was quite surprising.
Fowler also paints their vulnerabilities quite well in many tense action sequences whose stakes feel palpable, because we feel that the characters’ lives are at stake, something that the first film didn’t touch upon too much. In the final battle of the last Sonic film, we knew that he was going to triumph nonetheless because he is learning something about himself while battling Robotnik. In the second film, it’s more complicated, because the stakes are real–it’s not just Robotnik versus Sonic anymore, but Sonic and Tails versus the fate of the universe. Fowler paints its stakes remarkably during the action scenes, which brilliantly captures Sonic’s spirit.
Zipping faster than the speed of light allows for Fowler and cinematographer Brandon Trost to create some truly breathtaking action that fully takes advantage of the character’s speed. One-on-one fights between Sonic and Knuckles are intense, and the climax between Robotnik and Knuckles (Idris Elba is surprisingly great here) brought tears to the once Sonic fan in me. It’s been a while since I’ve played Sonic, mainly due to the fact that the franchise’s later games have not been very good (“Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric” soul-crushed me), but the film’s climax reminded me why I fell in love with the franchise in the first place: seeing someone accomplish the impossible by simply “going fast” and making any “dangerous” situation seem easy to overcome.
Without giving anything away (because there are some neatly packed surprises that aren’t in any of the trailers), the climax contains everything I wanted from a Sonic film, and everything I wish SEGA would do in their recent Sonic games. It breathes new life in the character by celebrating what has come before and making us look forward to the future, knowing that they’re in great hands with such a dedicated teams of writers and filmmakers who understand who Sonic is and what he means to millions of people around the world.
And while Sonic the Hedgehog 2 flourishes with its animated characters, its live-action parts aren’t as strong as the rest, with the exception of Jim Carrey. He’s as great as ever as Robotnik, and will hopefully come back for the third installment. He’s stated that he would like to retire from acting, but his performance as the Sonic villain is his best in years. He’s able to combine the over-the-top exuberance of the actual villain, with the hyper-expressive antics he’s known with such brilliance, it would be a shame if Carrey didn’t come back for the third one (he’s stated that this could be his last movie. If it is the case, he went out with a bang).
The problem is in James Marsden and Tika Sumpter’s characters, who are both terribly wasted. The movie desperately tries to find its way back to the protagonists, but they have no business being in the film. And when Natasha Rothwell’s Rachel is the best protagonist and steals the show during the film’s wedding scene, that’s not very good for Mardsen and Sumpter, who were at the front and center of the first film. They also have nothing to do in the climax; Fowler just maks them stand in the middle of the battlefield and observe Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles battle. So if the movie had cut all of their scenes, it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Yes, the fans wanted a film that focused more on Sonic, but if there had to be human characters in the story, they had to be better integrated than this. They find a good framing device to keep them away for most of the runtime (a wedding in Hawaii), but that only goes so far when they have to be brought back. Thankfully, the wedding scene is very funny, and goes in directions you do not expect at all.
And even if the live-action characters aren’t as well integrated into the story than the animated ones, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still a major improvement over the first film, and may very well be the best video game movie ever made. It loves its source material and the characters they adapt on screen, who serve a straightforward, but brilliantly executed story featuring jaw-dropping action with crowd-pleasing moments, authentic humor and terrific animated characters forging a friendship that will help expand the franchise even more. I went nuts during this film’s post-credit scene, because my biggest dreams are about to come true. And if the third film (and its planned Knuckles spinoff) are as good as this, or even better, than we’re in for an absolute treat in the next few years.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is now showing in theaters everywhere.