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Paramount Pictures and Sega of America

MOVIE REVIEW
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

It’s easy to get cynical about “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” sequel to a live-action movie based on a Sega video game character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) that travels at supersonic speeds. You may recall the original’s disastrous, universally loathed first trailer, which prompted the studio to postpone the release many months to overhaul the CGI, finally delivering it just before the global pandemic hit in 2020. Yet it’s already getting the sequel treatment, and ahead of 2019’s “Detective Pikachu,” the live-action movie based on a more contemporary Nintendo video game character.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is essentially the hybrid of two disparate movies, one specifically aimed at kids and another at their chaperons – more reason to be cynical. But it works, and the film entertains despite some cringeworthy messaging directed at the preK-12 crowd. The video game-inspired action set pieces, complete with booby traps, are more thrilling than those in “The Lost City.” Yet no matter how sincere and convincing James Marsden is as Sonic’s adoptive parent Tom, it’s still absurd to see him affectionately refer to a computer-animated extraterrestrial as his son.

The sequel picks up directly from the end of its 2020 predecessor, with Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik 243 days into his exile on the mushroom planet he dubbed portobello purgatory; and Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a yellow fox with twin tails that can function as helicopter rotor blades, arriving on Planet Earth to look for Sonic.

On the kid-friendly narrative track, Sonic and Tails are off to Siberia to find a wish-fulfilling emerald. On their heels are Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), a red echidna who packs powerful punches and seeks to exact revenge for its tribe on Sonic, and Dr. Robotnik, whom Knuckles has extracted from fungiland for assistance. Sonic and Tails, while searching for refuge amid the harsh elements, stumble into a roomful of menacing drunkards, whom they challenge to settle a dispute – this involves a dance battle, appropriate for a kiddie flick.

On the adult-oriented narrative track, Tom and his wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter), head to Hawaii to attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Natasha Rothwell). Rachel still holds a grudge against Tom for what transpired in the last movie; true to form, he inadvertently ruins her big day while trying to save Sonic. It turns out that Rachel’s fiancée, Randall (Shemar Moore), is an undercover federal agent who has catfished her in pursuit of Sonic. Scenes on this narrative track feel like an entirely different movie aesthetically and tonally, like something taken from a Black-centric romantic comedy à la “The Best Man.” They’re definitely not for the youngsters, though it’s hard to say grown-ups will get as much pleasure out of these as the kiddos do with theirs.

The acting is a cut above what anyone would expect from this type of movie that better serves as a payday than as a performance showcase. Mr. Marsden stands out particularly in a scene in which Tom takes Sonic fishing and gives a with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility sort of speech while the computer-animated Sonic pleads with him to be its friend rather than its dad. Mr. Carrey is hilarious as always with his elastic facial expressions, making an egomaniacal supervillain as enjoyable and disarming as possible.

Climactic scenes take place in a secret temple under the sea, with Sonic et al. dodging various deadly obstacles as in the video game. While faithful to the character’s origins, these scenes also recall the “Indiana Jones” film series more than “The Lost City” does. There’s added humor with Sonic breezing through the pitfalls at lightning speed. Dr. Robotnik manages to assemble a giant robot, setting the stage for a seemingly random but awesome homage to Japanese kaiju movies. Even cynics may fall for the charm of these scenes.

The best part, though, has to be the animation during the end-credit sequences recalling the 32-bit video games of the early ’90s. It would be truly amazing artistically if the studio would make an entire feature with this aesthetic instead. But it’s a cynical business; an extra scene embedded in the credit sequences reveals that Shadow the Hedgehog will play a part in the next sequel. Artistic risks be damned.

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