Thursday, 5 March 2020

Review: Sonic The Hedgehog

Sonic The Hedgehog
Cert: PG / 99 mins / Dir. Jeff Fowler / Trailer

A disclaimer where it's due: during the early '90s console-wars I was always, if anything, a Mario-kid. This was only because we happened to have Nintendo devices in the house rather than Sega, but the long term knock-on effect of this is that I have precisely zero baggage with Sonic The Hedgehog, other than trailers which did nothing to convince me it was worth seeing.

And while I'd usually affect an air of understated cultural superiority with a subtext of "Hey, the hedgehog can take as long as he likes to arrive, it was the Italian plumber who got the cool movie", there are tribes in the depths of the Amazon rainforest as yet untouched by wider civilisation who know that's not true.

So fair play to director Jeff Fowler for having a crack at this now.


Because it does feel like Sonic The Hedgehog is a screenplay that's been lying on a shelf for a couple of decades, waiting for the technology to catch up and do it justice. The initial pitch of a young alien transported to Earth from his homeworld, too fearful to reveal himself and too shy to make friends, is certainly timeless enough. And that's packaged here by writers Josh Miller and Patrick Casey into a present day, extra-terrestrial hero's journey road trip buddy-com, surprisingly uncomplicated and free of post-modern irony.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of its 2020 unveiling (and certainly the one forgiving its excesses) is that is that Sonic The Hedgehog is a film made unapologetically for kids, rather than the streetwise, retro-loving adults these things are usually aimed at. And when watched with that in mind, it's pretty damned good, never speaking down to its audience but still keeping things pleasingly undemanding. Plot-markers are carefully laid out and called back in, and in the context of the script it all makes relative sense.


The animation for Sonic himself is decent, although his facial contortions aren't quite as expressive as Ben Schwartz's voice performance, which in turn feels slightly too 'old' for a character who's meant to be at the back-end of adolescence. James Marsden*1 puts in a solid role as human sidekick Tom, supported by Tika Sumpter as his long-suffering wife Maddie; effectively the surrogate parents-to-be of this unexpected arrival. The movie looks mostly great, even if there's a part of me that now wants to see the entire thing with the awful Sonic, just out of morbid curiosity.

But a chase is nothing without a pursuer, and Sonic would be nothing without Dr. Robotnik - here, a government-funded black ops stooge played by an old-school-channelling Jim Carrey. Which is a nice way of saying that Jim Carrey is good at being Jim Carrey™, or rather, being that version of Jim Carrey which makes people who don't like Jim Carrey™ avoid all of his work on general principle. Somehow his nostalgic performance feels out of place in a nostalgic adventure. And the number of Carrey's scenes where he appears with no one else in shot - suggesting weeks of solo soundstage filming as he ad-libs material deemed good enough to bulk out the runtime - is quite worrying.


And as suggested by the opening of this review, comparisons will inevitably be made to the infamous screen-adaptation of Super Mario Bros. Although in some ways the movie's perhaps closer to Doom - a game which never really had too much of a narrative to begin with, and where the movie version is a passably contrived story that plays out while the audience wait for The Set-Piece Sequences to link visually to its gaming-past. When these arrive in Sonic they're pretty joyous, but it's an ironically slow journey in getting there.

Worth noting though are a couple riffs on the Quicksilver super-slo-mo scenes from new-era X-Men, not least because they're each far better than the second time that series tried to coast on its bullet-time charm.


At a neat 98 minutes, this never outstays its welcome or oversteps its boundaries. Young voices in the room were code-compliant throughout and found the whole thing highly amusing, so Jeff Fowler has clearly done well for his audience.

The only real downside to Sonic The Hedgehog is that it's kinda forgettable, it's certainly disposable and there'll be little in there to bolster repeat viewings. I certainly don't feel the need to watch it again, and that will probably remain the case until the heavily-baited sequel comes knocking. Yet that's a sequel I find myself looking forward to, and I certainly wasn't that person when I sat down in Screen 5 two hours earlier. So the film's done that right, too.

If you're of an age and outlook to suspect that Sonic will be bulldozing over your childhood, then it's certainly true that you won't get the most out of this. Then again, Jeff Fowler hasn't really made it for you, so...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Think of E.T. without the heart and Super Mario Bros without the embarrassment.
Except it's not as bad as that sounds

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you keep your expectations grounded (despite my positive words), yes.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
There won't be a lot of rewatch-value in this unless you're a Sonic-obsessive, in which case you don't need my opinion anyway.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Well this might be the first time I've enjoyed James Marsden in a movie, so...

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's entirely possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
A couple of very close-calls, though

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: As well as a clanging-great Obi-Wan Kenobi reference in the first five minutes, that Biker Scout from The Mandalorian is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Imagine, though.


Exec 1: Mate, I've only got one of the ruddy X-MEN for our film!!
Exec 2: Oh wow, who? You get that Logan?
Exec 1: Well no, it's--
Exec 2: Professor X though, right? That'll be cool--
Exec 1: err no, it's not Prof--
Exec 2:. ..Jean Grey?
Exec 1:.Okay look, the X-Men thing's not really important...

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• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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