SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
PG, 99 mins.
2020, PG, 99 mins.
Ben Schwartz as Sonic (voice) / James Marsden as Tom Wachowski / Jim Carrey as Dr. Ivo Robotnik / Eggman / Tika Sumpter as Maddie Wachowski / Lee Majdoub as Stone / Frank C. Turner as Crazy Carl / Adam Pally as Billy Robb
Directed by Jeff Fowler / Written by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller
One of the very
first large purchases that I ever made with my own money was a Sega Genesis
game console. I was
13-years-old and felt like I just acquired a Roles Royce.
The first cartridge that I inserted into this fabled system was
Sonic the Hedgehog, which featured a character that was, yes, a
hedgehog that can run at super sonic speeds.
Two things stuck with me as I played it: (1) This is the most
ridiculously fast video game I've ever played and (2) this little blue
haired creature was oddly endearing.
That was thirty-plus years ago, and it's almost unfathomable to consider that Hollywood has not made a feature film version of this video game property...until now.
the video game to movie adaptation genre has certainly had its fair share
of mediocre to awful titles over the years (granted, recent examples like
the terribly underrated TOMB RAIDER
and the thanklessly and epically staged WARCRAFT
have proven that not all examples are wretched).
This may or may not explain why a SONIC THE HEDGEHOG feature film
has taken so long to get off the ground (not helping matters was the fact
that Sega's rival in Nintendo saw their own flagship mascot character in
Mario get turned into a horrendously wrongheaded film in 1993). Plus, this film version has not been without its own share of
controversy (more on that in a bit).
Still, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG contains surprising amounts of modest
charm and wit as an unpretentiously enjoyable family film/video game
adaptation. On top of that,
we get to see a grand comedic re-emergence of Jim Carrey, playing the
insane villain opposite of the titular character, and he hasn't been this
infectiously zany and hilariously unhinged in a film in a long time.
HEDGEHOG does a fairly breezy (and mercifully brief) job of dishing out
all of the expositional particulars of this little speedster.
We're told that Sonic (voiced with snarky - but not annoying -
appeal by Ben Schwartz) lives in a magical kingdom that contains many
nefarious foes that want to capture him and learn what makes him achieve
running speeds that would make The Flash blush with envy.
Realizing his dire predicament, he utilizes some special metal
rings that allow him to teleport to a different universe - our own - and
crash lands in Green Hills, Montana, after which time he spends the next
twenty years in hiding to avoid detection from anyone of both sides of the
alternate worlds. Incidentally,
Green Hills is the same of the zone in the first level of the Sonic video
game, one of the film's many little Easter Eggs and winks.
Sonic's once cozy and clandestine world gets turned upside down on its head,
which also leads to him losing his prized coins that would allow him
future teleportation back to his home world.
Realizing that he may need some assistance from a human, Sonic
teams up with a local town sheriff, Tom (James Marsden), who manages to
take in Sonic's alien appearance, lightning quick reflexes, and ability to
speak fluent English with relative ease. With the knowledge that Sonic's much needed rings are now in San
Francisco (conveniently, also the location of a potential big job offer
for Tom), the pair decide to road trip it out to California and avoid
anyone noticing. Unfortunately
for them, Sonic's actions have caught the attention of the U.S. military,
who have decided to enlist the aid of the self anointed "smartest man in
the world" in Dr. Robotnik (Carrey), who's not only a fiendishly intelligent and crafty scientist ("I'm top banana in a world full of
monkeys!"), but is also very much obsessively crazy.
When he maliciously unleashes every technological tool in his
arsenal to find and catch Sonic, both he and Tom release that their
mission to get to San Fran won't be an easy one.
Even though Sonic is produced entirely in CGI (the source of some of the largest
pre-release chatter about this film...again...more on that in a bit), the
character remains kind of adorably sarcastic and pleasantly expressive,
which is thanks in large part to the solid voice work by Schwartz, who
understands that he's harnessing what's essentially a cartoon character, but
wisely plays him with a well rounded set of relatable, human emotions.
On top of that, I appreciated how first time director Jeff Fowler
shows how passionate he is about the video game's legacy while not being
too aggressively fan service-y (which is a really hard dichotomy to pull off).
Removing Sonic well away from his exotic home world and placing him
in a fish-out-of-water narrative seeing him occupy our own world mostly
pays off, but that's not to say that there isn't winks and nods throughout
to appease the most diehard of Sonic fanboys.
Most importantly, they seem to capture the visual and personality
essence of this character rather well.
Sonic is an agreeable chap, and not one of those overly and
exasperatingly cutesy characters that you just want to dash away from. It's no wonder that Tom takes a liking to him.
And speaking of
appearances, Sonic went through a rather unprecedented visual overhaul
before the film was released, which was tied directly to its now infamous
- and mostly hated - early marketing and trailer campaign that showed him
as a grotesquely humanoid creature that not only haunted fans, but even
upset the character's own creator in Yuji Naka.
The overwhelmingly negative outcry over Sonic's creepy visage led
to Paramount delaying the film by several months so that Fowler and his
VFX teams could completely scrap this design and start fresh again (Fowler
even took to Twitter to explain that he and his team got it wrong and
were on board to fix their mistakes). Now, there's something to be said about the unhealthy amount
of power that social media has in creatively dictating how a film will
come out in final form (generally speaking, it seems like a disturbing artistic trend), but there's no denying that the first Sonic design was an
unholy concoction and Fowler and his team absolutely improved this
character for the better. Yes,
some of the CGI used here seems a bit unpolished and rushed (no doubt
because of time restraints), but his new cuddly form (helped by Schwartz's
unbridled performance enthusiasm) wins the day in the end.
Let's talk about
some of the actors appearing in human form for a bit, like Marsden, who has the
trickiest performance job out of everyone here, seeing as he has give a
credible job serving as understated straight man to all of Sonic's
tomfoolery (Tom and Sonic do make for an warm pair of mismatched misfits).
But, of course, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is utterly owned by Carrey, who
goes full-on hog wild (no pun intended) as his ridiculously egomaniacal
baddie, a role that fully allows the rubber faced and spidery limbed actor
to cut loose in ways her hasn't perhaps since the 1990s.
One of the giddy and hysterical pleasures of Robotnik is just how
much perverse pleasure he takes in cutting off people mid sentence to
explain to them why they don't matter and how they'll never, ever be as
smart as him. Considering
that SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is about an animated character graced with an
outlandish appearance and otherworldly powers, it's compellingly ironic
that Carrey gives the most admirably over-the-top and cartoonish performance in it. Watching
the near 60-year-old actor, in one sly scene, dexterously gyrate and dance
uncontrollably while plotting his mad scheme against Sonic shows that
Carrey hasn't lost a step as an unparalleled physical comedian; he's an
absolute hoot here.
Alas, not all of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is wonderful fun. The road trip/on-a-mission story arc here has been done countless times before and seems a bit too mechanically conceived here. Plus, for every verbal zinger and sight gag that works there are others that simply don't (references to, in no particular order, the FAST AND FURIOUS series, a possible presidential run by Dwayne Johnson, and Olive Garden aren't as funny as this film thinks they are). Some sequences in the film are sort of conceptually lazy, like a would-be inspired slow-mo action scene showing Sonic having his way with some bar patrons that's almost plagiaristic of a similar scenes featuring Quicksilver's powers in the X-MEN films. Lastly, it's hard to ignore that SONIC THE HEDGEHOG - like the less entertaining and more cynical minded POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU from last year - is, in most respects, a cash-grabbing hour and a half-plus product placement commercial. Yet, as far as cash grabbing, hour and a half-plus mass marketed products go - and in large comparison to its historically troubled genre as a whole - SONIC THE HEDGEHOG has a lot more going for it than most, and it eagerly zips along as a fast-paced family adventure that delivers on intended promises. And a lot of Carrey's hammy-to-the extreme, constantly freaking out, latte loving, and literal moustache twirling antagonist here goes an awful long way.