Sonic the Hedgehog is an Unremarkable Nothingness
By Ben Nadeau Warning: Discussion of general plot points for Sonic the Hedgehog follow. Perhaps forever-cursed by a puzzling initial design, the troubled Sonic the Hedgehog movie was likely doomed from the start. But even with a pushed-back release date and extensive changes, the film spins the wheels in a paint-by-the-numbers effort – too scared to be brave, but too boring to even suffice. As ubiquitous as videogame characters come, the electric smart-alec is relegated to a feel-good road-trip buddy flick that plods along by insisting to put Sonic – a character whose literal claim to fame is his jet-fighter levels of speediness – within the confines of a truck. From the opening moments, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is treated to the classic fish-out-of-water scenario, unceremoniously dumped via teleporting golden rings into the aptly-named Green Hills, Montana. When the lonely lead inadvertently attracts the attention of the government, including the downright psychotic Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), our hero is forced to team up with a small-town cop, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), to safely return home. Of course, shenanigans occur and innocent naivety forces Sonic and Tom from one uninspired scenario to the next. And, you’ll never believe it, but between all the bar fights, home invasion assaults, and car chase set-pieces, the odd couple eventually finds some solace in each other -- Sonic in hopes of making a real friend, Tom in search of purpose and direction. But aside from his lightning-quick movement and pair of iconic red shoes, Sonic The Hedgehog is surprisingly dull – which is an honest-to-god achievement with the energetic, bouncy voice work done here by Schwartz. Moreover, Carrey, despite many plaudits correctly praising his chaotic energy and 90’s-era villainy, is clearly hamstrung by a poor script, while Sonic himself also could have done with far more unhinged improv from one of the funniest men in comedy. Given the impossibly-tight rope of making a children’s movie appeal to nostalgic adults, Sonic deserves credit for being a passable and competent execution -- but in trying to nail both demographics, it falls well short of pleasing either. For a franchise that owns misfire after misfire in the games department over the last 20 years – hello, Sonic Boom – it’s hard to believe that the mascot’s few-remaining die-hards were clamoring for such an unimaginative attempt to give the figure renewed life. In fact, what makes Sonic, well, Sonic is ignored, by-and-large replaced by inane, rushed backstory, blatantly-sponsored content, two regrettable instances of flossing, and the introduction of a brand-new character for almost no reason other than to build a small fraction of stakes that are then almost immediately disregarded. And as any self-respecting Sonic The Hedgehog fan knows the titular blue hero just yearns for a family to call his own -- so that heart-warming moment, and not the feeling of thrilling victory over evil, is what newcomer Jeff Fowler resolves to give audiences in his directorial debut. Understandably, Sonic looks and feels best when he’s facing off against Dr. Robotnik but the film actively keeps the foes apart until the final showdown. Fallen victim to a trailer treatment that showed off many of the best action shots, jokes and plot points, the actual film struggles to bring anything fresh to the big screen other than Sonic’s much-improved appearance. Even worse, some of the coolest moments come only as the film teases the inevitable sequel during the frantic closing moments. Ultimately, this is not a request for a children’s movie to be held to a higher standard just because it involves treasured intellectual property – rather, it’s a plea for an earnest attempt at original treatment. Make no mistake though: If Paramount Pictures swapped out Sonic for Kermit The Frog, Kangaroo Jack or Paddington Bear instead, most of the film could’ve gone unchanged –– but ironically, the latter on that list actually swung for the fences and created a well-loved masterpiece in 2017’s Paddington 2. So, Sonic opts for safe and focus-grouped territory when the historically loud-mouthed, off-roading speedster calls for anything but. In an attempt to cash-in on desperate adult nostalgia and the potential berth of a newly-sanitized franchise, Sonic The Hedgehog’s grandest fault is that it wants to be everything and somehow ends up as an unremarkable nothingness -- but that’s a feeling his long-time fans should already be quite comfortable with.