Let’s be clear, no one expects this movie to be great. Plagued by production issues (as evidenced by the major reanimation of Sonic’s face after a backlash to the first trailer) and belonging to the video game genre which has never produced anything better than ok, this is a film to be taken lightly. After seeing Sonic the Hedgehog, those feelings are multiplied. It’s serviceable and relatively charming, but unable to escape the constraints of genre cliche and writing by committee. It’s a film that clearly required so little effort in the storytelling department, that it’s existence and memorability are solely down to the inherent appeal of its titular character.
The film follows Sonic (duh) an alien forced to flee his planet to Earth after being hunted for his powers of speed. There he meets Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), a street cop from Montana, and together, they must journey across the country and fight the likes of Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey) in order for Sonic to remain safe on Earth.
In other words, it’s a buddy movie, not too dissimilar from last year’s Detective Pikachu. Like that film, the main character is voiced by an actor renowned for comedy, but unlike Ryan Reynolds, Ben Schwartz fails to make Sonic remotely funny. It’s a shame, as there was real opportunity to appeal to adult audiences through a more self-aware Sonic. Besides the odd lazy pop culture reference, much of his characterisation trades funny with dull sentimentality.
The same can be said of Marsden, undeniably the weakest aspect of the film. He’s unable to inject any energy into his performance, relying too much on playing the responsible half of the pair who has to keep Sonic in check. Admittedly, this has something to do with the script, which gifts Marsden a paper thin arc, one which ticks every cliche off the list. Loved by his community: check. Wanting to achieve greatness: Check. Torn between staying with those he loves and leaving: Check. It’s through Wachowski that we see the utter lack of any depth in the script. Writers Patrick Casey and Josh Miller have produced a by the numbers knock off of 90s kid’s movies, and it shows. It’s the definition of plot by committee, all the way down to the absurd Olive Garden product placement.
Of course, conventional and derivative does not necessarily mean unwatchable. There are things worth enjoying in Sonic the Hedgehog, especially for younger audiences (fart jokes aplenty). Jim Carrey is a pro at this kind of gig, and he clearly enjoys playing the arch-villain. While he is at times a little too unhinged compared with the rest of the film, he’s undeniably the highlight out of the main cast. Supporting players also are clearly having fun, especially Natasha Rothwell who has some fantastic line delivery.
In terms of the film’s aesthetic, the Sonic special effects (which were so controversial last summer) are also effective. His face is expressive and his movements dymanic. While being a rip off of Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past, scenes where Sonic meddles with people in slow motion are some of the more enjoyable moments. It’s clear that Paramount prioritised exciting action over story, and who can blame them? Indeed, it is a children’s film after all. But the best films can appeal to all demographics, and when it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog, I wish more effort was made on the whole.
4/10: Derivative and lazy throughout, Sonic the Hedgehog is arguably escapist fun for children, but has little appeal for anyone else.