The fact that “ Sonic the Hedgehog 2 ” exists is not exactly a mystery.
The first film was a financial success for Paramount Pictures and by the year’s end would hold the distinction of being the No. 2 release in North America. That second fact should be taken with a grain of salt though. It’s mostly dumb luck: The studio released it in February 2020, a month before theaters closed and studios began jettisoning their films to streamers or later release dates.
Still, sequels have been greenlit on less and “Sonic” didn’t just have dollars going for it. On the forgiving curve of video game properties being turned into potential franchises for studios desperate for a sure thing, it also wasn’t half bad. There were enough genuinely funny moments to make it enjoyable and much of that had to do with James Marsden’s performance as Sonic’s human companion Tom. Marsden is unbelievably natural and charming while acting against a cobalt blue, computer-generated alien.
It should have been a promising development that the entire original team assembled to get “Sonic 2” to theaters, including director Jeff Fowler, writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller, and the cast — Marsden, Ben Schwartz as Sonic, Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, Tika Sumpter as Tom’s wife Maddie and supporting standouts Natasha Rothwell and Adam Pally.
And yet “Sonic 2” feels extremely rushed. Though it starts off promisingly enough with Carrey’s character marooned on a “piece of shitake” mushroom planet, it soon becomes evident that this outing is a soulless attempt to up the stakes and cash in.
It is a slapdash extravaganza that doubles down on its CGI stars, adding a bad guy Echidna, Knuckles (Idris Elba), and a friend/Sonic superfan, Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), for a globetrotting journey to find an all-powerful emerald, and relegates its human counterparts to the background to its own detriment. Kids may be pleased with the shift in balance, but their parental companions will likely be running for the door (or earplugs).
The humor also feels like it was generated by a game of pop culture mad libs, with snarks about everything from Vin Diesel and The Rock to Limp Bizkit.
For instance, “Oh great, the Winter Soldier,” Sonic deadpans as Knuckles chases after him on a snowy mountain in Siberia. This referential strategy can and has worked when done thoughtfully. Here it just comes across as a first draft at making a PG-rated “Deadpool.” And in the last third, the filmmakers decide to just do a full homage to the opening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Sonic is also now being positioned as a fledgling superhero who still has a lot to learn. Sure, what else can you really do to stretch this character into a big movie franchise that people care about? But it also takes the air and excitement out of the journey by making it something that we’ve seen many, many times before. Is there nothing else you can do with a superspeed alien hedgehog?
Then there’s Carrey, whose larger-than-life performance isn’t even big enough to compete with the CG action soup. It’s a shame to squander a roster of talented comedic actors who seem game to do anything opposite their alien counterparts. Hopefully there’s time for a little reflection before the next one is fast-tracked to a VFX house to do the brunt of the work. What this franchise needs most at this point is to slow down.
“Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” a Paramount Pictures release in theaters Friday, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “rude humor, mild language, action and some violence.” Running time: 122 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr