Screenshot: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog is a failure of the imagination so catastrophic, so unfathomably antipathetic to the very idea of itself, that sitting down to write this review felt like sawing a hole in my own skull, blending my brain up, and drinking it back through a straw. Even conjuring up the words to say this was like desperately fighting against the event horizon of a black hole while it slowly turned my body into subatomic spaghetti, my material essence hopefully forming the building blocks of a new universe where movies like Sonic the Hedgehog will never be made.

Here is a list of things that Sonic the Hedgehog is not interested in as a movie or even an experience: being enjoyable, being watchable, being coherent, being aesthetically pleasing to look at. Here is a list of things that Sonic the Hedgehog, conversely, is very much interested in: mushrooms, ’80s nostalgia, biker gangs, and insisting that the alien at its center should have remarkably human teeth, despite jumping through an intergalactic portal from 200 billion light-years away after its alien-owl mother was shot by a bow-and-arrow-wielding hedgehog gang. I went into this with middling expectations, considering it is a kids movie aimed at adult gamers. Kids will probably not care about its nonsensical plot, and adult gamers will likely buy the collectible action figures anyway.

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Spoilers ahead.

For that to make any amount of sense, I should at least attempt a rough summary of the plot, although I fear that even the plot itself would find some difficulty roughly summarizing itself: On an alien planet filled with bi-pedal life forms that look nothing like hedgehogs, a baby named Sonic is born wearing gloves. This baby can run really, really fast. It is unclear how this baby was born, or where its parents are. I assume the film doesn’t know either. Regardless, it is raised by an owl creature that can hop across the universe using teleportation rings built by some ambiguous “advanced society” that’s never shown. One day, the bow-and-arrow-obsessed aliens kill the owl, who throws baby Sonic through a portal to Earth, where it will be “safe” from forces that want its “power.” Sure!

This backstory is told as a flashback inside of a flash-forward, detailed while a now-grown Sonic is running around an exploding San Francisco while being chased by a flying robot. Like most bad movies, it contains a voiceover narration (courtesy Ben Schwartz), but it’s interspersed with Sonic frequently talking to both himself and the audience, probably because no self-respecting actor would allow a contract that stipulated more than 10 concurrent minutes of screentime with an animated freak alien.

After being thrown unceremoniously through the portal, Sonic learns about human civilization in a rural “Pacific Northwest” town called Green Hills. Nobody knows he exists, except the man who knows he does, who Sonic frequently torments past the point of insanity, prompting townspeople to bully the man and call him all sorts of terrible names. There’s a cop in this town, too, Tom Wachowski, who really loves donuts and his wife. Too bad, though, because he’s played by the out-of-place James Marsden, bumbling from one scene to the next, doing both a goofy SNL impression of what a small-town, donut-obsessed cop is like, as well as whatever the filmmakers believed a handsome everyman protagonist is supposed to be.

For at least half the movie, Sonic performs a series of gags that involve him running so fast he pretends to be multiple people at once, all while addressing both himself as those characters, and the audience as Sonic, the narrator of this movie. It’s beyond absurd, sitting in a theatre for two hours watching an alien with too many ’80s references play baseball with itself. Worse, said baseball game is actually the crux of any tension in this film because losing to himself makes Sonic feel almost crippling loneliness. He deals with this, predictably, by running very, very fast. So fast he trips a power surge across the entire Pacific Northwest. This alerts the government, but most unforgivably, prompts an unexpected and unearned cutaway to the Pentagon, where a handful of doltish generals discuss committing war crimes for a few minutes until calling on the powers of Dr. Robotnik.

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I cannot stress enough that Dr. Robotnik, played by the increasingly absurd Jim Carrey, is an abomination on the canon of video-game movie adaptations. He exerts a Herculean level of effort as the Sonic-obsessed mad scientist, flinging and flailing himself about scenes while performing fourth-wall-breaking asides that double as standup routines. He screams at underlings, dances to terrible music in his “Evil Lab,” and frequently suggests to other characters onscreen that he would definitely have sex with his robot army, who he also calls his children. (As an aside, representatives recently accused me of having a dirty mind, which I do.)

Back to Sonic: In one scene, he puts on a cowboy hat and performs some Fortnite dances in a crowded bar of small-town people the audience is meant to see as too dumb to understand that they are hanging out with an alien. In another, the leader of a biker gang says something racist about aliens—“We don’t like your kind around here”—which prompts a bar fight and some fast running from Sonic. There’s also an extended car chase at about 40 miles per hour, some more nonsense about an intergalactic civilization of portal hopping hedgehog slash owl aliens, and some feel-good monologues about the meaning of friendship. In the film’s climax, Sonic repeatedly beats up Dr. Robotnik’s robot spaceship, which just sort of sits there and takes it, while the whole town of Green Hills shouts inspirational messages at him. When the power-hungry Dr. Robotnik is eventually defeated and thrown through a portal to some mushroom planet, they all link arm-in-arm with each other and walk home, pretending like their town wasn’t just blown up.

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Ridiculous plot aside, I was most haunted by a moment before the opening scene even rolled. During the studio credits, a bunch of video game screens are lined up into the shape of the Sega logo, declaring this film a “Sega Original Movie.” The specter of that studio logo haunted me for much of the film, so uncannily similar to the equally spooky Marvel Studios title card, which has retained an iron grip on the last decade of Hollywood history. Sega’s is a title card that warns its audience, “This is not the last Sonic flick you are going to see,” and that would normally worry me. Except I cannot imagine this meaningless endeavor of a movie will amount to a sprawling franchise, let alone a studio enterprise for Sega itself.

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