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‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’ goes boldly where so many blockbusters have gone before

Idris Elba as Knuckles? You gotta be echidning me.

The following review of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an edited transcript of the video above.

At one point in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, one of the live-action characters sees that Sonic now has a new CGI toon-animal-alien ally named Tails, and she says the same thing I did when I heard this sequel had been green-lit. “Oh lord, there are two of them, now.”

So yes, we have another Sonic movie, based on the hit video games that went on to define the SEGA console generation during the 90s — my own childhood era, to be clear — and once again this is directed by Jeff Fowler with Ben Schwartz returning to voice the titular hedgehog, Jim Carrey as the dastardly tech villain Robotnik, and James Marsden and Tika Sumpter as Sonic’s adoptive human parents.

Joining the cast this time around, we have Idris Elba voicing Knuckles, a brawny space echidna who teams up with Robotnik to bring down Sonic, and also Colleen O’Shaughnessey as Tails, a yellow fox with two tails who is essentially a Sonic fan who traverses the universe to warn him that Knuckles is after him. It should also be noted that O’Shaughnessey has voiced Tails in the most recent video games, so that’s a nice surprise for fans of the franchise.

Probably the nicest thing you can say about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is that it’s even truer to the whacky, zippy, and obviously breezily adventurous video games than the first film. It’s a grander adventure with a variety of interesting locations, so not just a rural small town and San Francisco, but now we’re going to Siberia, remote islands, and the film even opens on the delightfully bizarre mushroom planet where Robotnik was exiled in the first film (Carrey, to his credit, once again, ahem, carries this film’s comedic energy).

Unfortunately, the “anything goes” philosophy of these Sonic movies also stretches to the endless pop culture references and instantly dated jokes that amount little more to, “hey remember this thing that was a meme about six years ago?” The film is at its most entertaining when Sonic contends with various villains in a competition of who can be the biggest stinker, constantly quipping like Spider-Man and usually succeeding. The effects still have a low-rent charm, where the computer animation sort of does away with any concerns about the uncanny valley, which is better appreciated than the alternative, to be clear.

It would be virtually impossible to make us believe a cartoonish blue hedgehog is actually talking to James Marsden on a rowboat in the middle of a lake, so why bother overdoing the effects to make it all look uncomfortably real, whatever that means? The movie goes back and forth between its cartoon logic (one scene featuring a dance-off that compounds cringe) and its live-action logic (a Hawaiian wedding gone wrong, of course) with sheer confidence, even if none of it holds up to any actual logic or consistency, you can rely on its distraction-machine script and visuals to keep your mind from constantly asking questions about how any of this works or why anything that’s happening is.

The bulk of the criticisms do come in with the plot, which is a shameless MacGuffin chase scene — we need to get the emerald that can do the thing before the villain gets it and can do the thing — with hopelessly predictable found-family lessons about growing up and coming of age and making new friends and being a hero; literally none of it is even remotely unique in terms of story or how it tries shaking up the formula. But that’s the point, probably. The last time Paramount tried to take a risk with this property, namely with the design of Sonic himself, it set the movie back months (and millions) in terms of reverting Sonic’s character look and just giving the fans exactly what they want, nothing more nothing less.

If anything, the most audacious “choice” the film makes is to sell the audience on Idris Elba voicing a red echidna who doesn’t understand idioms and metaphors, as if we haven’t seen that trope done in at least one blockbuster a month since 2014. That’s all Sonic the Hedgehog 2 really is, just a lap around every other action adventure movie to come out during the 20teens, reconfigured into a soupy, overlong mashup of a decade in culture we probably won’t be able to process until the generation that grew up playing SEGA games starts having grandkids.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 opens in theaters starting April 8.

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