‘I feel like I’ve been running most of my life,’ suggests a surprisingly mournful Sonic the Hedgehog in this big-screen adaptation of the popular videogame from Sega. Perhaps such a melancholy, Proustian reverie is to be expected; Sonic has been running for decades now, most recently from a November release date cancelled when the internet rose in unison to complain about his teeth. Jeff Fowler’s film does feel like the results of a series of committee meetings to discuss how Sonic might work on the big screen, but it makes for an enjoyable end-product; sometimes, there’s genius in the system.
After a flash-forward opening, Sonic settles down to produce one brilliant visual joke; the theme is speed, and the point is to explain that Sonic is a fast little critter. So a visual of a tortoise crossing the road, with the creature’s speed captured by a cop’s speed-gun, is perfect in that it sets us up nicely for a hero whose speed is the diametric opposite of the slow-coach shelled creature. Sonic’s origins, a mushroom planet, are quickly sketched in, but the film relaxes into Sonic’s relationship with the cop in question, Tom Wachowski, played by James Marsden, an ideal foil for this kind of quick-fire Tex Avery-style humour. Sonic is keen to avoid being experimented on, and having lost his portal-creating rings, needs the help of the cop to travel to San Francisco and retrieve the source of his powers.
If Marsden is ideal as the side-kick, so is Jim Carrey as Dr Robotnik, a super-villain with silent movie theatrics and 90’s patter; his dance sequence is one of several breakout moments here. The best, riffing on the much imitated Time in a Bottle scene from X-Men; Days of Future Past, is a sequence in which Sonic dives into gloopy slow-mo during a bar-room brawl; set to X Ambassador’s propulsive hit Boom Boom Boom, it’s a clever, eye-popping reminder of Sonic’s almost Messianic abilities.
Most of 2020’s cinema releases don’t count towards next years awards, leaving Sonic the Hedgehog the unexpected front runner, something of a dark horse as well as a small blue hedgehog. The point may have been to capitalise on a family friendly IP; while there’s plenty of potential for lucrative cash-in, the Sonic the Hedgehog movie is a good example of friendly, relatable, family fare. And the introduction of perennial pal Tails in the post-credits sequence signals that there’s likely to be plenty more Sonic speeding our way soon…