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Sonic the Hedgehog ★★

Jim Carrey’s delightfully unhinged portrayal of Dr. Robotnik does the heavy-lifting in Sonic’s big-screen adventure

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Director: Jeff Fowler

StarS: Jim Carrey, Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter

Released: 14th February 2020 (UK)

In a somewhat anomalous turn of events, films based on video games have seen a bit of a resurgence over the past couple of years. Sure, the quality may vary from “direct-to-VoD DOOM schlock” to “dark and gritty Lara Croft”, but the general industry approach seems to have shifted towards a serious change: major studios are respectfully embracing video games as valid source material for A-grade blockbuster entertainment. What once was a low-tier anathema has been steadily becoming a highly profitable cash machine, designed to appease the nostalgia-obsessed crowd and give some of that much-needed attention to classic game franchises. And yet, looking at just some of the recent silver screen adaptations, it seems that
most of them have gone through multiple stages of development hell to see the light of day. Sonic The Hedgehog is certainly one of them, having been tossed around multiple studios and pitches, ultimately ending up with one of the most surreal VFX turnarounds to date. The lightning-fast blue devil seems to have suffered a lot since the first reveal and now, on the day
of the film’s theatrical release, one could only wonder whether this mildly enjoyable, banal adventure was worth the additional sheen.

Following a mysterious attack, Sonic (Ben Schwartz), a blue anthropomorphic alien hedgehog, is forced to retreat from Planet Mobius and seek refuge on Earth. Years later, following an accidental reveal of Sonic’s super-speed ability, the American government tasks the villainous
Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) with a mission to find out the source of power surges in the Western US. Now, with the help of a small-town cop Tom (James Marsden) and a bag of his signature power rings, Sonic has to stop the demented scientist before it’s too late.

There’s no doubt that almost everybody who’s going to see Sonic The Hedgehog has at least some vague idea of who the character is. SEGA’s most prized mascot has been around since the early 90s but has only just made it to cinemas, unlike his moustached Nintendo rivals. However, as opposed to some of the more faithful representations of video game characters
(say, Detective Pikachu or even Reptile in Mortal Kombat ), Sonic The Hedgehog opts for a mostly generic portrayal of an alien CG-creature that has as much connection to the video game version of the classic blue hedgehog as his infamous rendition in Sonic Unleashed . Sure, the iconic Green Hill Zone returns in the film’s gorgeously animated opening, but as soon as our blue lead lands in Green Hills, Montana , the film shifts into the overly familiar live-action gear. The lovely animation gets sidelined by purposefully over-exposed shots of a small American town and a fair amount of blatant product placement, leaving Sonic with a characterless face that only vaguely reflects his Mega Drive origins — in part, due to an insipid script that seems to be more interested in the buddy-cop angle and Sonic’s flossing technique, rather than the core essence of the character.

The main attraction here is the cast, especially Jim Carrey’s delightfully unhinged portrayal of Dr. Robotnik (note that I didn’t say Eggman ), who is absolutely the meanest kid-friendly villain in quite some time. Bullying his way through the film, there’s an odd sense of undistilled intensity coming from Carrey’s eccentric performance, which is certainly an inspired choice for an otherwise tame film. On the other side of the film’s live-action conflict is James Marsden, who seems to immensely enjoy the time he spends talking to CG animals and, once again, it is a sight to behold. What’s more surprising, though, is just how well Ben Schwartz embodies the free-spirited, joyously annoying nature of Sonic, even when the writing keeps trying to strip away most of his distinct features. It’s an admirable effort that holds all the other flimsy pieces ofthe film together.

It’s odd to think that a film about such a universally beloved, charismatic character could end up being as tired and trite as Sonic The Hedgehog . The cast does most of the heavy-lifting here, injecting some fine comedic timing and casually callous humor into a mostly timid Saturday-morning package that only briefly reminds you of just how fun Sonic could be. Sorry, Sonic fans — Pikachu got this one.

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