That Sonic the Hedgehog unironically opens on the imperiled, freeze-framed “guess you’re wondering how I got here…” trope at least immediately lets audiences know what they’re getting into with this crummy thing. It’s a sign that the film isn’t an adaptation of the videos games, multiple cartoons or comics, or even something as relatively benign as Sonic pregnancy fan-art. This is just another cookie-cutter kiddie flick with some CGI fur futilely laid on to warm some of its live-action gags—right down to stuffing James Marsden back down his Hop rabbit hole of doing this trash.
The teased flashback of just how we indeed got to this wretched climax soon-after takes us back to Sonic’s childhood. Sweeping vistas beautifully realize his early life in the Sonic series’ iconic Green Hill Zone, where he would run literal circles around the loop-de-loops of his checkered hillsides. But this logical way of approaching a Sonic the Hedgehog movie was not to last.
Like Smurfs before it, Sonic the Hedgehog very quickly drops the beloved property’s well-established universe to bring the action to Earth, so that one of mankind’s innocuous-enough white guys can get frustrated by and later embrace the unbearable blue shit-head(s) in the title. Thusly, Sonic is driven out of his homeland by means both inexplicable and entirely convoluted.
It seems the child Sonic has been showboating his super-speed too much, and now he’s being attacked by some kind of similar but primitive man-animals who are literally just firing arrows at him. Instead of just zooming past and snapping all those guys’ bows, Sonic consults his out-of-nowhere owl mentor that has clearly not received the memo about looking less weirdly real. It’s basically something from Guardians of Ga’Hoole, and just as quickly forgotten. But before this bird almost immediately dies, it gives Sonic a sack of rings that open portals to anywhere the owner imagines. (Sonic will later claim this is the standard transport of any modernized civilization, but he’s the one living in a treehouse and fleeing some fucking arrows, so he can shut up.)
This piece of cinema finally begins proper years later, with Sonic having already quantum-leaped several universes by way of a crude pirate map that is apparently enough to count for imagining where you want to go. He is, naturally, now in the U.S., where he’s been living solitary as a hermit and weirdly stalking the sheriff of a small Montana town.
Of course the sheriff is the aforementioned Marsden, playing a generic role typically reserved for the “hometown guy she should be with” in a Hallmark holiday rom-com. He’s handsome; he makes affably corny jokes; his casual look is relaxed jeans and an open flannel with the sleeves rolled up, so you know he’s always ready to do carpentry. (That he’s later pegged as a “hipster” in a proper plot point is utterly inexplicable.) Also, he recently won a work transfer through the standard application process of saying you’d rather be a beat cop in a big city than the sheriff of a small town—so he’s moving to San Francisco! Because he got the letter saying so! And because his wife then showed him how easy it is to find a new residence thanks to ZILLOW, as shown on-screen (seriously). He later takes out a physical map and uses a thick, red marker to trace the driving path to San Francisco (SERIOUSLY), so you know he’s definitely going to go there.
Concurrently, Sonic is being an SVU-level creep, sneaking peeks at a Little League game in one of numerous scenes that makes you wish you could see the original freak of a design in there, purely for the entertainment value. Soon after, there’s a scene of Sonic later using his speed to play baseball with himself—depressing to watch in more ways than one—and his lonely frustration leads him to run the bases so quickly that it somehow causes an electromagnetic pulse that kills power across the Northwest Pacific and even to satellites hovering in space above.
The outage leads to the government getting involved, with a glib segment among the most generic “U.S. government officials” ever seen very quickly deciding to bring in their own Dr. Strangelove: Dr. Robotnik. Or, rather: Jim Carrey just doing his ’90s hammy shit but with kind of a Nazi look.
Like the now-notorious Sonic design, he looks far too human despite clearly being an unbearable cartoon.
Also, the outage leads to Sheriff Marsden’s small-town Montana office being overrun with calls, which stands out for a few reasons. Why would anyone call the sheriff instead of the utility company? Why are no less than 16 lines flashing on the station’s phone, when they clearly wouldn’t need more than two or three for a community of a few hundred? Why is Marsden’s mobile working so well when there aren’t towers or satellites functional in hundreds if not thousands of miles?
Granted, it’s a film about a cerulean spiny mammal that runs fast, but this moment epitomizes how much thought the filmmakers put into any of this at all.
The following hour or so sees the speedy hedgehog in the slowest adventure on Earth. It’s basically Marsden playing against either Sonic or Jim Carrey (character name willfully withheld, because it’s absolutely just Carrey) for what seems like pages of dialogue that isn’t funny nor… anything?
Mostly, it’s the Sheriff and Sonic on the road, going on the run to San Francisco, in the process becoming publicly-known terrorists in a subplot that is never again fully addressed.
One of a handful of tedious set-pieces is a scene that sees Sonic insisting on visiting a bar, which is surely more thrilling in concept than in execution.
Seeing some hardcore bikers being rowdy outside a watering hole, Sonic goes inside (Marsden soon-after in tow). Once they enter, the place somehow transforms into a honky-tonk, where people are line dancing. A couple minutes later, it abruptly turns into Roadhouse, with everyone fighting everyone until Sonic finally, about halfway in, does the X-Men Quicksilver scene everyone’s already been expecting to end it all. Nothing is gained nor lost.
Thanks, Game Genie!
Anyway, after that, it’s some more strained dialogue; an inexplicable, joyless dance sequence from Carrey; more needlessly drawn-out dialogue; and another action set-piece, this one climaxing in Marsden smacking a drone with a flashlight. And it’s all in service of a MacGuffin of finding the rings that will send Sonic to a mushroom kingdom—which at first seems like a chuckle-worthy, one-off knock on Mario, but ends up carrying on through the end of this interminable thing.
Famously, the movie Sonic looked absolutely grotesque in his initial iteration. From his original sin as a weird little muscle-boy, to his investor pitch as a nightmare to rain upon humanity, to his unconscionable stretching video, we’ve long prayed for just the kind of multi-dimensional rings he has brought us to allow us to force him back into Hell.
Devoid of those, visual effects artists worked overtime to do the same function, purging the monster with human teeth into the digital ether, and we appreciate them for it.
Yet still, without the nasty little digital, human teeth he was granted… he flosses?
Yes. Twice. Sure, it’s the dance floss, but it’s not much better.
In the end, the film’s thesis is that Sonic’s ungodly old design was not a virus but a symptom thereof. To see such a thing around would of course be traumatizing, but one has to ask: why is it here? The broader film could probably clear out its masses of piled-up garbage before pondering why it attracts terrifying, diseased-looking rodents.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Director: Jeff Fowler
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 99 minutes
Cast: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter