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Tharidi Walimunige | April 4, 2022

Infamous for the altogether uncanny early animation that sparked a wave of viral memes and outcries for redesigns, the translation of Sonic the Hedgehog to the silver screen was a journey of trial and error. Heralded by much more peaceful and pleasant press than its predecessor, the second film of the series marks the filmmakers finding their stride. As all good sequels should do, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 retains the core elements that worked well in the first film and uses those as a foundation to develop character arcs and key themes, while also leaving room to sprinkle in new content to expand audiences’ understanding of the story world. Whether you are a longtime fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog video game franchise created by Sega in the 90s, or have gained a new appreciation for this blue hedgehog through his cinematic turn, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 boasts plenty to entertain.

The sequel follows Sonic (Ben Schwartz) settling into life in Green Hills, Montana with his pseudo human family; Tom and Maddie Wachowski (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter). Having been accepted by his new community on Earth, quirks and all, Sonic is now eager to use his power of super-speed for good. But his quest to serve justice is waylaid when villain Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) returns from interplanetary exile and brings with him a fearsome warrior, Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Teaming up with his own furry friend, Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), Sonic must prove his heroic calling and stop Doctor Robotnik from getting his hands on an emerald that has the power to destroy civilisations.       

Exciting action sequences brimming with explosions, carnage and over-the-top fight styles are all well and good. Fantastical imaginations of creatures and out-of-this-world systems certainly pique my interest and tempt my wallet towards the cinema. But like having icing with no cake, I’m not truly satisfied unless my fun, family flicks contain a serving of substance. It’s just Sonic, you chortle. Why are you taking it seriously, you snipe? Well, you’re the one reading my 1000+ words on a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, so let’s hold off on casting judgement, shall we? All I mean to say is that I’ve often found movies perceived as mere fodder for little ones to actually be rather reliable in delivering a full-bodied experience of solid narratives, endearing characters, wise life lessons, fun times and even a gooey, heartfelt centre. After all, doesn’t it say a lot that films like Home Alone (1990), Toy Story (1995) and Matilda (1996) can stand the test of time and contribute to shaping childhood learning? If you’re looking for an escape from reality that will have you leaving the cinema fizzing with good vibes and a nostalgia for the days of weekend movie dates with your mates and a smuggled bag of convenience store treats, then Sonic the Hedgehog 2 may just be the school holiday flick for a tired-stressed-it’s-already-week-6-?-!-#DONE-what’s-up-with-adulting uni student such as yourself.

One of the aspects that resonated with me most from the first Sonic film, and that I was thrilled to see nurtured in the sequel, is the emphasis on an emotional backbone to the outlandish action. The human characters present in the films never existed in the games so their inclusion in Sonic’s cinematic renditions are significant. The choice to root Sonic on Earth and have his origin story revolve around concepts relevant to humans—acceptance, finding love, protecting your community— grounds him and provides a point of emotional connection between the film and its audience. Under the vision of director Jeff Fowler, this entirely new layer to Sonic’s characterisation encourages a more complex and memorable impression of the hedgehog beyond a smashing, speeding, wise-cracking protagonist. Beyond their impact of Sonic, the human characters each had a purpose and resonated with their own brand of humour. I felt the film managed the accomplishment of juggling a substantial ensemble through the clever solution of breaking the cast into smaller groups and subplots that coexisted and eventually converged neatly.

Furthermore, varying types of relationships between the characters were explored and reinforced the film series’ core value of found family. With Sonic the Hedgehog 2 building on its interpersonal dynamics, Sonic’s own arc develops in a natural and believable way reminiscent of superhero origin stories. He must juggle adolescence, familial relationships, and heroic destiny. I thought Sonic’s emotional struggles were executed well; they were simply yet solidly threaded throughout the narrative. Moral lessons and bonding moments in the first half of the runtime paid off by the resolution and the heartfelt core remains an integral feature to the film’s resonance.                                   

Sonic’s character arc is not the only aspect that will remind you of other films. This film is brimming with pop culture references. Whether to prove it can speak the language of its youthful target audience or because it believes the references substitute for personality, the film doles out many a quip and visual cue that harkens back to the pop culture properties of old. At times the one-liners become one too many and unnecessarily diffuse the tension. This is very much a film that feels the need to have a character fill every silence with a quip. But since there were several moments when the audience sitting alongside me in the theatre didn’t react at all to the witty remarks, I think this comedic device lost steam towards the end of the film. When they did land, the pop culture call-backs were astute. The most obvious reference for this film is of course, the source material. More so than for the first film, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 flaunts action sequences that seem to have leaped straight out of a video game. Pay attention to the end credits of the film where scenes from the sequel have been animated in the style of a retro Sonic game, and you’ll realise how seamlessly the action set-pieces of this film marry with the video game aesthetic and energy. Beyond this, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is also in conversation with various superhero titles, adventure flicks and family comedies through its littering of name-drops, easter eggs, parodies, and visual inspirations.

Speaking of visuals, the animation for this sequel was a delight for my eyes to feast upon. This film isn’t afraid to indulge in gratuitous explosions, vibrant colour palettes and visual effects that would make any fangirl or fanboy squeal. The character designs for newcomers Tails and Knuckles are crisp, capturing the essence of the source material while modifying effectively to have them blend in with the live-action surroundings. As I mentioned at the start of my review, this is a lesson well-learnt by the filmmakers from the disastrously viral early design of Sonic, and now they’ve nailed how to adapt the alien characters to the silver screen in a way that keeps them visually appealing. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a live-action adaptation that embraces its cartoonish roots—a rare and valuable accomplishment. You only have to recall the numerous Disney adaptations that foolishly decided dull and gritty was the way to go, to appreciate when a film actually honours the weird, wonderful stuff that made people love the story world in the first place.

The Sonic sequel doesn’t shy away from the unrealistic or bold, rather revels in it, and the visual appearance of the film reflects this through its riot of colours and textures. Complementing this is an unapologetic stance on over-the-top portrayals of characters like the zany Doctor Robotnik, as well as a refusal to hold back on outlandish comedy. In fact, some of the funniest moments involved the actors letting loose for slapstick shticks. This is a sprightly film from start to finish. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is best experienced if you match its lively energy and freely go along for the ride. So don’t pick this flick if you tend to put on your nitpicking hat or gnaw on the bone of logistics. Indeed, the film may not even give you much room to tear it down. The narrative is held together quite tightly with a solid cause-and-effect threading of plot events and its sprinkling of world-building details to bolster an understanding of the story world. If nothing else, the spirited visuals, cast and action sequences will be sure to entertain.      

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 answers the expectations set by its successful predecessor by delivering another fun, lively, humorous, and earnest instalment to the series. With values of family, selflessness and acceptance at its core, this film may not boast a new or unique moral message, but given humanity still has a way to go in learning to love and accept ourselves and each other, it’s a message worth being reminded of next time we go to the movies. 

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Tharidi Walimunige

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