Sunday, 16 February 2020

Film Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Gotta go fast. Sonic the Hedgehog speeds into cinemas this weekend, and stars James Marsden, Jim Carrey and Ben Schwartz.

Based on the classic Sega character from the 90s, Sonic the Hedgehog is your typical unpretentious Saturday matinee film for the whole family. So much so that it features prominent product placement for Toyota pick-ups and Olive Garden, just so there's no mistaking who the target market is here.

The underlying plot is quite simple, with Sonic (voiced by Schwartz) embarking on a road trip from Montana to San Francisco with small-town Sheriff Tom (Marsden, doing a great job of conjuring up chemistry while sitting across from a tennis ball for 90 per cent of the runtime) in order to retrieve some powerful 'rings' that act as portals to other planets. Tailing them the whole way is the nefarious Dr Robotnik (Carrey), a drone technology specialist who wants to capture Sonic and harness his boundless energy.

The Sonic 'lore' (for want of a better word) has largely and wisely been jettisoned, with Sonic and Robotnik the only game characters to inhabit the world in this iteration. The film even starts at the end, with a freeze frame and narration from Sonic – not quite a record scratch and "you're probably wondering how I got here", but close enough – before winding back the clock to the beginning of the story.

Subsequently, 2020's Sonic the Hedgehog is a strange marriage of 90s film formula with lashings of 2010s references, meme humour and visual effects. Like a PG-rated Deadpool who has just gulped down a tube of blue Smarties, Schwartz's Sonic is constantly rattling off cheeky asides and references – Dominic Toretto, Keanu Reeves and Obi-Wan Kenobi get a mention; Sonic flosses on not one but two occasions; and the infamous 'Sanic' meme even gets worked into the plot, which is a fun in-joke for Sonic's internet-residing audience.

Carrey's comedic comeback is a riot too; he's clearly relishing the opportunity to return to his Ace Ventura/The Riddler heyday and just get really weird and silly. He's consistently the best part about the film, from the moment his utilitarian science lab on wheels rolls into town and he steps out, complete with villainous moustache and red steampunk goggles. Multiplexes have been lacking Carrey's unique manic energy for some time, and it marries with Sonic the Hedgehog's weirdness well.

Adults might find some of the familiarity plot beats tired, but children will love it – Sonic's inability to sit still and incessant chattering is funny and probably quite relatable for this film's core audience.

The visual effects are bright and colourful – most importantly, Sonic doesn't look like he smokes meth twice a day anymore – and the action scenes aren't too few and far between.

The middle third lags, but a finale that sees Sonic and Robotnik leaping through portals and across major world landmarks is great fun.

Even though they haven't grown-up with the Sega Genesis (or anything that came out before the Nintendo Switch, probably), kids of a certain age will have a great time as Sonic bounces around and waxes lyrical about donuts, the movie Speed (of course, what else?). For adults who grew up on Sonic, this is a no-brainer; but for everyone else, there's better stuff currently in cinemas.

The Verdict: 6/10

As videogame movies go, you can do a lot worse than Sonic the Hedgehog. It's nothing special, but I would definitely recommend to families with young kids and tweens.

Sonic the Hedgehog is in cinemas across Australia now.

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