Sonic the Hedgehog is sent to earth to avoid villains we may learn about in the now inevitable sequel. After living alone on earth for a decade, his existence is threatened when the evil Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) tries to capture him for study. Teaming up with human Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), Sonic travels across the country to retrieve the magic rings that will allow him to escape to another world.
Sonic often feels like a cynical attempt to appeal to as many people as possible but in particular children and people who grew up in the 90s. In the latter respect the film will almost certainly fail to connect as the humour, characterisation and storytelling is pitched very young. Detective Pikachu managed a more capable balance between the expectations of its audiences last year and that film’s influence on the Sonic character is clear.
This is a film designed for children and is happy to talk down to them. It contains nothing challenging or innovative and ultimately carries a banal message of accepting the status quo over wanting more. The rote sequence in which the townsfolk all turn out in defence of our heroes is particularly awkward as the film forgets to give the folk any role in the climax beyond showing up. It’s all very inconsequential and kids stories benefit from consequences. Bravery must have a cost.
In many ways it is a very 90s film. A buddy road trip movie featuring a character that has inexplicably become trapped on earth. Sidelining the titular character in favour of human friends in a more cost-friendly environment is a very 20th-century trick. Jim Carrey provides a performance reminiscent of his heyday with lots of physicality and bombastic line delivery. The script/improvisational skill isn’t always up to the task of matching his energy but at the very least he’s giving it his all.
The film isn’t without effective moments and indeed a few laughs. James Marsden is fairly charming and manages a good rapport with Ben Schwartz as Sonic. Carey makes for an interesting villain who has a somewhat fun dynamic with our lead character. The action sequences are also well accomplished. Sonic’s speed feels exciting, borrowing some tricks from the quicksilver sequences in X-Men Days of Future Past. However as all of the sequences involve destroying an endless number of similar-looking flying robot balls, it’s hard to get too invested.
It’s also worth saying that the time spent redesigning sonic was absolutely essential. Sonic’s endearing design is an important aspect of the film’s overall tone and his likeability as a character. It would be an even less effective and actually off-putting film had they stuck to their beady-eyed original design. It’s commendable for a studio to admit a mistake and put the time into correcting it, and this aspect of the film has certainly paid off.
Sonic succeeds in being nostalgic but not always positively. Its trite storytelling and risk-averse approach to family entertainment makes this a trip down memory lane that will wear out its novelty very, very fast.