The worst thing you can say about Sonic the Hedgehog is that it is completely and thoroughly forgettable, which is both a compliment and a dig. But then again, it’s obvious it was never aiming to be a revolutionary film. As a shock that comes to no one, this is a children’s film, but one with enough layered goofs and timeless gags that anyone can enjoy.
The most criminal part of the whole movie (aside from an offensively underutilized Neal McDonough) is that it is wildly inconsistent. The premise is straightforward enough: Sonic (Ben Schwartz), the speedy blue mammal we all know and sometimes love, is forced to abandon his home planet to seek refuge across the worlds. He ends up on Earth in his latest stint and bonds with the denizens of his sleepy local town Green Hills, including the sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden).
But the part of the plot that wavers is the emotional impetus behind it all. It starts with Sonic failing to rescue his surrogate mother/mentor Longclaw the owl, which feels like it would be the grand push for Sonic to overcome his fear and return home to rescue whoever or whatever is left. But then he’s just…over it, and now the emotional thrust is that he wants friends, which he has in a creepy stalker-ish way since he just sort of hovers and spies on Tom’s sedate rural life.
This then shifts into something about how he hasn’t fully experienced life on Earth after Tom explains the concept of a bucket list (though somehow Sonic is fully aware enough to make jokes about rideshare app ratings and do Fortnite dances). But then he’s angry at Tom for abandoning Green Hills even though Sonic is abandoning them both? And it just gets even muddier from there. It gets so muddy that by the time that the final climactic scene hits, it truly felt like a grab bag moment where the resolution could have been any of the dozen possibilities.
As I said, though, it doesn’t seem to really matter. The film moves (mostly) at such a rapid clip that not being substantially invested in the story and characters doesn’t have enough time to be a problem. And seeing Sonic muck around with the real world is fun enough that it’s kind of hard to argue with the bare concept of Hedgehog Havoc. That is, however, when they don’t have what might be the fastest creature in the universe stuck riding in an automobile, giving you plenty of time to think about how bland the writing is. (We get a tease early on of what an all-CG Sonic movie might have been, and not having that is the real tragedy here.)
The bigger issue with inconsistency is that it seems like at no point do any of the actors feel like they’re in the same movie. Schwartz is hamming it up as Sonic with a sort of recklessness that can only be described as admirable. And his jokes fit well within that conceit; Sonic is a quantity over quality kind of quipster.
But Marsden, as perfect as he is in this hapless-but-ruggedly-handsome-but-just-self-aware-enough-and-not-at-all-dumb role, has an incredible number of interactions with Schwartz where it feels like the director Jeff Fowler just kind of forgot the mood he was going for in any particular scene. Any scene where he’s just living his life in this incredibly wacky, Twin Peaksy town, though, is a gem of a time because it feels like he’s of that world and should never have left it.
Then there’s Dr. Ivo Robotnik played by Jim Carrey. This is the weirdest part of the movie precisely because he isn’t that weird. Carrey is completely over-the-top in the best way possible, but the writing just doesn’t support it. (Outside of a couple of gags, anyway, with his lackey Stone (Lee Majdoub).) He’s going far beyond the material and hints at something that could have been, but instead, we have this alchemist spinning gold from yarn and the movie just throwing it to the wayside.
I’m not entirely sure most people will care, though. Even coming out of the movie it was hard to hold onto these critical thoughts. This movie was designed to be a quick and breezy 99 minutes of something and leave you even faster. Fans will get a kick out of all the Easter eggs (a tender aural cue is especially nice, as is what I thought was a reference to an extremely deep cut magazine one-sheet ad from the 90s) and mild exploration of the sociopathic tendencies of the franchise’s lore, and that just might be enough.
It’s also hard to talk about this movie and not bring up the debacle that was the delay. Pushed back a mere three months to redo everything Sonic was in to accommodate a new, less nightmarish design. That obviously sounds doable (since they did it), but is it moral? Blasting historically overworked effects houses with doubly pressured duty for the sake of cowardly social media managers? That’s not great.
The end result, however, is pretty great. We’ll probably never be able to compare the two versions, but it’s hard to imagine where this final cut could be notably worse than the original. Sonic with his gloves and not creepy teeth and less humanlike vibe looks and moves good! (But I still think as a statement of artistic independence, they should have stuck with the original abomination.)
There’s nothing innovative or memorable or even especially remarkable about Sonice the Hedgehog. But in a world where it could have been offensive in at least one regard—let alone multiple—this is a terrific result. You’ll possibly laugh, you’ll probably leave, and you just might have a decent start or end to your day. And for a blue, wisecracking hedgehog, that’s not too shabby.
Final Score: 6 out of 10