Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
Rated PG because it is a live-action (for the most part) movie for kids. Yeah, Sonic is going to run into a little bit of peril. But in terms of sexual content or language, I don't think that there's anything there. There's some Russian stereotypes, but that seems okay for right now because Russia is being the worst. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Jeff Fowler
What? You thought that this was going to be my long overdue blog on The Batman. Sir, you are just going to have to wait. I write in the order in which I watch the movie and I watched the Sonic the Hedgehog sequel first. Guess what? I also watched the new cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so you have that to look forward to as well. I'm sorry that you have to force yourself to read a well-thought out blog about a video game character from the '90s whose whole thing was being more extreme than Super Mario.
I've come to like the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie a lot. It is a pretty regular staple in our house because my video game obsessed son really likes Sonic and the movie isn't that bad. I think I'm at a point in my life where I actually look forward to sequels for kids movies I like. I mean, The Lego Movie 2 kind of underwhelmed me as I distance myself from it. But when it comes to the original Sonic, the greatness of that movie compared to the absolute abomination that was its first trailer did so much for me. I knew that there was something behind the folks making Sonic that understood that the movie could be fun without overly pandering. And that's the insane thing about these Sonic movies: Sonic was almost created exclusively to pander. He was way more intense and extreme than Mario. He was Mountain Dew culture wrapped up in a blue hedgehog and we ate it up...for about three years. Then Sonic became this icon for what not to do with video games. Don't get me wrong: I think Sonic games are --for the most part --pretty playable. But they also have been cheap kids video games for a while. So the fact that these movies make Sonic completely sympathetic and relatable, despite being a blue space hedgehog, is genius.
But my complaint with the first movie was the origin story for Sonic. I think I might have predicted that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was going to do the same thing as Superman II and follow up on a plot device from the first film. And this is where I'm torn. See, I think that I like the first film better, despite the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is oddly way more in line with the Sonic mythology. (Yeah, a grown man wrote the phrase "Sonic mythology" without a bit of shame.) Mario always understood that the greater canon of the Mario games was arbitrary. It was always about the game mechanics. Sonic, for some reason, wanted to give this whole backstory to chaos emeralds. They kept having to introduce new characters. But really, we have the same characters that have been in the Mario franchise pretty much since Super Mario Bros. 2. There is no canon. We just know that Mario has to fight some bad guys to get to Princess Peach. (Okay, I now realize how absurd Super Mario Sunshine is based on what I just wrote.) But Sonic is all about these hidden Chaos Emeralds. There are tribes of creatures and an underground movement. And yeah, the movies kind of broke that canon a bit. But Sonic 2 is a really good band-aid trying to get the story back to where it was before.
But why I like the first movie better is...the people. Okay, I'm defintiely getting older. Honestly, if Sonic 2 had come out when I was age appropriate for it, I would have hated Donut Lord and the whole human element of the story. I would have thought it simply diluted from mainlining Sonic into my eyeball. But we didn't get a lot of the human perspective on the weird events of Sonic. The first film was about Sonic finding a family and the attacks by Doctor Robotnik were means to push the themes together. This film has themes of family, but they are almost there in spite of the film being about Tails, Knuckles, and Chaos Emeralds. This movie is the game and it simply painted on a theme. Yeah, I can see the connection between Sonic and Tails mirroring Donut Lord and Sonic. (Note: If you haven't seen either Sonic movie and you read that last sentence, you probably think I'm a nutbar.) There was something simultaneously cheap yet wholesome of a world dealing with a Sonic the Hedgehog. Yeah, the first movie was silly, but it also made a great standalone film. Yeah, Sonic 2 made the right choice to expand the world. But it felt like the human characters were shoehorned into this one. We really didn't need any human characters outside of Dr. Robotnik (whose name I discovered the origins to during a deep dive into Wikipedia today).
I think the most successful thing that Sonic 2 pulls off, though, is making us forget that Sonic the Hedgehog was a rampant failure for years. It kind of feels like Sonic & Knuckles came out this year on the PS5 or something. When we see Tails and Knuckles, something inside me gets kind of excited. (Another side note: Can we all continue to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the characters were redesigned so we didn't have Tails and Knuckles abominations as well?) But in terms of developing characters for Tails and Knuckles, there's something missing that I'm not quite sure what it is. Sonic, as goofy as this sounds, is a completely fleshed out character. He's sympathetic for being a CG character. He's the character we bond with. Knuckles, however, is just an odd duck. Now, I can't believe that I didn't notice that echidnas had attacked Sonic's foster owl in the first movie, which gives this movie so much credit. It was staring me in the face all along and I can't believe I didn't notice that. But Knuckles has that old archetypal of the manipulated hero. Perhaps Knuckles is too much of an archetype. He comes across as really insufferably dumb sometimes. Now, I'm coming from my place as an audience member. The story establishes that the Echidna clan has a rich cultural history of Chaos Emerald zealotry, so that does excuse a lot. But Knuckles is very one-note for most of the film. I also have to say that it is really weird that Idris Elba voices Knuckles. Listen, I will watch Idris Elba in a lot. I like him. My wife is attracted to him and I've made my peace with that. But Knuckles is a foil for Sonic. He's what Sonic would have been had he been raised in a different environment. He's Batman to Sonic's Superman. But having hard-edged Idris Elba voice him takes all the childhood out of him. He's an adult beating up on a little kid. Knuckles's fundamental misunderstanding comes from the fact that Sonic has destroyed his life. But the scales of justice are completely tipped in Sonic's favor. I don't care that there's an explanation by Knuckles of how he views himself as the hero. You really have to squint to make it work. So while I love Idris Elba, I kind of would like a version of Ben Schwartz to contrast Sonic with Knuckles. I'm trying to figure out who that is. It's not quite coming to me.
But I'm going to end in the same way that I ended my last review of Sonic. (Note: Sonic the Hedgehog was the last movie I saw in theaters before Covid and Sonic 2 was the first movie I saw maskless since Covid. What a weird bookend to Covid.) As much as I gripe about these movies and nitpick about little things, these are really fun family action movies. They are genuinely funny and cute at times. I don't really worry about Sonic movies getting too dark. Yeah, some of the bits are a little dumb. I don't know what the Russian dance-off really has to do with the movie, nor do I think Donut Lord's sister-in-law wedding was vital to the story. But I also have a huge dose of "who cares" flowing through me. It's fun to see Sonic cracking jokes while fighting Jim Carrey, who again is a big ol' bag of too much. My kids love these movies and that makes me like them more. Maybe if I didn't have kids, I would be as annoyed as others by these films. But Sonic 2 mostly checks a lot of boxes of knowing exactly what it is supposed to be. Maybe I'm getting old and actually happy with a movie not stepping out of line. But Sonic 2 was fun, just like Sonic 1. I'll see Sonic 3 too.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.