Movie review: «Sonic the Hedgehog» – or, Jim Carrey Makes Himself Great Again
First off, let me be clear: there are no spoilers in this review. I’m not going to talk about anything that isn’t mentioned in the trailers.
I grew up with a Sony Playstation. But I still know the iconic blue hedgehog. With his can-do attitude and quick legs, Sonic – or Sonikku za hejjihoggu as he’s known in Japanese – took over the role of mascot for game producing company Sega from Alex Kidd, who was considered little more than a second-rate Mario clone, in 1991.
Now, Sonic makes his debut on the big screen.
Well, it’s not really his debut, if we take the anime series and a remarkably shoddy anime film into account. It is, however, the first time that Sonic makes his appearance in a live-action screen adaptation. Our blue friend is joined by reputable actors such as Jim Carrey and James Marsden. Sonic is voiced by Ben Schwartz, who is most famous for his appearances in NBC’s hit series Parks and Recreation.
Now, we want to know: is this film, which is simply called «Sonic the Hedgehog», a train wreck along the lines of the «Emoji Movie»,, or does it hold a positive surprise in store, like «Pokémon Detective Pikachu»?
I'm a shooting star, leaping through the sky
What’s the movie about? Young Sonic is forced to flee to planet Earth, as he’s being chased by «guys» who are after Sonic’s super-speed powers. What kind of guys? We’ll never know. The film doesn’t say. It’s not really important, either. What’s important is Sonic’s bag full of golden rings, which he can use as interplanetary one-way portals – something we haven’t seen in the games before. However, if Sonic should lose his bag, hewould never be able to flee to the next planet if he were to be found again.
Ten years go by.
Sonic tries to make the most out of his exile. He flashes through the forests and streets of Montana to the beat of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, and from his hide-out he gets to know his new adopted residence – the fictitious town of Green Hills – and its inhabitants at a disctance. In particular, he gets to know the good-natured local town sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) , whom he secretly calls Donut Lord. Until Sonic messes up one day, and almost triggers a global power outage. This catches the attention of the government.
The Sonic Search Taskforce is helmed by evil Doctor Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey). He’s already planning to control all of humankind with his fleet of machines – and Sonic offers exactly the power source he needs.
Let’s be brief: «Sonic the Hedgehog» is great. And that’s coming from someone who is pretty sick of uninspired license marketing scams disguised as motion pictures. Films such as «Angry Birds 1+2» and «The Emoji Movie». I really don’t care that they are primarily geared towards a younger audience. A bad film is a bad film.Full stop
There were some bad omens for the «Sonic the Hedgehog» movie as well. In May 2019, the fans – who were highly skeptical to begin with – got the first chance to watch the Sonic trailer from Paramount Pictures – and with it, Sonic’s pseudo-realistic design catastrophe.
Fears that Paramount was merely trying to make a quick buck seemed justified. And fans were just as upset as you’d imagine they would be. It actually got to be so bad, that director Jeff Fowler and the studio executives decided to deal with the criticism: The theatre launch was postponed by three months and an additional 5-million-dollar budget was freed up to rework the design of Sonic.
In other words: Sonic now has much larger eyes, bright-blue fur, and his beefy legs have been toned down. He also sports a torso of the same triangular shape as the original. And last but not least, he was given large gloves to cover up the white furry hands.
In short: the new Sonic is simply perfect.
Sonic’s new design is less realistic, but his more cartoonish look is a lot more expressive than the previous one. And above all: Sonic has facial traits which reflect emotions such as joy, sadness and anger. The distorting wax-like face which haunted the trailer back in May 2019 has disappeared.
And that’s really important for the film: Sonic never turns into a superficial figure, pretending to be cool while repeating empty clichés and funny phrases to make kids laugh. Ben Schwartz manages to strike a perfect balance between youthful boastfulness and emotional vulnerability. I like this Sonic. Very much so. Above all, he doesn’t get on my nerves. And this means that «Sonic the Hedgehog» manages to steer clear of the first obstacle that would have spelled disaster.
The second obstacle: the chemistry between CGI Sonic and Sheriff Tom.
They hit it off – and I never expected it
Tom and Sonic have a chemistry which conceals that Sonic was never on the set alongside actor James Marsden. I, above all, applaud Marsden for this. It’s not easy to act alongside a tennis ball counterpart that is digitally replaced by Sonic later on. But Marsden and Schwartz – one on set and the other in the recording studio – manage to stage their budding bromance, which I have to admit is highly predictable, in such a way that I buy it all the time. Even if it doesn’t do anything other than check all the cliché boxes.
Speaking of staging: there’s lots of action in «Sonic the Hedgehog». It’s far from innovative, however. The filmmakers even end up stealing quite a bit – and it shows. Such as when Sonic moves at what seems like a normal pace through what seems like a frozen crowd of people. But the crowd isn’t frozen stiff. It just moves much slower than Sonic. Does this stylistic device seem familiar? That’s because it was used in the exact same way in «X-Men: Days of Future Past» and «X-Men: Apocalypse».
This by no means implies that the film isn’t a lot of fun. The action and ultrasound sequences are still done well. Most jokes land. And whenever things get a bit too corny, the film gets back on track relatively quickly. Storyline? There’s hardly one at all. Whatever. The story’s good enough to justify one scene moving into the next. No more, and no less. And besides all that, «Sonic the Hedgehog» has a major trick up its sleeve:
Jim Carrey returns to the spotlight
«[Comedy is] kinda like being a cliff diver in Acapulco: It's like the tide is coming in. The tide is coming in on this joke. If I don't do this joke it's not going to be good because the tide's going to go out and I'm going to hit the rocks.»
These is how Jim Carrey explained his view on comedy during an interview with Deutschlandfunk Nova. There’s no better way to describe how he does comedy. In «Sonic the Hedgehog», he hits the sweet spot perfectly, at the very edge of cringe, and as over-the-top as only Carrey can. He uses what seems like 40 million muscles to pull faces. He moves his body as if it were made of rubber. He even dances like on set of «The Mask» – the scene adds nothing to the film, but it was just too good to get cut.
He’s back, the Jim Carrey who visibly enjoys acting once again.
It is exactly this joy which he lost for a while. And not for the first time either. Already back in 1999, he plunged into a serious existential crisis after «Man on the Moon». He often labels himself as a much more serious person than the public thinks he is, and even ended up denouncing his own film due to the excessive violence after making «Kick-Ass 2». It’s already been four years since Carrey’s last film appearance in gritty «True Crimes»
The highlight of a decade that had him in its crosshairs.
Before shooting «True Crimes», there was «Dumb and Dumber To» – another flick which saw Carrey struggling to find out where to take his career. No wonder, with train wrecks such as «Mr. Popper’s Penguins» and «Yes Man» ranking among the more successful projects of the last ten years.
In «Sonic the Hedgehog», however, Carrey returns to being Carrey, the loony comic whom we’ve grown to know and love in films such as «Ace Ventura» and «Bruce Almighty». And above all, it’s the Carrey who has fun with the camera, acting out his weird schtick as if in front of the mirror at home, modelling silly haircuts with foam.
To be honest, I’m not sure I’d enjoy the film as much as I did if Jim Carrey weren’t in it. But that also makes me all the more certain that there’s nobody around who could’ve played Robotnik any better than he did. I applaud thisperformance, in which 58-year-old Jim Carrey pulls out all the stops.
Verdict: By no means excellent but still fun.
What more is there to say? You’ll hardly be surprised that «Sonic the Hedgehog» won’t be in the running for any Oscars or Golden Globes this year – the chances for Best Screenplay are particularly slim.
You might be surprised, however, that the film is nowhere near as bad as a certain trailer released in May of 2019 might have led you to believe. This is all thanks to the actors, who squeeze every last drop out of a somewhat muddled story, which is just good enough to justify its own existence. And above all, this is thanks to Jim Carrey, the comic who finally seems to have emerged from his existential crisis.