Last week I reviewed “Morbius,” a film whose constant delays in release turned it into a punchline. Next week I’ll review the new “Fantastic Beasts,” part of a franchise whose behind-the-scenes scandals have turned it into a punchline. Sandwiched between the two is “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” an agreeable, lighthearted affair whose only crime is being a sequel to a film whose disastrous first trailer turned it into a punchline three years ago.
One of the very few bright spots of the 2020 domestic box office was the success of “Sonic the Hedgehog.” The Sega video game adaptation made $148 million, making it one of only two movies to pass $100 million in that pandemic-tainted year. More importantly, it became the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time. Short of a pandemic-sized roadblock, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is on track to break that record thanks to a $71 million opening weekend and Easter right around the corner. Not bad for a franchise that gave the world one of its most hated CGI monstrosities when the first trailer was released in 2019. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the gangly, human-toothed Sonic from that trailer caused a months-long delay while the character was redesigned. But the rework paid off, as it led to both critical and commercial success for the film, not to mention interest in the sequel.
The new chapter starts with the villainous Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) escaping exile on a mushroom planet thanks to his trademark ingenuity and a hand from new ally Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Back on Earth, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) makes a mess of foiling a bank robbery. His parent-like human ally Tom (James Marsden) tells him he needs to be more responsible, so he puts him in charge of the house while he and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) go to a wedding in Hawaii. Sonic isn’t punished or made to fix the damage he’s done, he just gets the house to himself for the weekend, and immediately gets to partying.
The party is short-lived, however, as trouble soon finds Sonic in the form of Robotnik and Knuckles. Fortunately, new fox ally Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessy) emerges to help fend the villains off. From there the movie becomes a two-on-two race to see who can find an all-powerful emerald first. Adventure and gags ensue. It’s been less than two months since “Uncharted” and two weeks since “The Lost City,” so the movie is striking a very familiar tone with its treasure hunters, but at least here it's with more likeable characters.
To be honest, I didn’t care about the emerald stuff at all (Tails is noticeably flat in his exposition). I found much more enjoyment in Sonic/Tails/Robotnik/Knuckles relationship, as the characters learn lessons about courage, compassion, trust, and yes, responsibility. If any storyline in this movie is particularly “engaging,” it’s the wedding between Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) and fiancé Randall (Shemar Moore, who could very easily replace John Stamos as the poster boy for never aging). I know people don’t go to see a Sonic the Hedgehog movie for wedding hijinks, but the jokes in these scenes just land at a better rate than in non-wedding scenes.
The bad news is that I’m not ready to say that “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” breaks my streak of having never seen a “good” video game movie. The story picks some bad times to not take itself seriously, the blurry action did nothing for me, and I was really feeling the runtime toward the end. The good news is that there’s nothing painfully unfunny or disagreeable here. Jim Carrey is in tip-top comedic form (I hope he’s not serious about retiring from acting) and all the characters are likeable in one way or another. I wouldn’t say this movie should be a priority for adults, but’s it’s fine as a choice for families with kids.
“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor, and mild language. Its running time is 122 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.