Released: 8 April 2022
Director: Jeff Fowler
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $110 million
Stars: Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Idris Elba, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, and Tom Butler
After defeating the schemes of Doctor Robotnik (Carrey) and banishing the mad scientist to a mushroom planet, Sonic the Hedgehog (Schwartz) is determined to make his mark as a hero in Green Hills. However, when Doctor Robotnik returns to conquer the world and exact revenge against Sonic with the help of Knuckles the Echidna (Elba) and the mysterious Master Emerald, Sonic must join forces with his new friend, Miles “Tails” Prower (O’Shaughnessey), on a globe-trotting adventure to find the emerald before it’s too late.
As a principal figurehead in the escalating Console War between Nintendo and SEGA, Sonic has seen his fair share of adaptations, starring in numerous comic books and animated ventures over the years, with each one altering his appearance and backstory and making him one of the most iconic and, yet, convoluted videogame mascots. Development of a Sonic the Hedgehog movie can be traced back to 1993, when the character dominated television screens with his numerous animated adventures, but, thanks to numerous legal and creative issues, the best Sonic had to settle for was the gorgeous original video animation (OVA), Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (Ikegami, 1996). However, after Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to the franchise, development of a live-action/CGI hybrid movie finally entered production in earnest; fans, and audiences the world over, were horrified when the first teaser released, however, and the studio scrambled to redesign Sonic into something a little less nightmare-inducing. Surprisingly, Sonic the Hedgehog (Fowler, 2020) bucked the trend of most videogame adaptations by being critically and commercially successful, and a sequel was soon pushed into development. Also surprisingly, star Jim Carrey expressed interest and excitement in returning to the role and portraying a more physically accurate version of Dr. Robotnik, and the cast was bolstered not only by expanding upon Tails’ brief cameo at the end of the first movie but also by the genius decision to cast Idris Elba as Knuckles and introduce more elements from the videogames that were missing from the first film. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has, as of this writing, been met with fairly positive reviews that praised the action and humour but criticised the runtime and pacing. So far, the film has grossed almost $160 million worldwide, raising hopes for Paramount’s plans for a third movie, and a Knuckles-centric spin-off, despite Carrey suddenly announcing his retirement from acting.
Like many, I’m sure, I was very surprised by how good Sonic the Hedgehog turned out. Considering I felt (and, to be fair, still feel) like an all-CGI movie would’ve been a better, less restrictive, and cheaper option (with Carrey the only human character and donning a fat suit), it was a pretty fun road trip adventure that did a decent job of capturing the spirit of the videogames while also presenting a new take on SEGA’s super-fast mascot. All of the fan service definitely helped, as well; while I had the post-credits scene spoiled for me, I was very happy to see an echidna tribe cameo at the start of the film and felt like the film did just enough to establish its premise to build upon its lore in sequels.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 finds Sonic in a much more stable and confident position than where he started in the first film; where he was once a lonely outcast, hiding out and barely really understanding his incredible supersonic speed, he’s now a happy and energetic bundle of spines thanks to being taken in by Tom (Marsden) and Maddie Wachowski (Sumpter). Pumped up from discovering his superspeed can allow him to do incredible things, Sonic has been trying to make a name for himself as a superhero in nearby Seattle, however his enthusiasm has a tendency to make him reckless; rather than simply allow local law enforcement to handle such occurrences as bank robberies and high-speed chases, Sonic feels obligated to step in and help out, which generally results in cartoonish chaos due to his immaturity. Though Tom tries to explain to Sonic that his powers will be useful in time, and that his moment to shine as a hero is inevitable, he also stresses that Sonic is still just a kid and needs to let that moment come naturally rather than force it. Thankfully, Sonic doesn’t outright reject his friend’s advice, but he does feel a duty to make Longclaw’s (Donna Jay Fulks) sacrifice worthwhile and to make her proud by using his powers to help others and protect his newfound friends. While they were a central aspect of the first film, Tom and Maddie really don’t get all that much to do here; they treat Sonic as a combination of a pet, a friend, and a surrogate son and the three have an adorable family unit going on, which is nice to see. There’s no dissension between them, even though they may despair of Sonic’s recklessness and immaturity at times, but they don’t really factor all that much into the plot beyond Tom being a loyal, if goofy, friend and Maddie being a supportive influence.
I can’t say that I’m massively disappointed by this, as I’d much rather these films focus on the videogame characters, but it does lead to some odd pacing moments. The big gag of the film is that Maddie’s sister, Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), still doesn’t care for Tom and doesn’t want him ruining her wedding. Unfortunately for Rachel, Tom accidentally swaps out her wedding ring for one of Sonic’s Golden Rings, causing her wedding to be ruined by a snowstorm, and then there’s a noticeable lag in the second act as Rachel and Maddie team up to help rescue Sonic from Commander Walters (Butler) of the Guardian of United Nations (G.U.N.) and confront her would-be husband, Randall (Shemar Moore), in scenes that really interrupt the pace of the film. Thankfully, Tails is on hand to add to Sonic’s circle of friends; here portrayed as a young mechanic from another world who is awestruck by Sonic’s speed and bravery, Tails travels to Green Hills to warn Sonic of Dr. Robotnik’s return and gets swept up in his globe-trotting adventure to find the Master Emerald. A skilled inventor, Tails lacks confidence in a fight and is plagued by self-doubt after a lifetime of bullying for his extra tail, which allows him to fly by spinning his tails like helicopter blades. However, his self-esteem is boosted by Sonic’s mere presence as he pushes Tails to accompany him to Siberia, encourages him to compete in a protracted and lengthy dance-off, and is impressed at the young fox’s inventions, which include a translator, a laser pistol, and a hologram projector. Tails arrives at just the right time as, while Sonic has found a stable family unit with Tom and Maddie, he still doesn’t really have any real friends, much less anthropomorphic kin such as himself; having observed Sonic for some time using his machines, Tails is eager to just be around him and is overjoyed when they form a fast friendship due to the pressing nature of the current crisis. Tails gives Sonic the chance to pay forward the kindness Tom showed him in the last film, but his attempts to show Tails Earth customs tend to lead to cartoonish pratfalls or are cut short by Dr. Robotnik’s repeated attacks. However, Sonic quickly takes a liking to Tails and sees him as a little brother, of sorts; he’s distraught when Tails his hurt because of his recklessness and fully prepared to put himself on the line to keep his new friend from being hurt again, but comes to trust in him, and their unlikely ally, for the finale, which requires a team effort rather than Sonic shouldering the burden alone.
While Tails’s intentions are noble, he sadly arrives too late to warn Sonic of Dr. Robotnik’s return, or the presence of Knuckles, a super-strong echidna from a long-dead tribe who is as prideful as he is aggressive. Having been marooned on the Mushroom Planet for nearly a year, Dr. Robotnik has gone even more wacko than he was before; embracing his baldness and his wild moustache, he spent his days trying to brew tea from the native foliage and constructing a machine to attract the attention of other lifeforms using one of Sonic’s quills. This led Knuckles to him, and the mad scientist was easily able to foster an alliance with the headstrong echidna by leading him to Sonic, whom Knuckles blames for the death of his father and his tribe since his people never returned from their mission to retrieve the Master Emerald’s location from Longclaw. Exhibiting physical abilities similar to Sonic’s Knuckles brings a raw, primal power that, coupled with his naïvety and pride, make him a formidable foe. Thanks to Knuckles’s blind vendetta against Sonic, Dr. Robotnik s able to reunite with Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub), reassume control of his machines, and begin a quest to locate the Master Emerald to not only get revenge against Sonic but to subjugate the entire world to his mad desires since the Master Emerald has to power to turn wishes into reality. Jim Carrey is clearly having the time of his life as Dr. Robotnik, meaning he devours every scene he’s in and is a constant highlight of the movie, but this does come with some detriments; some scenes of him going off the rails drag on a little, I felt like Agent Stone was a waste of screen time, and it’s still disappointing that he’s not wearing a fat suit. Knuckles, however, was a fantastic inclusion; he has a real weight to him, and his habit of taking everything literally reminded me of Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and made for some fun moments. Rather than being a complete moron as in some depictions, Knuckles is a misguided and sheltered warrior who’s burdened by his losses and is trying to fulfil his destiny, just like Sonic, and this means he has some heart and poignancy alongside being a hostile meathead.
The first movie was all about telling a heartfelt story about the power of friendship, and helping Sonic to move past his traumatic childhood and become an accepted part of Tom and Maddie’s life. Here, the central theme of the movie is destiny; Sonic is in a rush to realise his true calling and to make Longclaw proud, just as Knuckles is so blinded by his duty to retrieve the Master Emerald that it makes him susceptible to Dr. Robotnik’s obvious manipulations. Despite his recklessness, Sonic’s heroic nature allows him to recognise when his friends (Tom, mostly) are trying to help him rather than push them away, and, while he’s determined to oppose Dr. Robotnik and fend off Knuckles, he eventually reaches a point where he can see that Knuckles has been manipulated by the mad doctor and so focuses on trying to keep the Master Emerald out of Robotnik’s hands rather than waste time fighting Knuckles. Fans of the Sonic franchise will find Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as littered with Easter Eggs and reference as the first film: Tom’s ring tone is the iconic Sonic theme, Agent Stone uses a brewery called Mean Bean as cover, and there more than a few visual cues taken from Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998) such as Sonic snowboarding away from an avalanche, the Seattle sewers exploding in water geysers, and Sonic striking a pose ripped straight from the Dreamcast cover art. While I remain somewhat disappointed that these films don’t take place in a fantasy, full-CGI world, these references help to alleviate that and the addition of Knuckles only helps to infuse further visual cues from the games. The hidden temple is almost exactly like the Echidna architecture seen in Sonic Adventure, and the interior is heavily inspired by the traps, water, and layout of Labyrinth Zone.
The battles between Sonic and Knuckles are easily the film’s biggest highlight, though; exhibiting superhuman strength, Knuckles can both keep up with Sonic’s speed, leap vast distances, and easily overpower him with a single punch, crackling with red energy, Knuckles can scale walls, catch Sonic’s spinning form in mid-air, and unleash a flurry of punches without breaking a sweat, and his incredible strength is matched only by his no-nonsense attitude as he doesn’t hesitate to smash first and ask questions later. Dr. Robotnik returns in full force with his army of drones; however, while some resemble Buzz Bombers, his traditional Badniks continue to be absent from the films. He does pilot a far more faithful Egg-O-Matic pod this time around, though, and Carrey is constantly wriggling his fingers and striking wild poses as he directs and controls his machines to unleash laser blasts and a barrage of missiles at every turn. Dr. Robotnik’s true goal, however, is to seize the all-powerful Master Emerald for himself; thanks to hacking Sonic’s phone, and his network of satellites, Dr. Robotnik is easily able to track Sonic’s movements after Longclaw’s map leads them (somewhat inexplicably, it has to be said) to a compass that will reveal the Master Emerald’s hidden temple. Stealing it and braving the temple’s many death traps using his machines, Dr. Robotnik turns on Knuckles and transforms into a literal God after laying his hands on the Master Emerald. His first thought is to unleash his newfound Chaos powers upon Green Hills, and it’s only after Sonic offers Knuckles a chance at redemption (and a hand of friendship) that any kind of hope of stopping Dr. Robotnik’s nigh-limitless powers becomes possible. After assembling a gigantic mechanical exoskeleton in his visage, Dr. Robotnik lays waste to Green Hills, and Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are forced to work together to stop him. with Tails having commandeered a biplane for their use, the three brave the onslaught of missiles and the mechanical monstrosity’s stomping feet to get close to Dr. Robotnik and lure him away from the populace by using Sonic as bait. Their combined efforts allow Knuckles to land a blow on the mad doctor, knocking the Master Emerald from his body, but he remains a clear and present danger thanks to assuming command of his robot using traditional controls. This leaves Sonic, Tom, and Maddie in mortal danger but, thanks to absorbing the powers of the seven Chaos Emeralds released from the Master Emerald, Sonic becomes empowered with a golden energy that allows him to easily lay waste to Dr. Robotnik’s mech and, apparently, end his threat once and for all. In the aftermath, Sonic willingly and humbly gives up his God-like powers and he and his new friends set about making a new life for themselves with Tom and Maddie, unaware that a mysterious new foe lurks in the shadows…
There’s no doubt that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 goes out of its way to be bigger and better than its predecessor; the film is full of gags, exhilarating action, and fun sequences that shine all the more from the CGI models being far more detailed and expressive than before. While there are times when the film slows down to pad out its runtime with dance-offs and lingering on Jim Carrey’s madcap ab-libbing, it still does a brilliant job of being a fun adventure film, even if it’s primarily targeted at a younger audience. The addition of Tails and Knuckles really bolstered the scope of this new take on Sonic’s world; while I would’ve preferred the films just went all-in right from the start with a CGI movie that has all these characters existing in a fantasy world like in the games, I appreciate the little references and the way these films hint at there being more behind these characters. The addition of two more anthropomorphic characters also helps to shift the focus more onto these unique and colourful characters; while this means the humans are pushed to aside and reduced to supporting roles of comic relief, I’m okay with this as it means more time for Tails and Knuckles to shine. And shine they do thanks to some intense action and fight sequences which, while breaking all the laws of physics, make for the film’s most exhilarating moments. While Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles still stand out as being overly cartoony and the film missed a film tricks by not including more musical cues from the videogames, this was a really fun escalation of everything we saw in the film and did a really good job of capturing the spirit of the source material and splicing it into this new interpretation of the world’s most famous hedgehog.
Did you enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog 2? How do you feel it holds up compared to the first film? Did you enjoy the addition of Tails and Knuckles to the film and what did you think to Knuckles’s portrayal? What did you think to Jim Carrey’s more unhinged performance this time around? Are you disappointed that he wasn’t in a fat suit and which of the many references to the videogames was your favourite Easter Egg? Where do you see the films going from here and are there any Sonic games or characters you’d like to see make an appearance in the future? To share your thoughts on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, sign up to reply below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content in the near future!