Starring: James Marsden (Enchanted), Ben Schwartz (Parks & Recreation), Tika Sumpter (Think Like A Man), Colleen O’Shaughnessey (Digimon), Idris Elba (The Suicide Squad), Jim Carrey (The Truman Show)
Director: Jeff Fowler (Sonic the Hedgehog)
Writers: Patrick Casey & Josh Miller (Transylmania) and John Whittington (The Lego Batman Movie)
Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes
Release Date: 1st April (UK), 8th April (US)
Synopsis: When the maniacal Dr. Robotnik returns with the revenge-driven echidna Knuckles in tow, Sonic must team up with his plucky new friend Tails to find the all-powerful Master Emerald before Robotnik can use it for world domination.
The first Sonic the Hedgehog was hardly a grounbreaking piece of cinema, but it was an enjoyable and harmless family film that didn’t take itself too seriously and packed in just enough treats for franchise fans to keep them enticed. That doesn’t seem like much, but by video game movie standards it was a breath of fresh air and proved to be a step above the Alvin and the Chipmunks-style disaster most were expecting. Of course, the biggest pop of the movie came in its mid-credits scene teasing the arrival of Sonic’s long-time companion Tails, and now Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is here to deliver on that promise and more. Whilst still far from being a perfect recreation of the games, this sequel certainly leans harder into them and for the better, crafting a more confident and entertaining follow-up that’s sure to please kids and fans of Sega’s mascot.
Picking up roughly eight months after the events of the first movie, Sonic 2 wastes little time in re-establishing the world and characters and, for the most part, moves as quickly from there as the Blue Blur himself. Learning a good lesson from the first film (and most adaptations of this ilk), the new story wisely relegates Sonic’s human supporting cast to the sidelines and focuses in more on the title character and his fantastical friends and foes. The scale here is immense compared to the first film’s road trip approach, turning the adventure into a globe-trotting treasure hunt with a lot more action and world-ending stakes. That’s not to say the movie hasn’t abandoned the family comedy aspects, with the human characters getting their own subplot at a Hawaiian wedding and a totally superfluous dance number in the second act. These moments can occasionally feel like padding to fill out the simple save-the-world plot, but they’re luckily over before they wear out their welcome and there’s enough solid humour in them that they’re far from a total waste.
Ultimately though, the key question is simple: is Sonic the Hedgehog 2 fun? The answer is just as simple: yes, quite a bit. It’s not nutritious or always logical, but it knows its audience and caters to them with aplomb. There’s never a dull moment, it moves at a solid pace, the humour is quippy and cartoony in a good way, and the final act delivers the exact kind of go-for-broke bonkers finale you’d want out of a Sonic movie. Top it all off with another mid-credits tease that outdoes the first, and you’ve got yourself honestly the best movie you could reasonably expect about Sonic the Hedgehog.
Though James Marsden still oddly takes top billing despite getting less screentime than almost every other named character in the movie, Sonic 2 unequivocally belongs to Ben Schwartz as the titular speedy mammal. Whilst not every joke lands, Schwartz throws them out with such speed and exhuberance that it’s hard not to laugh along with him, but this time around he also gets a lot more opportunites to humanise Sonic and give him a little more emotional depth. It’s hardly anything revolutionary, but it’s more than you’d expect and does a lot to heighten the film. Tails, unfortunately, doesn’t get quite the same love. Whilst it’s lovely to hear Colleen O’Shaughnessey reprising the role and she imbues him with a lot of innocence and devotion, Tails as a character is sorely underdeveloped. His origins and motivations are explained very hastily, and his purpose in the story is mostly perfunctory; if it wasn’t for the first film bigging him up, you could easily write him out and not lose much. Thankfully, whilst Tails is a bit of letdown, Knuckles is easily the film’s best new addition. He’s basically a more kid-friendly version of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy: a hulking brute driven by revenge but who doesn’t understand sarcasm and empathy. It’s a bit that keeps getting funnier every time it’s about to wear out its welcome, and Idris Elba’s deadpan delivery just makes it even more hilarious; it’s easy to see why they’ve already greenlit a Paramount+ spin-off series for him.
On the homo sapien side of things, Jim Carrey continues to ham it up as a more visually-faithful take on Dr. Robotnik, turning his unhinged levels up to eleven and just has a blast. As said before, Marsden’s Tom Wachowski is mostly relegated to cheerleading duties as Sonic’s surrogate dad, but surprisingly it’s the rest of his extended family that gets more to do. Tika Sumpter has a more active role as Tom’s wife Maddie, and for a good ten minutes the movie basically turns into a side vehicle for Natasha Rothwell as her sister Rachel. It’s an amusing bit and Rothwell really sells the pissed-off Bridezilla vibes, but it’s a plot cul-de-sac that resolves as quickly as it’s introduced and never comes up again. Adam Pally and Lee Majdoub also return as Tom’s bumbling deputy Wade and Robotnik’s sychophantic aide Agent Stone respectively, but the movie doesn’t really know what to do with them. Pally shows up sporadically throughout to do his usual awkward comedy shtick, and whilst Majdoub gets a big reintroduction and hints at some evolution in his relationship with Robotnik, it ends up going nowhere with the vague promise it may be resolved in a third film.
When it comes to spectacle, Sonic 2 is a massive upgrade from the first film. Though they’ve showed off a good chunk of them in the trailers, there’s a great deal more action set pieces here and they’re all executed with a lot of flair and imagination. The initial battle between Sonic and Knuckles as they tear up the Wachowski home is good and the Siberian snowboarding avalanche chase is even better, but nothing tops the finale back in Green Hills that really brings the speed and madness of the games to life. When it’s just the animated characters and Robotnik, the movie is a real visual treat, but again when it comes back to the humans it looks like a pretty standard studio comedy and it doesn’t gel as well with the video game elements. It’s so bizarre to see how they’ve upgraded the aesthetic of one half of the film whilst left the other basically the same, and hopefully in the next one they can make it a more seamless blend of styles.
The visual effects are mostly pretty solid for what are very cartoony designs, with a lot of great animation details on Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, though there are a few shots where I swear the models looked a little grainy like they were rendered at the wrong resolution. There’s also some shoddy compositing and rotoscoping around Robotnik during the action scenes; there’s some shots where I swear they’ve feathered his edges way too much. Despite those little nitpicks, the movie overall is a solid improvement on an aesthetic level, and capping it off with another 16-bit-inspired end credits sequence is a nice way to send the audience home nostalgic.
In my review of the first film, I hoped that a Sonic sequel needed to meet the “apologetically dumb fun” levels of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and the 2017 Power Rangers movie; two other retro franchise adaptations that knew what they were and revelled in their goofiness. Well, I’m pleased to say the final result meets those desires. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 isn’t quite the best video game movie yet, but it’s very comfortably in the top five at least. It embraces its source material more wholeheartedly and does a admirable job of bringing in more of what the fans expect whilst still fitting within the groundwork set by its predecessor. Those who who didn’t find charm in the previous movie will likely not be swayed, but it takes the franchise in the right direction and sets the stage for a promising third installment.
FINAL VERDICT: 7/10