Sonic 2 cements it: The hedgehog movie is the best thing video games have ever done

If you had told me I would be sitting in a screening in a second Sonic the Hedgehog Movie, on opening day, and hearing the end of the movie greeted with a faint cheer as loud as the ones I heard at the end of a midnight screening of Avengers Endgame, I would never have believed you. If you had told me after that disastrous first trailer for the first Sonic movie, I would have categorized you. And yet, here we are: It happened.

I’m really glad I never made it to any of the pre-screenings of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, because while it would have been nice to see it sooner, it gave me the more organic experience I have today. I saw it in a real theater, about two-thirds full, the first showing near me, early afternoon on theatrical release day, in a room full of people – kids with parents, tweens and the occasional older longtime fan.

There’s an energy in the room at screenings like this, and that energy can tell you a lot about a film. What it told me about Sonic 2 was simple: I didn’t just enjoy it because I had laser-calibrated my decades-honed sense of Sonic fandom — I enjoyed it because it was a good film in its own right. It’s by no means perfect, but very high highs and fairly modest lows make this an easy recommendation and definitely one of the best movies based on video games.

To an extent, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has that strong second album gene that’s found in some of the Marvel movies (although, to be clear, it’s more Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 as Thor: The Dark World). After a bumpy, uncertain origin story, the writers now know what to do with these characters – and it makes for a wonderfully confident script that plays to the strengths of the film and the source material alike.

Leading the charge is Jim Carrey in a zany, over-the-top performance as the now-crazy Dr. Robotnik, which feels like a late-career renaissance to him, returning to the exuberant eccentricity that made him so popular in the ’90s. Ben Schwartz returns as the perfect Sonic, and this time he’s joined by Idris Elba (Knuckles) and Sonic Game veteran Colleen O’Shaughnessey (Tails).

The rest of the human supporting cast from the first film also return, albeit all in slightly reduced roles. A common sentiment with these films is that one resents spending time with humans instead of Sonic — but perhaps the biggest trick Sonic 2 pulls is taking James Marsden’s Tom and Maddie Wachowski and Tika Sumpter and theirs Fully embed extended families into the storyline of Sonic and friends. Her adoption of Sonic as a strange little alien son is central to the film’s themes, and it is indeed difficult to imagine this version of Sonic lore without these characters continuing to play at least a minor role. That’s a big upgrade in my opinion considering I left the last film thinking they were ok but hoping the sequel would write them out entirely.


The way these characters are used owes much to a screenplay that was surprisingly adept at crafting it for a “video feature film.” To be honest, on paper this story needs to do a few things: Sonic and Tails need to meet and become believable best friends in record time. Sonic and Knuckles must develop a rivalry. Robotnik needs to come back from where it was relegated at the end of the first film and evolve into something closer to its gaming counterpart. Lore about Chaos Emeralds and ancient societies must be established, and Sonic must nurture his relationship with his human caretakers. That’s a lot for any film that’s manageable in what is admittedly a little too long a two-hour runtime (including credits).

But somehow and inexplicably, director Jeff Fowler and screenwriters Pat Casey, Josh Miller, and John Whittington pulled it off. When the film has to turn people off to give Sonic and Tails time for a mini-adventure to cement their friendship, it doesn’t feel painfully artificial. Sonic and Tails’ cementing of friendship involves a silly action scene but ends with a surprising emotional rawness that sees their relationship fully cemented. When people come back to the story, it feels like a natural transition. If you step back, you can absolutely see the cold, artisanal reasoning behind this structure, but at best you just don’t care. It still engages you, aside from the fact that irritating product placement and pop culture references don’t go over well.

A good adaptation should use the media shift to enhance the source material. What makes Detective Pikachu work, for example, is that it tries to keep the games canon and present the world of Pokemon from a different angle. Tomb Raider and Uncharted are okay but feel more red because they tread a lot on the same ground as the games without really adding much. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat felt like they existed in the games shadow, mostly for the worse. It’s arguably due to the simplicity of the source material, but thanks to its medium, Sonic is able to improve upon the simplest of the series concepts.


Take the trifecta of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. Their strengths as portrayed in the games are replicated here – speed, intelligence and strength. But it just works better in the movie. Knuckles’ strength can be flaunted without, you know, imprecise combat and garbage emerald hunting. Tails and his gadgets keep playing a key role that doesn’t amount to throwing him into a boring mech as an anti-robotnik.

Much of this setup is likely owed to some degree to the way Marvel has demonstrated a scalpel-precise method of weaving different heroes together in their superhero crossovers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the third act of Sonic 2 shows a circular shot of the three preparing for an enemy attack and then going into battle that mirrors absolutely similar shots avenger and age of ultron. Oddly enough, it also feels better in that moment than any DC film that’s also tried to emulate those moments.

The core story is fairly inconsequential – a world-spanning romp that’s serviceable but exists mainly to facilitate Carrey’s landscape chewing and the interactions of the three anthropomorphic heroes. It’s a hybrid of the second and third Sonic games that fans will enjoy, with a sprinkling of elements and references from other games including Sonic Adventure 2, the military organization GUN, and Robotnik’s lackey, who owns a cafe called The Mean Bean’ owns.

Crucially, this stuff is done in a way that’s fun for the fans but is more of a wink than an elbow in the ribs. It doesn’t get in the way of what’s most important: This is a family movie for children, including those who have never seen old games released decades before they were born. The source material is treated with reverence, but not as an unassailable god.

The result is a riotous adventure that represents a subtle but measurable small improvement over its predecessor. The biggest point I can make against that, as mentioned, is the length. There’s a lot to cover, but two hours for a kid-friendly caper still feels too long, and it’s easy to see where sequences like a montage of Sonic home alone, a wedding gone awry for the human characters, and Ein Tanz-Off could all have been trimmed to cut the running time by about 15 minutes.

But we’ll come back to that ending. As the credits rolled, decorated with some really gorgeous game tribute sprite art, people started applauding. It started in a corner where a bunch of guys in their late twenties were sitting and then spread out. I have to be clear here: this is also in Great Britain. Cinema applause is not common here at all. I’ve pretty much only experienced it in Star Wars and Marvel movies. And now Sonic. In a room packed with the film’s target audience, the reaction seemed to be one of utter glee. As a post-credits stinger teased what’s coming next, a girl, who couldn’t have been much older than 10, shot out of her seat a few rows with excitement and whispered a character’s name to her parents.

That’s probably the most impressive thing here. From an initial disaster trailer to a redesign, the Sonic film was a story of redemption. The sequel is completely imperfect in some ways – much like the Sonic games. But it holds the landing and is great fun. I expect it will make its money – and a third film and Knuckles spin-off TV show starring Elba are already on the way.

Does Sonic 2 or its predecessor deserve the title of best video game movie of all time? I do not know. That’s definitely up for debate. What’s not: As a full franchise, Sonic has made the most successful leap from games to movies of all time. And the future seems bright; a second golden age for the bruise may be just beginning.

At least until Sega releases another 5/10 stinker of a game. Sonic 2 cements it: The hedgehog movie is the best thing video games have ever done

Fry Electronics Team

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