‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ (2020) | Movie Review

I don’t think I empathize with anyone in the entertainment industry more than the visual effects artists who worked on Sonic the Hedgehog. When the first trailer for the film dropped, the outcry of disgust at the the design of the titular Sonic led the studio to bend to the will of the Internet mob and completely redesign and reanimate that character, pushing the release date a couple months back. These artists are already underpaid and overworked, and I am sure that proved doubly, if not triply, true when reworking the film. Should the public at large have say in the creation of a film? No, but they let it happen. Why I even feel worse for them is because whether or not Sonic’s rendering pleased fans of the original SEGA game, the visual effects artists could not salvage the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog was a dog anyway.

We keep waiting for the first great film based on a video game. Pokémon Detective Pikachu had some charming moments. Assassin’s Creed had a bold visual style. The rest basically do not exist, and with a little time, Sonic the Hedgehog will fade away too. Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before: a nice alien finds itself in a small American town, involuntarily causes a disturbance that draws out the government, and it has to partner with a guy in town to get to safety. Here, that alien is fast-running, nonstop-talking Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz), the government official is the super intelligent Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), and the human partner is town sheriff Tom (James Marsden).

The biggest hurdle Sonic the Hedgehog can’t jump over, and why the film ultimately feels like nothing, is that this is a buddy comedy where the jokes aren’t funny and the friendship isn’t interesting. A buddy comedy without those two things negates the entire genre. The humor either goes for smuggling in crasser jokes into a kid’s film or things said with emphasis to imply humor. If I have to see another animated character say “Nailed it,” I do not know what I will do. Jim Carrey does bring in some vintage manic Carrey energy to the proceedings, which occasionally got a chuckle out of me, but humor in film builds on consistent joke pacing. So sometimes he’ll do something that in a different context would be funny turns out not to be here.

In terms of the friendship between Sonic and sheriff Tom, who Sonic dubs the doughnut lord (and the movie thinks that term is probably the funniest two words ever put to paper), you could not get more basic. It doesn’t help that Sonic could not be more annoying if they tried. Yes, this is a comedic archetype: the annoying guy you come to love, but there needs to be some sort of balance. Here, the poles are further apart than Earth’s. Marsden does a decent job acting opposite a tennis ball, but there’s only so much you can sell if the writing does not support you. Who I think Marsden does have chemistry with is Tika Sumpter, given the absolutely thankless task of playing his supportive wife. If those two reunited to make a romantic comedy or a buddy cop comedy of their own, I would happily watch it. With a different creative team than this, mind you.

I cannot speak to how well this represents the Sonic games, as I was never a SEGA kid growing up. The times I have played a Sonic game in my life I could probably count on one hand. Ultimately, how faithful and accurate to the games the film stays is immaterial. What matters is how well the film operates between the studio logo and the end credits. Sonic the Hedgehog may not be an incompetent film from first time director Jeff Fowler, who comes from a visual effects background (ironic, I know), but nothing about it demonstrates a need for it to be in a cinema. The $85 million budget could have been used to fund four decently budgeted films with some artistry and something to say. Instead, we get Sonic farting, and Marsden telling him he should check his fur.

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