Sonic the Hedgehog 2 review: Idris Elba voices an oddly sensual echidna in perplexing sequel

Director: Jeff Fowler. Starring: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Idris Elba, Jim Carrey. 15, 122 minutes.

Sonic the Hedgehog’s “gotta go fast” catchphrase apparently applies to film production schedules, too. We’d barely had time to process the existence of his first film by him before a sequel had been greenlit, which arrives in cinemas this week just two years later. It is impressive, though, for a franchise that nearly capsized itself before the first film had even come out – when an early trailer revealed that its cobalt blue, erinaceous protagonist now looked like a human in a furry morph suit. The redesign cost $5m (£3.8m) and added five months to the film’s production. And although the final product was essentially just a riff on the live-action Alvin and the Chipmunksit appealed enough to audiences (or, more likely, children in the audience) that it made more than $300m (£228m) at the global box office.

Unfortunately, you can tell its follow-up was turned around speedily. Returning director Jeff Fowler and Ben Schwartz, the voice of Sonic, clearly have a lot of affection for the character – that’s understandable, since many people dedicated a good chunk of their childhoods to making that tiny creature do loop-de-loops on their Sega Genesis consoles. Sonic is bouncy and precious, and voiced by Schwartz with twinkly-eyed naivete. But at no point here – or during the last film – does it feel like anyone actually figured out how Sonic works as the center of a live-action movie.

The first Sonic was a fish-out-of-water story about an alien creature who crashlands on Earth and finds a makeshift family in sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Its sequel vaguely functions as a Marvel-esque tale about great power and great responsibility. It opens with Sonic rolling around San Francisco under the guise of “Blue Justice”, doing a catastrophic job of crime fighting. Tom brands him “reckless”. He’s just a kid, really, who needs time to grow. It’s a slightly confusing conception since there’s no real context in which to understand just how immature Sonic is meant to be – he has the voice of an adult man, and we’re never taught the space-hedgehog life cycle in order to even understand how long these things live.

Meanwhile, the megalomaniac Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey), exiled on a mushroom planet, is saved by Knuckles (voiced a little too sensuously by Idris Elba), a red space-echidna whose people are the sworn enemy of Longclaw, Sonic’s late, adoptive mother. Knuckles and Dr Robotnik join forces to locate the Master Emerald, which allows its wielder to conjure anything the mind imagines – it gets compared in the film to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbustersbut really sounds a whole lot like the Green Lantern’s powers.

Luckily, Sonic has a newfound ally in the form of Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey, the only actor from the game to return), who is a fox with two tails who can speed them around like helicopter blades. He’s arrived from who-knows-where, and is apparently more of a child than Sonic, leading Sonic to step up as an incidental father figure. I’m sure this all makes perfect sense to hardcore fans of the Sonic games, but the film has no idea how to structure these references in a way that feels legible to a general audience.

That extends to its treatment of wider pop culture – Sonic references Marvel’s Winter Soldier, the feud between Vin Diesel and The Rock, and Schwartz’s own role on Parks and Recreation. But there are no jokes there. They’re just things you recognize. Neither does the film know what to do with Carrey. He stands around trying to turn bits of exposition into jokes by gurning and over-enunciating every line. Sonic‘s post-credit scene suggests a third film is in the pipeline. Hopefully, by that point, these films will have figured out what they actually want to achieve.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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