Victoria Hall, Staff Writer
For his first feature film, director Jeff Fowler was faced with no easy task. A plot involving an intergalactic, portal-jumping hedgehog can go in many directions – but he made sure to deliver exactly what “Sonic the Hedgehog” fans showed up to see: speed.
The movie opens with a flash-forward to a high-speed chase, and that same momentum continues throughout the duration of the film. There is no shortage of rapid, action-fueled, crescendo-filled scenes, cushioned by slow-motion shots of a vivid blue hedgehog bursting with personality.
Like the main character, the story moves quickly. The film immediately deepens into a plot of childhood tragedy for the protagonist, creating a new level of sentiment for an already beloved and nostalgic character. After defining the core features and motivations of the protagonists, the movie alternates between visually pleasing action scenes, character-building asides, and emotionally packed deliveries of plot-points. It is one-part pop culture one-liners, one-part improbable buddy-cop escapades, and wholly steeped in all the visual wonder that modern computer-generated imagery (CGI) has to offer.
In spite of the emphasis on speed, Fowler takes an impressively well-paced approach. The easy and obvious path would have been to present Sonic as the embodiment of “fast,” and the film as his racetrack. However, Fowler has no taste for low hanging fruit. Instead he works the idea elegantly, flowing with an otherwise complex character and plot. The movie narrative, like the main character, is not afraid of getting derailed, taking its time, and stopping to smell the roses. This is the quality most events in the movie take on – nothing seems important until it suddenly is, at which point is resolved quickly and the pace returns to a leisurely stride.
Ben Schwartz, the voice of Sonic, delivered dialogue with all the energy of an excited and inattentive child. Whether making glib, self-aware observations, excited realizations, or pop culture references, Schwartz keeps things vibrant. He can change the atmosphere of a scene as quickly as he changes subjects and is ultimately responsible for catalyzing the adventures he shares with his fellow cast. Voiced by a 38-year-old actor, Sonic’s age is understandably ambiguous. However, he does a remarkable job representing the timeless charm of the spiky blue hero.
Matching Schwartz’s energy is Sonic’s on-screen nemesis, Dr. Robotnik. The diabolical villain is played by Jim Carrey, who is as quick with his wit as Sonic is with his feet. Carrey injects the experience with a different kind of tension. As expected, he has a magnificent screen presence and his performance is more immersive than the CGI that surrounds him. He effortlessly glides between caricature and sophistication, embodying villainy infuriating enough to make you hate him, before reminding you why you can’t help but love him. Every movie he stars in becomes a “Jim Carrey” movie, and “Sonic the Hedgehog” is no exception.
In the other corner, James Marsden portrays Tom Wachowski, and creates a slower, calmer angle. In a movie coursing with fast-paced action, Marsden brings a sense of grounding to a series of fantastic events. He keeps cool even while forced to digest the improbable, impossible, and at times, downright traumatizing. He does so while weaving in themes of camaraderie. His friendly face, hometown vibe, and easy smile are what make this film an emotional investment. Without him, there would be no underlying message behind the story – that it is sometimes worth it to slow down and hold onto the things you want to last.
Marsden’s on screen wife, Maddie Wachowski, is an awkwardly tossed-in side character. Actress Tika Sumpter has perhaps the most difficult job of the movie: tying Maddie into the plot in a relevant manner. She misses most of the story before scrambling to find a relationship that makes sense with the two main protagonists. Lacking other substance, it seems as though her character is the “supportive wife.” Unfortunately, her seamless acclimation to outrageousness unfolding around her (such as spaceships and alien hedgehogs), threatens the viewer’s immersion with how inappropriately calm she is. Though not as relevant as other characters, she manages to produce an element of relatability that gives the audience something to hold on to when everything else is orbiting the unusual.
Overall, “Sonic the Hedgehog” is quick and wholesome. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in quirky charm. While it isn’t quite in the ballpark of family movie classics like “Frozen,” or “The Princess Bride,” it is absolutely good enough to sit on the shelf beside “Wreck it Ralph” and similar fare. This film is a well-executed reference to a franchise that still seems to be going fast after many years.