Sonic the Hedgehog Review
2019 may have been yet another year where society remained polarised, but two things managed to bring people of all political stripes together: laughing at the awful first trailers for Cats and Sonic the Hedgehog. Whereas Tom Hooper’s film remained a laughing stock in the final product, the special effects still looking unfinished months after the much maligned teaser, the initial reaction to Sonic was controversial for another reason - director Jeff Fowler listened to feedback, and opted to go back to the drawing board to redesign the super fast alien (spiny) mammal. All in the name of fan service, overworked visual effects artists had to redesign a character who appears in nearly every scene of the film from scratch.
With the exception of the opening ten minutes, which briefly rushes through an origin story that feels deliberately shortened so VFX artists wouldn’t go insane making it, the most surprising thing about Sonic the Hedgehog is how the behind the scenes drama doesn’t make itself apparent within. Those expecting a train wreck on the level of Cats will walk away disappointed - it’s a conventional, albeit frequently fun, family film that will leave younger audiences delighted, and will surprise any older ones convinced it was another big budget studio disaster in the making. Most remarkably, ticking these simple boxes (conventional, albeit frequently fun with surprising charm) is all it needs to do to clear the low bar and become one of the best video game adaptations to date.
Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) was born with the power of super fast speed - a hidden talent that he chose not to hide, leaving other beings on his planet desperate to steal his power. He is sent through a portal to earth by his mum, where he lands in a sleepy Montana town he makes his home for the next ten years, unbeknownst to the rest of the town’s citizens. Sonic watches over them, and in his head, considers them to be friends - until it finally dawns on him that he’s all alone in the world, and lets off steam by doing a super speed run that switches off power for the whole town.
The United States government are soon on the case, and send in the antagonistic Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate. Sonic is left on the run, and ends up hiding in the house of the town sheriff (James Marsden) he’s watched over for many years - and unwillingly, leads him on a cross country road trip to San Francisco to evade being caught, and capture some lost golden rings that will help him teleport to another planet, where he isn’t a wanted creature.
Sonic the Hedgehog boasts Jim Carrey’s first performance in a studio movie in six years, and after subdued performances in underseen prestige TV shows and arthouse films recently, it’s something of a surprise to see him tap back into the manic energy that made him a comic icon in the first place. Carrey hasn’t shied away from playing villains or antagonistic characters in comedy performances before, but his more complicated public persona in recent years makes Dr. Robotnik a far different beast to, say, The Riddler. If you’ve seen the documentary Jim and Andy, where Carrey looks back at being an absolute nightmare to work with on the set of Man on the Moon, a simple villainous role in a children’s film becomes something more intense. There were times when I sincerely believed that Carrey thought he was acting in a serious thriller, even if his line readings were that of a fanatical cousin to Ace Ventura.
This seems to be a deliberate choice on Carrey’s part, a self awareness to how the public perception of him has changed in a few years, knowing that it’s now not entirely against type to not have to accentuate the comedy in each line reading as a comedy villain. And Robotnik is, somewhat surprisingly, the most tangible threat I’ve seen in a family friendly blockbuster in quite some time - thanks, in no small part, to a screenplay (by Pat Casey and Josh Miller) that actually treats its story and characters with sincerity, and not the winking irony that comes with adapting a formerly popular property in the post-Lego Movie world. There are no winking gags to Sonic games or the wider Nintendo universe here, just a straightforward questing story that re-establishes this video game franchise for today’s young audiences.
It’s a very familiar formula; a fish out of water story and mismatched buddy movie all rolled into one. But Casey and Miller manage to make it feel charming where it should feel contrived, and add genuine stakes that don’t feel pre-determined. Me and the friend I went with were excited before the screening to dunk on the disaster we assumed we were about to see. Instead, we ended up both being pleasantly surprised, and just a tiny bit shocked at how invested we were at an alien hedgehog’s bid to make real friends, and evade being captured by an evil scientist.
Sonic the Hedgehog is released February 14th
Sonic the Hedgehog (2019)
Dir: Jeff Fowler | Cast: Adam Pally, James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Neal McDonough | Writers: Evan Susser (story by), Hirokazu Yasuhara (characters), Josh Miller (screenplay by), Naoto Ohshima (characters), Oren Uziel (screenplay by), Patrick Casey (screenplay by), Van Robichaux (story by), Yuji Naka (characters)