Arts movie review

Gotta go see ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’

Dynamic characters balance out structural flaws for a fun, fast-paced film

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Ben Schwartz voices Sonic in ‘Sonic the Hedgehog.’
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Sega of America

Sonic the Hedgehog
Directed by Jeff Fowler
Screenplay by Pat Casey, Josh Miller
Starring Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden
Rated PG, Playing Feb. 14

After fleeing his home planet to protect his powers from exploitation, Sonic (Ben Schwartz), an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog who runs faster than sound, finds himself alone on Earth. Lying low in the small town of Green Hills to avoid detection, Sonic finds himself lonely and restless, spending his days watching from a distance but never interacting with the humans of the town. It isn’t until Sonic accidentally sets off a power outage spanning the entire Pacific Northwest that his routine begins to change. Pursued by the unhinged scientific genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), Sonic reveals himself to and seeks help from Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), a police officer hoping to transfer to the San Francisco Police Department.

Although the film’s initial trailer, released April 2019, faced criticism for its unsettling design of Sonic — delaying the film’s release from November 2019 to February 2020 as production redesigned the character — the time taken to alter the design proved worthwhile. The computer-generated Sonic fits almost seamlessly in his more realistic environment and expresses his feelings of enthusiasm, frustration, and anger through convincing and life-like facial quirks. Sonic’s quality of movement, especially his speed, is consistently dynamic and charming to watch, and the audience is treated with several engaging action sequences that showcase Sonic’s power in various ways. I liked that each action scene was distinct and gave viewers an opportunity to see different facets of Sonic’s abilities and how they interact with their surroundings and opposing forces.

Sonic is not only well drawn but also well written. In every scene that he appears, Sonic draws attention with his high energy level and compelling character arc. Introduced as an outsider who is only able to pretend to be friends with other living things, Sonic immediately gains the sympathy of the audience. Though some might find his ceaseless excitement and inability to keep quiet irritating, Sonic’s flaws and the mistakes he makes can be explained by his experiences with isolation, which have made him overeager to have friends and to enjoy the world while he can. These flaws serve to make Sonic a more accessible character and allow viewers to see beyond his otherworldly blue fur and super-speed.

Similarly, the primary antagonist, Dr. Robotnik, constantly catches the audience’s eye but in a very different way. Jim Carrey’s rendition of Robotnik is neurotic and perfectly overdone. The evil lengths that Robotnik goes to in order to get what he wants and his thoughtless treatment of those around him inspire instant dislike, yet every appearance of Robotnik keeps viewers entertained, unable to predict what strange thing he might choose to say or immoderate action he will choose to take. His intense lack of conscience combined with his dramatic mannerisms inflate his villainous presence and make him a worthy counterpart to the naive and earnest Sonic.

Unfortunately, the film disappoints when it comes to characters other than its protagonist and antagonist. Sonic’s partner Tom and most other humans are flat and one-dimensional, used as devices for Sonic’s development rather than as characters that can stand on their own. Moreover, the writing in most scenes involving these secondary human characters, aside from the occasional dad joke, is bland and not quite the right tone for movie characters. While some scripts earn criticism for cringey and unrealistic writing, this film was on the opposite end of the spectrum, with some conversations being so mundane and unmemorable that I questioned their value to the film.

In addition to underdeveloped characters, the film falters due to an underdeveloped plot. As I watched the film, I felt that I could label its components as if filling in a junior high story graph, identifying the beginning exposition and rising action with a couple climaxes somewhere in the middle and ending with a conclusive resolution. While I didn’t expect much more from a family movie centered on a video game character, I was underwhelmed by the unidirectional path of the movie. It rarely deviated from its predictable and by-the-book central plotline, which was already just the simple clash of good running from evil.

However, what this movie lacks in plot, it makes up for with humor and heart. There were countless times when I found myself amused by a silly joke or endeared by Sonic’s hyperactive behavior. The movie upheld an overall easygoing and lighthearted tone with just the right amount of one-liners and comical interjections. I also appreciated the filmmaker’s efforts to sprinkle in the occasional reference to the Sonic games and thought these references were appropriately subtle yet rewarding. Furthermore, the overarching theme of the film is one of friendship, and as we watch Sonic go from a solitary hedgehog in hiding to a hero who, with his friends at his side, is not afraid to be seen, we experience a sweet, short, and satisfying journey. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the Sonic franchise or someone who’s looking for a fast and fun movie, Sonic the Hedgehog will fulfill your expectations of nostalgia and entertainment.