Director Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 dashes forward as a sequel that pleases as any continuation should. Momentum carries over, fan-favorite characters enter the fray and the filmic universe’s presence embiggens. The first Sonic the Hedgehog is an adorable buddy comedy about an alien blur and his Donut Lord protector. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 feels more akin to Sonic’s videogame adventures by teaming with Tails, facing Knuckles and hunting the Master Emerald. It’s a comforting videogame adaptation: Heartwarming childhood lessons will delight all ages as Sonic leaves his origin blueprints behind to become the next-stage hero once projected from black plastic Sega cartridges. Eat your heart out, Mario.
We reconnect with Sonic (Ben Schwartz) as he’s working on his patent-pending vigilante cover “Blue Justice” by night, behind the backs of Tom (James Marsden) and Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Sonic’s a child who wants to rush into superhero servitude; Tom promises his time will come, but he’s still immature and has much to learn. Tom and Maddie leave Sonic unsupervised for Rachel’s (Natasha Rothwell) Hawaiian destination wedding with that knowledge, which Sonic soon needs to defeat Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) after he returns from the Mushroom Planet with a new accomplice: Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Both hold a vendetta against Sonic and, without Sonic’s Earth family around, he’s solo until reinforcements arrive in the form of the supergenius two-tailed fox, Miles “Tails” Prower (Colleen O’Shaughnessey).
If we’re comparing, Sonic the Hedgehog is the tighter overall production—given its nimble ability to balance Sonic’s X-games skill set with Saturday morning cartoon laughs and sentimental bursts from James Marsden’s human partnership—but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 boasts higher highs, as the grand spectacle of Sonic evolves beyond “gotta go fast.” There are ancient booby-trapped temples to traverse, dance battles waged in Siberian mountain lodges and Tails’ technological upgrades abound. That said, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 draws fuzzy scripted logic in order to bring Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik together and to chase an underlying subplot where Commander Walters (Tom Butler) resurfaces to hunt Sonic under the orders of an anti-extraterrestrial government agency (G.U.N.). There’s no way around the narrative silliness of what interrupts Rachel’s idyllic Hawaiian romance or the film’s gearing towards juvenile viewers, but it’s always with a self-aware safety. They’re in on the joke of pretending James Marsden isn’t maintaining incredibly physical shape and on gleefully assembling Sonic’s crew.
In sequel terms, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 knows why we’re buying tickets: To see Sonic, Tails and Knuckles steal the show. Elba makes an immediately punishing impact as a Drax the Destroyer-inspired Knuckles—an almighty warrior with blunt smarts and fist-first reactions. Longtime voice of Tails, O’Shaughnessey’s command over the sidekick connects with the nostalgia for the beloved character. Schwartz continues his exemplary understanding of Sonic’s corniest taunts and brings an electric energy to Sonic’s grown-up discoveries here. All characters are openly precise with their arcs, but in a sweetly sincere way: Knuckles learns he doesn’t have to solve problems alone through violence, Sonic learns to take responsibility for others and Tails learns that being proudly “weird” is alright. Fowler and his screenwriters nail emotions through simplicity, distilling their themes to the smallest compassionate gestures as Tails and Sonic strengthen their bond (and it’s even better when Knuckles muscles his way into frame).
Meanwhile, Carrey continues his domination as the mustache-twirling villain Dr. Robotnik who flosses, giving another masterclass in physical comedy and conveying more range through his facial acting than entire comedy troupes. Carrey is an unstoppable force drawing from his glorious ‘90s catalog, especially when the action kicks into gear and his gesticulating goofiness translates to a Pacific Rim situation. There’s no shock on my face as I type these words: It’s so fulfilling to see Carrey play this kind of off-the-wall lunatic again. Carrey was born to play Dr. Robotnik. Let’s not diminish his performance for its place in a children’s movie.
Sonic’s standoffs against Eggman are filled with explosions, gigantic mechanical Kaijus (Death Egg!) and Sonic’s signature slow-motion tomfoolery as time-halts become his playground. Screenwriters Pat Casey, Josh Miller and John Whittington play all the hits as they pull from Sonic’s Master Emerald lore in ways that drop fan service without feeling unearned or superfluous. Tails hops into the cockpit of a biplane, the Chaos Emeralds shine bright as power-ups and camaraderie between Sonic’s chums quickly binds with a Guardians of the Galaxy-esque charm. None of that is lost in a film that sometimes loses itself to cheesy-doggy gags or lower-brow lines meant to keep the youths giggling.
All this would be nothing without clean animation, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 picturesquely impresses. Kudos to the collaborative efforts of Marza Animation Planet, Moving Picture Company and DNEG—the blending of live-action and computerized creatures is essentially immaculate. The quills and furs in blazing reds, the deepest blues and warm yellows are vividly detailed, and destruction that spans Green Hills to Hawaii could rival most blockbuster disaster flicks. Robotnik’s opening Cast Away gag on the Mushroom Planet does a magnificent job ensuring that Carrey feels at home amongst fungi overgrowth and lightning zaps, smoothing his trudges across a green-screen landscape. All that leads to the connectivity of Sonic and Tails’ blossoming friendship, and to Marsden and Sumpter’s ability to generate feelings of familial love with their chili-chomping, adopted hedgehog son. Seeing is believing, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 makes sure what’s on screen breathes and lives without glitches.
Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog are in good hands with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Fowler quietly sets the most recent bar for videogame adaptations by building a cinematic universe that speaks eloquently of childhood experiences through Sonic’s adrenaline-junkie antics. The addition of Tails and Knuckles is a dynamic level-up that will have fans craving more, not to mention the pop in my theater during the film’s mid-credits scene. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 might momentarily lose itself to for-the-kids wackiness, which certainly leaves some plotlines frayed, but the reasons we’re here—Knuckles, Tails, Sonic, more Eggman—are all enthusiastically respected. I’m a happy Sonic fan after Fowler’s high-speed sequel.
Director: Jeff Fowler
Writer: Pat Casey, Josh Miller, John Whittington
Starring: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally, Shemar Moore, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Lee Majdoub, Idris Elba, Jim Carrey
Release Date: April 8, 2022
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.