Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the best video game movie ever made. I know, that’s not exactly a high hurdle to jump, but rest assured it was intended as a compliment without a hint of irony.
The past few years have seen video game movies give more of an effort to be, y’know, good. 2019’s Detective Pikachu, and 2021’s Mortal Kombat reboot were both solid movies that, despite their flaws, were enjoyable and paid respect to their source material. Although the Uncharted movie released just a few months ago may have missed the mark, it still at least gave an effort. The best of this recent resurgence of video game movies was 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which – along with the original 1995 Mortal Kombat film – was probably one of the top two video game movies. But Sonic the Hedgehog 2 betters its predecessor both as a movie, and as a love letter to the video games that inspired it, creating the first great video game movie.
Some film snobs may take offense to that statement. But as someone who can appreciate the value of a little thing called fun, I will happily tell you that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delivers just that, and in spades. It’s great fun. Tremendous fun.
The story here is that the titular Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) has settled into his new home in the small town of Green Hills, Montana with Sherrif Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Trying to find his place in the world, Sonic has been doing some moonlighting as a crime-fighter, but is a bit reckless and sloppy at it. Tom thinks Sonic needs to learn to be more responsible before he can become a hero, and leaves Sonic in charge of the house as a test in responsibility, while he and Maddie go to Hawaii for Maddie’s sister’s wedding.
Naturally, this is when things go wrong. Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) has managed to escape his isolation on the mushroom planet with the help of Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Knuckles wishes to retrieve the Master Emerald – an artifact of infinite power once protected by the Echidnas – to honor the legacy of his tribe, and believes Sonic knows of the Emerald and its location. Robotnik, of course, is merely using Knuckles to claim the Emerald for himself (with revenge on Sonic being a nice bonus).
While Knuckles’ strength and Robotnik’s intelligence are too much for Sonic to handle alone, the blue hedgehog gets a partner of his own in the form of Miles “Tails” Prower (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a two-tailed fox who idolizes Sonic after tracking the events of the first film. And so the race to find the Master Emerald is on, pitting Sonic and Tails against Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik.
As any longtime Sonic fan could tell you, despite the film being called Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the plot is actually based on the video games Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. There are some alterations that may upset overly literal fans (Knuckles trying to find the Master Emerald as opposed to already being its guardian, for example), but the movie can’t be exactly the same as the games. As someone whose formative years coincided with those of the Sonic franchise, I was constantly delighted by Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s faithfulness to the video games (which doesn’t simply feel like fanservice, but a genuine love for the series itself).
While I really enjoy the first Sonic film, it does in retrospect feel like it compromised a bit, playing like a 90s-style family comedy with Sonic, Robotnik and a few elements of the series sprinkled throughout. But now that it proved a success, it really feels like the gloves are off for this sequel, and it’s allowed to be a full-blooded, true blue Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Not only do we have the additions of Knuckles and Tails (the latter admittedly showed up mid-credits in the first film), and Jim Carrey actually looking like Robotnik now (as opposed to Jim Carrey with a mustache), but you also have the storyline from the games, and countless references, winks and nods to the series throughout. And not just references to the games, but even the old cartoons and comic books as well.
The funny thing is that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is, in many ways, truer to the video games than the games themselves have been for a very long time (exception being Sonic Mania). This is particularly true of the four core characters of the franchise: Sonic himself is wonderfully realized both in animation (we’ve come a long way from that first trailer for the original movie) and in Schwartz’s vocals, while Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik (my favorite movie villain of the past few years) is still a show-stealer. The addition of Tails (and O’Shaughnessey) adds some extra heart to the proceedings. And importantly, I feel like the film (and Idris Elba) have redeemed Knuckles as a character, resurrecting his badass strength and determination (while still bringing humor out of his naivety) after the games demoted him to the bumbling doofus of the series once Shadow the Hedgehog pointlessly stole his role as Sonic’s rival two decades ago.
That’s not to say that Sonic 2 is exclusively for the hardcore crowd, and left fans of the first movie out in the cold. Something I greatly appreciated about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was how it performs a balancing act between being a fantasy adventure more in line with the games and still having the family comedy vibe of the first film.
I was concerned that the newfound fanservice may have meant the characters introduced in the first film would be swept under the rug and awkwardly forgotten. But if anything, those characters now feel more important to the overall Sonic mythology. Characters like Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), Green Hills’ dimwitted deputy Wade Whipple (Adam Pally) and Robotnik’s thankless assistant Stone (Lee Majdoub) now have bigger parts in the story. And while Tails is now at his rightful place by Sonic’s side, Tom and Maddie play a new role in the story as Sonic’s surrogate parents.
This is where Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually surprised me. In the first film, Tom basically played an older brother role to Sonic, trying to keep the hedgehog’s juvenile antics in check. But now Sonic has to learn to be more responsible, as he’s now playing the role of big brother to Tails. Not only does this lead to some genuinely heartwarming moments, but it also cleverly builds on the characters, their relationships, and what they learned in the first film. Wow. I can honestly say I didn’t expect Sonic 2 to be the kind of sequel that would connect and grow the narrative of the first film. So that was a pleasant surprise.
I admit, there are a few moments where the film does lose some of its balance with its aforementioned two halves, which results in some pacing issues (including one scene that resolves a subplot that goes on a bit long, entertaining though the scene may be). But for the most part, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 succeeds in being both an organic follow-up to the original film while also being a more faithful adaptation of the games.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 retains the sense of humor of the first movie (including some nice callbacks to that film’s best gags without simply repeating them), which apparently hasn’t sat well with some fans (who probably take the series a little too seriously). But I personally find it to be good family comedy that reminds me of the old Sonic cartoons from my youth. I’d rather see the Sonic series be intentionally goofy like these movies over unintentionally hilarious like the more “serious” and cinematic games in the series ended up being. And it’s just nice to see a blockbuster in this day and age that doesn’t simply use the same brand of humor that Marvel has been utilizing for way too long now.
It isn’t all jokes though. While Sonic 2 shares its predecessor’s humor, it completely outshines it with action sequences. Again, the first Sonic film felt a little restrained, which was echoed in its action scenes. They were fun, but small-scale and sparse. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, however, seems to (once again) take inspiration from the games for its action set pieces, resulting in a more satisfying action movie. Though the finale may feel a bit too close to that of a Marvel movie (so Sonic avoided that pitfall in one area, but not another).
There’s a lot to love about Sonic the Hedgehog 2, even if you aren’t overly familiar with the games. But it does feel – more so than any video game movie before it – like it rewards fans of the franchise. This may sound like the biggest cliche, but watching Sonic the Hedgehog 2 honestly made me feel like a kid again. Not just because of the (often deep cut) callbacks and references, but because of its honest-to-goodness love of the series it’s adapting. A lot of franchises these days are suffering because the people behind the camera are using said franchises to promote themselves, as opposed to coming from a place of love for the material. So it’s nice to see a series give back to its fans for a change, instead of taking from them.
I will admit (without spoiling anything), the mid-credits teaser has me a bit concerned for the future direction of these Sonic movies (as does Jim Carrey’s talks of possible retirement, since he’s now as vital to these movies as Dr. Robotnik himself is to the series as a whole). But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
For now, let’s all appreciate this moment, and enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The first great video game movie.