Sonic the Hedgehog, 2020.
Directed by Jeff Fowler.
Starring Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally and Natasha Rothwell.
When a power surge alerts the government to the presence of an alien hedgehog on Earth, Sonic teams up with a small town cop in an attempt to avoid the malevolent Dr Robotnik.
It seems crazy that it has taken this long for Sonic to make it to the big screen. The world’s most famous hedgehog was created in 1991 and has since become, alongside Mario, become one of the most recognisable stars of console gaming. Thirty years later – and 27 years after Mario stunk out the world’s cinemas – Sonic is finally a movie star as well. With a facelift applied to his CGI visage after a disastrously received trailer, Sonic has arrived in a refreshing burst of kinetic energy and charm.
After a brief back story in which an adorable baby Sonic is raised by the wise owl Longclaw – “basically Obi-Wan Kenobi”, says the voice over – and escapes to Earth when baddies show up, the story opens in the small town of Green Hills, Montana. Sonic (Ben Schwartz) has been in hiding for a decade and is entirely alone, though he has a soft spot for local cop Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), whom he refers to as “Doughnut Lord” due to his propensity for talking to pastries. When Sonic unwittingly triggers a power surge, alerting the authorities to his presence, the terrifying master scientist Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey) – “a psychological tyre-fire”, according to his superiors – is dispatched to track him down.
It’s a very well-worn setup, but one that allows for plenty of chemistry and bonding between Sonic and Tom as they go on the run together, seeking to avoid Robotnik and his army of drones. Marsden and Schwartz – whose peppy vocal performance essentially holds the thing together – are a genuinely likeable double act and their warmth helps to overcome some of the pacing problems with the third act, which seems to lurch from trope to trope without the narrative tissue to connect those beats.
The action, too, has a visual pizzazz that pays homage to the aesthetic of the video game without ever settling into a rhythm that’s too familiar. A climactic set piece manages to hop all over the world, from San Francisco to the Great Wall of China, while a skirmish between Robotnik’s stealth jet and a weakened Sonic provides some terrific, city-destroying fun. It’s only in a handful of slow-motion sequences that director Jeff Fowler is unable to inject any freshness into proceedings, nabbing the same stylistic tricks as Quicksilver in the X-Men movies in a way that now feels played-out.
Thankfully, though, Sonic the Hedgehog provides a villain for the ages in Carrey’s Robotnik. After years of sporadic work and attempts at more dramatic roles, Carrey here embraces the rubber-faced chaos and high camp of his 1990s heyday. His Robotnik is a barely constrained tsunami of insanity, who twirls around his secret lair to the rhythms of his bespoke “Tunes of Anarchy” playlist and has the air of a man who would react with troubling ecstasy at the sight of Sonic being dissected. It has been a while since Carrey has had this much fun in a movie, and this wickedly funny turn feels like a homecoming.
The commitment of the performances really helps Sonic the Hedgehog, elevating it beyond its trappings as an occasionally rather generic kiddie adventure. The pop cultural references, including to vlogging and streaming, are desperately forced in a way that will date the movie almost before it even comes out – can we call a moratorium on flossing in children’s comedies now? While the whizz-bang delivery of Schwartz is always fun, the script often falls short in delivering well-crafted gags.
But this is a movie packed with love and affection for the world of the video game on which it is based. Sonic the Hedgehog embraces the spirit of the game, without ever resorting to something as clunky as the tedious finale of The Angry Birds Movie, which directly adapted the gameplay in cinematic form. By the time a mid-credits scene provides fans of the game universe with reason to get excited about a potential sequel, this movie has cemented itself, despite its flaws, as one of the more enjoyable game adaptations ever released.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.