Sonic the Hedgehog is not the mess we’d expected

We went into the Sonic the Hedgehog movie expecting a disaster; we’re bummed to report it’s mostly just banal.

I don’t own a car. In fact, I don’t even have a driver’s license. That means that I never, ever have to think about parking or road closures or one-way streets unless, for some reason, I’m in someone else’s car. I know that never needing a car is a form of privilege, and not everyone has a life in which they can forgo having a car, but nevertheless, it stands to reason that I do not have the stressors that come with owning one. 

Most people hate these things. They hate finding parking, they hate having to take an alternate route because St-Laurent is torn up for 18 blocks and they hate having to take the long way around because the place they’re going is the wrong way on a one-way street. But those things aren’t generally enough to make people give up on their car.

How people deal with the disadvantages of owning a car are kind of how I feel about a movie like Sonic the Hedgehog. I don’t have to see it; no one is twisting my arm, and if watching a movie about a wisecracking electric hedgehog was literal torture, I could easily stop doing the things that put me in the position where I have to do it. I’ve accepted Sonic the Hedgehog (and a myriad of other movies of its ilk) as the sort of necessary inconvenience that comes with my job. If it were not part of my task description, there’s no way I would watch Sonic the Hedgehog. On the other hand, I do sort of lean on the fact that I can see Sonic the Hedgehog to justify the fact that I can satisfy my own curiosity about Sonic the Hedgehog. In that sense, watching this movie is nothing like owning a car, because no one is curious about what it might be like to look for parking for half an hour for shits and giggles.

All this to say that the very idea of a live-action/CGI hybrid about the fastest hedgehog in all of ’90s video gaming filled me with a curious mix of emotions. I couldn’t fathom that it would be something that I would want to see. On the other hand, it seems like such a strangely appropriate movie for the times — a movie that some might be looking forward to, but most are awaiting with cautious disgust — that I can’t help but be drawn to it in confused apprehension. All this to report the thing that I always dread to report in a situation like this one: for all of the behind-the-scenes drama and obvious bad ideas that have shaped Sonic the Hedgehog, the final product is merely your garden-variety movie for undiscerning kids with short attention spans.

Granted, Sonic the Hedgehog is a little weirder than its ilk — and some of it is even on purpose! Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is a turbo-powered electric hedgehog from another world — it’s unclear whether it’s a different planet or a different dimension. He finds the perfect hideout from generic bad guys who don’t want him to be fast in Green Hills, a bucolic little community in the middle of nowhere. Sonic loves Green Hills, but Green Hills has no idea he’s even there. He spends nearly every evening spying on local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), dreaming of a life where he doesn’t have to hide.

One evening, his loneliness and despondence somehow force an electric surge out of him that knocks out the Green Hills power grid. He’s then discovered by Tom hiding in the shed; the shock of finally being seen by a human causes Sonic to teleport his magic teleporting rings to the top of a San Francisco skyscraper. This whole mess causes authorities to believe the surge was an act of terrorism, so they put their “best” man on the job: psychotic supergenius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).

Seems awfully convoluted for a movie about a little critter that goes fast, right? It’s true that Sonic the Hedgehog is fairly complicated when you place its narrative against its sense of humour, which relies heavily on “Uhhhh… okay” and “You did WHAT?!” bits culled from turn-of-the-century Taco Bell commercials. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that a movie this cravenly designed to rake in unsuspecting dollars in 2020 would lean on backstory and myth-making — the ducks need to be in a row if you’re going to make these forever — but it’s pretty rough in the early going. The film is torn between its desire to lay tracks for a cinematic universe (which, if I’m being very charitable, is never going to fucking happen) and its desire to be a movie that sells Happy Meals by having a colourful critter fall on its butt or do the Gangnam Style dance. (Neither of those happen.)

Surprisingly enough, not much of Sonic the Hedgehog is in that pop-cultural mode at all. Though it borrows from E.T. and other subsequent non-human-pal two-handers (Paul, I suppose, or Ted), there isn’t a ton of meta-tomfoolery at play here. Instead, the film settles on very broad and outdated sitcom humour that will, I imagine, appeal to these proverbial tweens who only watch Friends on a loop. Schwartz is an energetic voice performer and Marsden is, at the very least, committed to the stupidity of the premise, but sparks don’t exactly fly between the two leads. 

The same can’t be said for Jim Carrey, who goes absolutely buck wild as Dr. Robotnik. It’s a fairly thankless cartoonish villain role that Carrey could do in his sleep, but at the very least he tackles it with gusto. The Robotnik scenes have an entirely different vibe to the rest of the film — not so much as if they’d let Carrey improv, but as if the whole thing was created separately and stitched into a much more bog-standard and lazy movie. Carrey doesn’t quite save the film — he’s not in it enough for that, for one — but he has a few bits that are weird and woolly enough to suggest a Sonic movie that verges on the subversive.

Frankly, there isn’t that much that’s surprising about Sonic the Hedgehog, barring the fact that it’s not as disastrous as it sounded six months ago. Notoriously delayed so that the horrifyingly humanoid first design of Sonic could be shaped into something that didn’t have a photorealistic butt and tiny little corn nib teeth, Sonic the Hedgehog does have the dubious distinction of being the rare movie that was retooled in a panic to distinctly positive results. That having been said, it’s still boring and rote— no matter how taut Sonic’s butt is. ■

Sonic the Hedgehog opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 14. Watch the trailer below.

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