Sonic the Hedgehog is directed by Jeff Fowler. It stars Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, and Jim Carrey. The film is based on the Sega video game series of the same name.
Sonic the Hedgehog lives on a distant world where he’s blessed with super speed. But when his abilities draw attention to him and his surroundings, he escapes to Earth, where he lives in secret. When his abilities again draw the attention of people around him, including the devious government scientist Dr. Robotnik, he allies himself with a skeptical small-town sheriff, heading on a cross-country journey so he may flee Earth and go to another off-the-chart location. But will he make it, or will Robotnik’s machines spell the end of them both?
Let’s be honest – video game-based movies usually suck. It’s a fact of life. Every now and then there’s a gem or a guilty pleasure, but most of them belong at the bottom of the trash heap. Even this new feature film take on Sonic the Hedgehog struck audiences the wrong way at first glance, as earlier trailers featured a redesign of the character that prompted the film to be delayed so the studios could re-redesign the character's body in a format closer to that of the video games. How does Sega’s mascot’s long-awaited foray into the world of feature films measure up?
I’d put this above most other game-based movies, but still not quite in “must-see” territory.
Casting is one area in which the movie doesn’t disappoint. Ben Schwartz captures Sonic’s attitude perfectly, regardless of what kind of emotion he’s showing at the time. From touching moments to more dramatic ones, he nails every facet of the character. The skeptical small-town sheriff, played by James Marsden (Cyclops from the X-Men movies) behaves just as you’d expect someone to under the bizarre and surreal circumstances the movie throws at him, and it makes him an excellent and entertaining foil to our blue furred hero.
But the true standout part in the film is Jim Carrey, portraying the villainous Dr. Robotnik. There was a brief period in the mid 90s where Carrey was the biggest star in the world, showcasing his comedic talent, though his highlights have been far more hit-and-miss in recent years. With Robotnik, Carrey plays one of his most hilarious roles in years, devious and villainous but delivering the laughs around every corner. I feel rather odd saying it’s THIS movie that let Carrey cut loose and give his best comedic performance in two decades, but he’s easily the best thing about this movie. It’s impossible not to laugh when he’s on camera.
The movie also succeeds in giving audiences some interesting locales along the journey, from the fantasy worlds Sonic hails from, to plenty of interesting sights on the trans-American road trip which much of the film consists of. The visual effects (I’m glad they redesigned Sonic from that disastrous trailer for the final film) don’t disappoint either, and I’m glad to see the movie never fully descends into CGI hell the way so many of its game-based action brethren do, trying to bring a human element into things, even if it does so with mixed results and stock characters.
Unfortunately, it may not quite be the movie fans want. The biggest issue I have here is that the movie takes place primarily on Earth, rather than the exotic settings of the video games which are largely inhabited by an eccentric cast of anthropomorphic animals. You’ll wish there were more familiar faces from the games, as well as locations. You’ve got a huge cast of Sonic characters… USE THEM! (A mid-credits scene shows that if we get a sequel, though, we might be able to expect more of the game cast.)
The movie also simply tries to throw too much at the audience. Marsden’s sheriff character is evidently hated by his sister-in-law, who wants her to get a divorce. These scenes felt like they belonged in a different movie, and her hate of him is never explained. One of the oddest decisions is to set a key action sequence in a biker bar, despite the movie being rated PG and intended for kids and families. And, of course, the movie can’t resist the all-too-common cheap toilet humor gags (though fortunately they’re not as widespread as some other family movies of recent memory). And what's with all the pop culture references and product placement?
Another issue is the fact that nearly everything this movie does, another movie has done it, usually better. There are scenes of Sonic showing off his super speed which involve the rest of the setpieces in slow motion; these are blatantly ripped off from Quicksilver’s scenes in the X-Men movies, which were far more entertaining. Can't we come up with another way to depict super speed on film? Likewise, the relationship between Marsden’s character and Sonic never quite reaches the same heights as the “human and beast” camaraderie from another game-based film, Pokemon Detective Pikachu (and I’d still recommend that film over this one).
Sonic the Hedgehog has a solid cast, some great action sequences, and it should mostly manage to entertain. But it’s held back by elements done better in other films and its scattershot narrative. That said, the two mid-credits sequences have me hopeful for a sequel which could be better and bringing in more of the classic Sonic universe. It’s a good but not great film. Go see it in theaters if you’re bored, but otherwise, rent it when it hits home formats.
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars out of four.
DISCLAIMER: All images in this review are the property of their respective holders, including Paramount, Sega, Original Film, Marza, and Blur. For promotional use only. All rights reserved.