Movie Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Does this adaptation of the Blue Blur’s adventures do the franchise justice?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 02/17/2020 19:49 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
The redesign was a blessing, because the movie wouldn't work without it; great performances by Schwartz, Marsden, and Carrey; Robotnik is a scene-stealer in the best way; delightful easter eggs, including a musical cue right at the end; sequel is positioned to be even better
Poison Mushroom for...
Some superficial bits of characterization take away from more emotional/dramatic moments towards the end; the plot might be too thin for some fans

Warning: Spoilers and plot details for Sonic the Hedgehog are in this review!

Fans have been waiting years for Sonic the Hedgehog to hit theaters; the first rumblings of a movie starring Sega’s famous mascot came as far back as the early ’90s in the letters column of his old Archie Comics series. In the decades since, the film has gone through a whole litany of different creative hands until finally landing in those of director Jeff Fowler and distributor Paramount. When word came that Sonic the Hedgehog would be hitting the silver screen in 2019, everything was coming up roses… until that first trailer dropped. Ouch. Sonic looked like a nightmare version of his usual self. The design was so universally and vocally panned (even Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka chimed in on Twitter to voice his displeasure) that Paramount and Fowler went to the airwaves to declare Sonic was delayed until 2020 and getting a new look.

Well, the redesign came and was widely embraced as awesome, and now the film itself is in the wild. The verdict? What a delightful reversal from the potential disaster that this movie could have been. When I saw the first trailer, other than the odd choice of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise playing in the background, the only actual issue I had with that glimpse of the film was how ugly Sonic looked. Just listening to actor Ben Schwartz’s portrayal of Sonic, however, and the interplay between he and actor James Marsden’s Tom Wachowski, it was clear to me that Fowler had a solid understanding of the character. Prior to the redesign and the general kerfuffle over the design of Sonic, I truly believed that the movie could be a fun take on the series— as it turns out, my intuition here was on the money.

The movie opens appropriately enough with Sonic being bombarded with munitions by Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robtnik. The chase is narrated by Sonic, who brings the story all the way back to his origins as a youngster under the care of a character named Longclaw the Owl. Sonic possesses a mysterious “power” (which turn out to be some wickedly potent electrical quills that cover his body) that he’s told bad guys will always lust after. As the pair are attacked by mysterious enemies in their home, Longclaw gives Sonic a bag of his iconic rings, which act as portals to other worlds, and tells him to always flee whenever he’s in danger. Sonic makes his way to earth where he takes up residence in Montana in a small town (fittingly) called Green Hills.

The movie’s first half establishes Sonic’s sense of isolation as he spends his days looking from the outside in at the community of Green Hills. Of particular interest to him are Tom, the town’s sheriff, and his wife Maddie (played by Tika Sumpter). Sonic longs to not live in hiding. Despite the danger, he can’t help but bring himself closer and closer to outing himself to the town, which is played as a hilarious gag with the town’s “conspiracy theorist” who’s actually completely right about his sightings of what he calls “the blue devil.” While no one is going to walk away with an Oscar for their acting in this film, there’s no denying the heart that Schwartz injected into his portrayal of Sonic. Sonic is young, full of energy, and very alone when the audience meets him, and it’s hard not to root for someone so earnest and genuine.

When Sonic’s powers flash out of control for a moment, he shorts out the electrical grid of Green Hills and brings the attention of the US government to the town. In order to figure out what’s happening, the government calls in Carrey’s Ivo Robtnik, a mastermind with technology who hates people, including his hilariously devout henchman Agent Stone (played by Lee Majdoub). It’s here that the movie really starts to lean into its over-the-top, wild plot and in many instances casts realism and logic out the window. When Sonic turns to Marsden’s Tom for help, Tom bafflingly throws his entire future into the wind in order to help someone who is an absolute stranger to him. Yet, Marsden imbues Tom with such a calm, casual demeanor that even if the choices he makes seem downright insane at times, it doesn’t matter— this movie is here for a good time, not to bring gritty realism to the Sonic mythos.

As such, the breakneck pacing of the film works wonderfully. Once Robotnik is on the hunt, Sonic and Tom careen from one misadventure to the next. Elements of the movie’s humor threw me for a loop in that they came close to being edgier than one might expect in a film rated PG. This is especially true of Carrey’s Robotnik. Carrey steals almost every scene he’s in with his deranged, villainous turn as Eggman. Like Schwartz, Carrey’s portrayal of Robotnik is every inch what fans have come to expect from the character— I’d go so far as to say that some of the extra mania Carrey inserts here should be adopted in the video game version of the good doctor. Sumpter’s Maddie plays well with Tom— they’re relationship is warm without being overly sappy. Like her husband, it’s played completely straight when she decides to risk everything to help Sonic, and within the framework of the film it works. By the time the final act comes around, there’s a palpable sense of satisfaction watching Sonic make his final stand against Robotnik because of the wonderful cast that surrounds him.

Special shout outs must be made to Adam Pally as Tom’s righthand man Wade Whipple and Madjoub’s Agent Stone. Whipple is hilariously inept, while Stone’s tolerance for Robotnik’s tyrannical outbursts has to be seen to be believed. Again, this is a movie that makes no qualms about being ridiculous, but the way it’s all handled allows the silliness to flourish. Not that there aren’t any stakes here— Robotnik becomes obsessed with capturing Sonic almost immediately, and his actions grow more and more dangerous with each subsequent attack. There’s a lot of good action in Sonic the Hedgehog. Definitely keep an eye open for an amazingly elaborate altercation in a bar for one of the best bits of choreography in the movie. Keep the other eye open for the various easter eggs on display, too (for those wondering, Sonic’s favorite food absolutely is not forgotten).

If there’s any glaring shortcoming in Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s that some of the emotional beats lack impact due to the largely superficial nature of the character interactions. The arbitrary ways in which characters like Tom and Maddie decide to join Sonic mean that key moments between the characters at the end don’t quite have the gravitas that they probably should. By the time the credits roll, Sonic has a new life and a new family, but the struggle to get there never genuinely felt like it was in danger of failing. Still, it’s a small gripe in a film loaded with laughs, good action, and actors who proudly embraced the zaniness of their roles. This is a must-see for fans of Sonic and even those who are simply looking for a satisfying adventure movie.

A couple final thoughts: first off, that mid-credits stinger is a doozy. All I’ll say is that I think most fans will agree with me when I say that there won’t be a redesign needed this time around. Secondly, the movie positions Carrey’s Robotnik to start metamorphosing into a version of the enemy that looks more faithful to the video games. Not that Carrey’s Ivo doesn’t work as-is in the film, but it’s still welcome to think that he might be even more of an accurate depiction in the future!

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