As a young child, Steven Spielberg’s Hook was one of my favorite movies. The kind where you’d wear out the VHS tape and your parents’ patience when such a thing was possible (today only parents’ nerves can fray). It wasn’t until I was older that I became aware that almost every grown-up loathed that picture in ‘91—including my parents. And Spielberg. Yet when I watch that movie still, I can’t really see the flaws. Nostalgia and John Williams’ sonic joys are too blinding.
The memory of this came back while watching Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Which is not to say that one should draw a direct line of comparison between Sonic director Jeff Fowler and Steven Spielberg, even at the latter’s most saccharine. If there was a ‘90s family movie equivalent to Sonic 2, it might be one of those Beethoven sequels given how many gags there are with the titular CGI blue character cuddling with a real-life dog. Or perhaps Air Bud. Truthfully, it has most in common with the ghastly fad of mid-2000s studios turning ancient cartoon properties—your Alvin and the Chipmunks, Scooby-Doos, and Smurfs —into garish digital eyesores.
Nevertheless, while sitting in a Saturday matinee audience filled with young families and children of just about every single-digit age group, the infectious laughter and pleasure they had at seeing these characters talk about “butt helicopters” made it clear the movie works for its target audience. And nothing I write about this picture in 2022 will prevent it from being a nostalgic touchstone in 2032. Through that prism, it’s kind of nice.
For everyone else though, know upfront Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still a dire time at the multiplex. The kind where even the most gloppy helpings of neon CG blue can look beige after two full hours.
Picking up more or less where the last Sonic the Hedgehog movie left off, we find the spiky ball of fur, who is still winningly voiced by Ben Schwartz, settling into domestic bliss with his surrogate parents Tom (James Marsden) and Maddie (Tika Sumpter). By night Sonic moonlights as a Batman-wannabe for a visual gag, but otherwise he’s still mostly a young kid who likes to play baseball and go fishing on the weekends with Tom. He likes it even more, too, when Tom and Maddie go to Hawaii for the weekend to attend the wedding of Maddie’s sister, Rachel (Natasha Rothwell). Remember her?
Alas, all this sweetness is soon shattered(!) when Dr. Robotnik, aka Eggman (Jim Carrey), escapes from the mushroom planet he was banished to because—well I’m not really sure. It has something to do with a red echidna named Knuckles (Idris Elba, picking up a paycheck) and some Tolkien-esque war between alien owls and computer generated porcupines. I wish I could tell you more about how it all worked, but I doubt even the screenwriters know. The point is Knuckles is now teaming up with Robotnik, and they’re coming to Earth to lay some pain on Sonic and find a mystical MacGuffin called the Master Emerald. There’s also a talking fox with two tails named… Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey). Sure, why not?
As dismissive as one can be about the plot mechanics of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the movie has undeniably learned from the mistakes of the first film and in most ways is a demonstrable step up. For starters, there is a lot less of Carrey mugging at the camera, which is always something to go in the plus column. The Canadian funnyman is still on-hand to glumly recycle his Riddler schtick from Batman Forever (1995), but since most of his screen time this go-round is opposite a red digital critter to be added later, there’s a lot less opportunities for him to improvise jokes almost as old as the Sonic franchise itself—although I’ll concede to a chuckle at one Limp Bizkit dig, not least of all because it will surely lead to conversations between families about what is a biscuit and why is it limp?
But what will make this sequel be received even better by Sonic video game fans is that it leans a lot more into the games’ influences than the last movie. There are fewer recycled gags from a Smurfs movie (though plenty abound in the first act) and plenty more nods to secret temples, giant spikes, and a scene where a fox pilots a biplane as it does battle with a King Kong-sized robot.
Although, perhaps tellingly, the best stuff might be neither when Schwartz’s Sonic is still going Risky Business with the dog or when his hedgehog is out-snowboarding an avalanche. Frankly, it’s when all the anthropomorphic characters are off-screen, and Marsden and Rothwell are getting to do light sitcom banter as Sonic’s father figure deals with the hedgehog’s shenanigans on one end via the phone and the cold fury of a sister-in-law whose wedding day hangs in the balance. It’s stuff kids will be absolutely bored by, but for their parents it’s a nice CG-free reprieve, and a chance for Rothwell to steal scenes.
I suppose this all is a bit of a long-winded way of telling parents, it could be worse? You saw the worst version of this movie in 2020, and the sequel flies by a little more passably while the target audience thrills at seeing Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails interact for the first time on the big screen. For the last reason, some older-skewing gamers, or just those with fond memories of Sega Genesis and Dreamcast glory days, might be drawn in. But unless you’re a diehard devotee to the Sonic lore who’s kept up with it across all its media disseminations, this is still a bit of a trudge, even with a motion blur filter on.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 opens in theaters on Friday, April 8.