Sonic the Hedgehog review – video game adaptation goes nowhere fast

Jim Carrey does his best to inject some energy into a broadly-drawn film that fails to deliver on its promise of high speed thrills

When I was growing up, you were either a “Sonic kid,” or a “Mario kid,” usually based on which games console you happened to own as a result of a parent’s arbitrary choice. Having a Sega Mega Drive meant I was the former, “a Sonic kid,” and proud of it. Sonic – fast-paced, with more dynamic graphics and a hypnotising soundtrack – was undoubtably the hipper franchise of the two: the epitome of ’90s cool. Better yet, Sonic himself was cool. So far removed from a fat Italian plumber with a mushroom addiction, he went about his business with silent confidence, jumping up at the screen whenever you beat the game to flash the peace sign. Stop playing and he’d turn to look at you, tapping his watch as if to say, “Seriously? Let’s go!”

The older I got, though, the more the Sonic franchise began to lose its way. Then whatever association the blue speedster had with coolness was murdered, violently, the moment Sega allowed him to open his mouth. Petulant and whiny, Sonic’s persona quickly began to feel like an out of touch dad’s approximation of cool, fraudulent in every sense. The Sonic franchise has been a bit of an embarrassment for close to two decades now, struggling to find its identity with every new instalment, whilst Mario has thrived.

Sonic the Hedgehog, a belated live-action take on the once sacred game series, is not the product to restore the video game mascot’s former glory. It arrives, slightly delayed, after an admittedly amusing period in internet history in which the character’s initial design was unveiled and quickly ridiculed as terrifying; the studio heard the fans and opted for a design overhaul. Sonic looks better in this version, but his film – which finds the anthropomorphic blue hedgehog, voiced by Ben Schwartz, transported as a sort of alien refugee from his CGI-rendered planet to (wait for it) modern day Montana – perfectly encapsulates the current state of the games themselves: it can’t quite figure out what to do with itself.

The thrill of any Sonic game is undoubtably the speed. Yet this film, directed by Jeff Fowler in his debut, fails to make use of its titular character’s awesome superpowers, and – after he is teamed with a likeable police sheriff, played by James Marsden, for a conventional road trip story – puts its spiky hero behind the wheel of a vehicle for large portions of the movie. It’s a worryingly languid adventure for something based on one of the fastest video game franchises.

The notion of a film twenty years too late is rammed home by the inclusion of Jim Carrey as Sonic’s arch-nemesis Dr. Robotonik, a casting choice that would have made perfect sense in, oh, 1999, but now reeks of desperation. Carrey is without a doubt the film’s best element, but his turn here is far from the legendary actor’s finest hour. Chewing the scenery to absurd levels, he does his best to inject the film with the wild energy it deserves, but he’s fighting a losing battle: Sonic the Hedgehog, ironically, never picks up enough momentum to fully entertain. The result is as generic and broad and as watered down as any studio movie of this sort can be. Sonic, it turns out, really is the relic we all had him pegged for. Being a “Mario kid” never seemed more appealing.

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