Sonic the Hedgehog 2 races into cinemas on April 1st.
SEGA’s number-one blue-spiked mascot has returned onto the big screen as Jeff Fowler makes his sophomore debut in the Sonic franchise. Sequels are a tricky affair – even more so when working within videogame adaptations. However, given the strong positive response to Ben Schwarz and Jim Carrey’s electric repartee in the original, fans were hopeful, even more so with the introduction of the iconic characters Tails and Knuckles to complete the triptych of heroes. So, has Fowler managed to outrun the curse of the sophomore slump?
It’s clear that Fowler is telling two stories here that meet in the middle. For Sonic, it’s a coming-of-age tale as a troublesome adolescent under the parentage of Tom and Maddie, trying to find his feet and understand how he can best use his powers to benefit the world around him. Initially, I wasn’t sure about Schwarz’s portrayal in the original. Still, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 cements his blue-spiked take on the speedster as he hooks you in with his teenage playfulness and anachronistic references. There’s a Hughesian streak to the more intimate moments between surrogate father-and-son as Tom attempts to pass down Wachowski family wisdom to the hedgehog, much to a bristly response.
Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America.
There are a lot of 80s references and homages to be found in Sonic 2, from Risky Business to Road House, alongside some head-banging rock tracks that further drive home that Hughesian sentimentality Fowler is capitalizing on. It’s that moment in one’s adolescence where you’re more aware of yourself than ever, so steadfast in what you want to be that you can’t see the steps necessary to get there, overly eager to rush to the finish line. Sonic has his family, but his journey in the sequel is about finding his tribe; fortunately, they’re closer than he thinks.
The other half of Sonic 2’s story is the echidna-out-of-water tragedy, Knuckles. Fowler continues to strike the right balance between honouring and celebrating the videogame origins whilst paving the way with his own original story. Knuckle’s backstory allows us a further glimpse into what led to Sonic fleeing his mother Longclaw and the long and complicated history between the Echidnas and the Owls. Meanwhile, Idris Elba crushes it as he plays up the spikey-gloved fighter’s naivety of Earth and its customs for maximum hilarity.
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As teased in the original’s credits, Tails makes his big-screen debut, and there was never anyone better than the original and long-time voice of Tails, Colleen O’Shaughnessey. Here Schwarz and Elba may give some tremendous vocal performances, but Colleen runs golden rings around them all. No surprise considering she is practically the voice of Tails throughout the Sonic franchise, and it’s fantastic she’s being celebrated here. Colleen’s introduction is just as crucial as Tails. Here Fowler clearly understands not just how the legacy of Sonic has been formed but who was instrumental in forming it. Not having Colleen for Tails is equivalent to only giving the fox one tail; you just can’t do it.
Sonic 2 is a significant improvement on the first, and that’s partly due to the united triptych of Sonic, Knuckles and Tails with a greater focus on them against the more deranged and unhinged Eggman. Carrey was slightly mad in the previous encounter. Still, here he cranks it up to full-on egg-alomaniac levels of insanity after spending a mind-numbingly long period of isolation on the mysterious Mushroom Planet. It is like watching the lovechild of The Mask and Ace Ventura gone berserk, creating this palpable dread that you’d never thought imaginable from a character nicknamed ‘Eggman’.
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Lee Majdoub’s Agent Stone is also a welcome return as Eggman’s sycophantic servant, clearly in love with a madman; haven’t we all fallen in love with the wrong guy before? From a particular perspective, there’s a story of unrequited love, and Majdoub plays it to perfection – he’s one of the more underrated players of this franchise, and his comedic timing is impeccable.
Like the first, Fowler has also hidden a plethora of great easter eggs and references that invite a second watch for fans of the videogame series. One of the only critiques is that Fowler’s expansion of his Sonic Cinematic Universe comes with a penchant for pausing the film for exposition dumps. Here there are perhaps one too many, where information is given that audiences will likely be able to parse on their own. Likewise, the film does run a little too long. For example, a wedding subplot involving Maddie’s sister Rachel and her fiancé detracts from the film’s central narrative. After all, this is a Sonic movie, first and foremost.
Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 performs the rare feat of surpassing its original. It has a hilarious charm through its part-80s coming-of-age, part-echidna out of water stories that make it so much fun. Ben Schwarz has cemented himself as one of the best Sonics in recent memory, while Elba crushes it as Knuckles, and of course, Colleen O’Shaughnessey is as perfect as Tails as ever. Jeff Fowler is on a supersonic roll.
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Sonic the Hedgehog 2 performs the rare feat of surpassing its original. It has a hilarious charm through its part-80s coming-of-age, part-echidna out of water stories that make it so much fun.