You’d be forgiven for wondering if the success of the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie was a total fluke. After all, were it not for intense community feedback (and eventually the artistic talents of Tyson Hesse), the blue blur’s big-screen debut would have surely flopped. But with a car crash swiftly avoided, and the fanbase on-side as a result, it would have been easy for Paramount to rest on its laurels and phone it in for the sequel. Especially with the introduction of rival Knuckles the Echidna to automatically guarantee fan support.
Thankfully, there is no need to worry about such a cynical follow-up, as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 not only goes out of its way to respect the fans’ time by focusing the majority of its action on the characters they care most about, but it does so with a jam-packed story that is much improved over, and builds upon, the prequel. This is a rare movie that is both an excellent video-game adaptation and a sequel that’s better than its predecessor.
Picking up right where the first movie left us, Sonic 2 sees a maniacal Doctor Robotnik/Eggman (played by Jim Carrey) escape his Mushroom Planet prison and find his way back to Earth in order to exact revenge on Sonic and conquer the world. Along the way, he attracts the attention of Knuckles (Idris Elba), the last of the Echidna tribe who has his own motivations for finding and defeating Sonic. The two form an alliance to track the hedgehog down and obtain the Master Emerald, a powerful gem that Knuckles believes is his by ancestral birthright.
Meanwhile, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) is settling in to life on Earth by attempting to solve crimes and rescue citizens. You know, like a hero does. However, ‘Blue Justice’ (as he calls himself) comes at a cost as he leaves waves of destruction in his well-intentioned wake. As he gets to grips with understanding the burden of his power, Sonic’s abilities and judgment is tested after a confrontation with Eggman and Knuckles that kick-start a series of chaotic events.
Along the way the blue blur meets Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a technically-minded and crafty two-tailed fox who travels to Earth to help after learning about both Sonic’s heroism and Eggman’s incoming threat via the means of inter-dimensional surveillance and news reports (maybe he’s been reading The Sonic Stadium!).
Fans will be happy to hear that the majority of the movie focuses on the adventures of Sonic and Tails, as well as their interactions against Knuckles and Eggman. As far as the characterisation goes, it’s absolutely top notch. The animation on Sonic, Tails and Knuckles is consistently excellent, with the character designs themselves a massive improvement over the already-impressive Sonic and Tails models found in the first movie.
Ben Schwartz’s performance of Sonic the Hedgehog is absolutely without peer, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that he is the definitive voice of the blue blur for this and the next generation to come. He delivers a fantastically adolescent energy to Sonic that really drives home the character development that takes place throughout the film; from his fun-loving antics to his dramatic face-offs against Knuckles, you feel connected to this character and his journey.
Similarly, O’Shaughnessey delivers her best Tails yet in Sonic 2, and the movie really offers the space to connect the character to the audience. In several scenes we get to understand Tails’ motivations for finding Sonic and wanting to help, and this ties in really nicely with some sweet moments which help underline the growing friendship between the two heroes. Fans of Tails and Colleen will be incredibly happy with how he is written here.
The big question mark was the casting of Idris Elba as Knuckles, and while his performance took some getting used to in the trailers, while watching the movie it is difficult to imagine anyone else voicing the character. As the last of a proud tribe, Elba’s booming voice brings a gravitas to Knuckles that both amplifies the drama during action scenes, yet adds a layer of depth to his more comedic lines. By the end of the movie, it is obvious to see why Paramount decided that it wanted to green-light a TV series focusing on the echidna.
Jim Carrey, as always, is a delight to see as Dr. Robotnik, and with Sonic 2 introducing more of a ‘mad scientist’ energy to the character that more closely resembles the games, this offers a number of opportunities for the comedian to really throw himself into the role. Anyone thinking that he might somehow be more reserved in the sequel will be pleasantly disappointed, as the movie is filled with some outrageous physical comedy (including a surprising soundtrack choice that would put a smile on any 90s heavy metal fan’s face).
While Robotnik was the obvious front-and-centre bad guy in the first Sonic movie, in Sonic 2 he shares the spotlight with Knuckles for most of the runtime. And while it is a little disappointing to see Carrey reduced to a mere cheerleader in some scenes – mostly where Sonic and Knuckles are butting heads – this is balanced out in the climactic third act when Robotnik’s evil scheme comes to fruition and his actions as a major villain are given a lot more focus.
The most interesting thing when watching Sonic 2 is discovering that, despite the huge attention that Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Eggman are rightly given, the filmmakers managed to find plenty of room for the human characters to have meaningful involvement in the movie. Tom (James Marsden) and Maddie (Tina Sumpter) Wachowski spend their time in a b-plot that involves the wedding of Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), which is inevitably disrupted by Sonic’s world-saving antics.
Rather than be a forgettable side-story that distracts from the Sonic/Knuckles action, the Hawaii-based wedding ends up becoming surprisingly pivotal to the main plot with Tom and Maddie given plenty of room to contribute to Sonic’s adventure. And it’s rather well written too, with Sumpter and Rothwell in particular being handed some great comedic action to work with. If you enjoyed Rachel’s loud-mouthed antics in the first Sonic movie, you’re going to really love her character in the sequel.
In fact, what’s really impressive with the scriptwriting here is that every major side-character has at least one or two scenes where they can really make their mark on the movie. Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub) is a fan-favourite who returns as a coffee-shop proprietor who longs for the day Dr. Robotnik returns to Earth, and ends up helping the mad scientist in many ways throughout the story. Even Deputy Sheriff Wade (Adam Pally) gets some substantial screentime.
Rather than feel too bloated or concentrated, the many different appearances and scenes featuring all of these characters is really quite satisfying. It helps that the first Sonic movie spent a fair amount of time introducing all of these characters (which ironically made 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog feel a little… slow in places) so when we are re-introduced to them in Sonic 2 there is little exposition needed to explain their place.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some storytelling turbulence in the movie. While a lot of the sequel’s key concepts and characters needed little explaining (owing to the groundwork laid in the first film, particularly in the intro featuring Longclaw) and this has broadly kept the storytelling and pacing lean and swift, there are some areas which stand out. Some clunkiness in scenes where the filmmakers clearly realised that additional exposition was necessary for audiences to understand what was going on.
These moments feel a little tacked-on (and might even open the door to a plothole question or two for the cynically-minded) but with so many different story threads going on in Sonic 2 it’s difficult to think of other ways in which the producers could have handled this.
Other scenes may seem to older audiences to serve as nothing more than filler to pad out the movie. A scene where Sonic and Tails take refuge in a dangerous mountaintop ‘saloon’ devolves into a largely comical sequence that adult viewers might find a little superfluous. But these do serve an important purpose – to help break up the intense action for younger viewers, as without them Sonic 2 does run the risk of becoming a relentless hold-your-breath action-packed experience, which might be a little draining to watch.
With these minor issues aside, it’s amazing that with so much going on, the movie isn’t a complete mess. That’s to the credit of the writers and the producers, who have made sure that every scene and character thread ties together to complete the bigger picture. It is absolutely a movie where the action has been cranked up to ’11’ – the stakes for Sonic (and Earth in general) haven’t just doubled, they’ve arguably tripled. Especially towards the end, where Eggman’s menace results in a deadly final obstacle for the blue blur.
But for as much action is crammed into those two hours of runtime, there’s as much heart. You can tell this is a sequel made with love and affection for the series, and that the first film was not just a flash in the pan. There are franchise references all throughout the movie, ranging from game locations to classic Sonic poses, scenes from past Sonic games to memes and even comic book characters.
This care and attention to detail extends to the character development of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles and the relationships between the three of them that evolve throughout the course of the film. If the first Sonic the Hedgehog was a classic ‘fish out of water’ story about the blue blur’s identity and figuring out who he is, this sequel is very much a tale about Sonic understanding his power and the responsibility that comes with it. Alongside that are themes of heroism, loneliness, friendship and dealing with the past.
Admittedly, it’s really not hard to recognise these themes, as the movie kind of beats you round the head with them at multiple points (including a rowboat scene in the opening act where Tom is trying to lecture Sonic on the merits of self-control). But amidst all the tense and chaotic action between Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Eggman, you can definitely feel that the blue blur goes on a rewarding journey of self-discovery as events unfold.
As a Sonic fan, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has everything you could ask for. It’s an action-packed experience that puts the focus squarely on the mainline characters that you care about, with spot-on characterisations that draw you in to the constant rivalry between Sonic and Knuckles (and the friendship between Sonic and Tails), and a satisfying final act that will give you goosebumps to the very end (with some well-timed chuckles and game references in-between). Despite some narrative wobbles, it does the characters justice, it does the Sonic universe justice, and it does the franchise justice. Blue Justice, you might say.