Well, that was fast. The first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie opened in February 2020. In spite of — or maybe, in some strange way, because of — fan pushback to the live-action movie’s initial CG character design, it turned out to be far better than anyone expected (the bar is exasperatingly low for video game adaptations). The Blue Blur seemed to be racing toward some kind of box office record when the pandemic hit. Fast forward two years, and we already have a sequel, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” that takes what was endearing about the original — in a word, personality — and renders it generic in a hurry.
Devotees of the spiky speed demon — who debuted 31 years ago with the Sega Genesis console and has been the brand’s bestselling answer to Super Mario ever since — had no trouble reading the clues in the previous film to what a sequel might contain: Banished to the Mushroom Planet, Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik vowed revenge, while high-flying fox Tails popped through a Warp Ring above Sonic’s new Earth home of Green Hills, Mont. Back on his home planet, baby Sonic was being hunted by a tribe of echidnas (a hint that swollen-fisted red rival Knuckles couldn’t be far behind), while the character’s Safe Worlds map depicted a Master Emerald in the bottom corner. And there you have all the key ingredients of director Jeff Fowler’s level-up follow-up.
The movie opens with Sonic trying to be a hero in San Francisco, the city where local cop and “doughnut lord” Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) planned to relocate in the first movie, before deciding to remain in Green Hills and treat Sonic as the kid he and wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) never had. Sonic’s short-lived stint as a vigilante is part pop-culture riff and part ’90s-era action-movie homage, and in both respects, it shows how much fun Fowler and writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller (joined by “The Lego Batman Movie” jokester John Whittington this time around) can have with the character, who’s once again voiced by smart-alecky “Parks and Recreation” comic Ben Schwartz.
The team has proven a good match for the material already, weaving elements of a non-narrative platform game into an emotionally grounded fish-out-of-water story. Fowler, a visual effects vet and Oscar nominee for his 2004 animated rodent short “Gopher Broke,” managed to successfully combine a CG character with human co-stars (it’s one of the few hybrid movies where eyelines match and we buy a patently artificial character in practical environments). Sonic is sarcastic and somewhat absurdly obsessed with contemporary pop culture, like some kind of PG-rated Deadpool, cracking jokes about Vin Diesel and busting moves to old-school hip-hop.
After Sonic accidentally endangers a number of civilians, Tom takes him out in a rowboat, like he learned how to parent from watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show,” and gives him some fatherly advice about what it really means to be a hero — just in time, too, since Sonic’s adoptive folks are headed off to the wedding of belligerent sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) in Hawaii, and all hell’s about to break loose back home.
Robotnik returns with the help of Knuckles (a literal anger-ball, amusingly voiced by Idris Elba), and both of these baddies are determined to drain Sonic of his extra lives and locate that all-powerful emerald — situated in a place that will look familiar to gamers. It should be said that the first 90 minutes of “Sonic 2” are pretty clever, thanks to all the creative ways the screenwriters devised to honor the games without derailing the plot. These include Tails showing up in a bright red biplane and the classic Green Hill Zone theme serving as Tom’s ringtone. Jim Carrey deserves credit, too, demonstrating once again that the comedian (who was also an inspired choice to play the Riddler, Count Olaf and the Grinch) is far more enjoyable as a villain than he ever was in spastic, elastic leading-man mode.
An hour and a half would’ve been a perfectly fine run time, whereas at two hours and change, “Sonic 2” wears out its welcome well before it turns into yet another phone-it-in franchise entry — the kind where storms gather, a column of fluorescent light shoots up to the sky and everything becomes apocalyptic. We’ve come to expect that kind of world-threatening gloom from Marvel movies (technically, it all goes back to the original “Ghostbusters,” a debt the movie recognizes, even as it serves up its own version of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man), but it gets tiresome when practically every kiddie movie puts our existence in jeopardy. It would’ve been plenty effective to focus just on keeping the Wachowski family together.
“Sonic 2” ends much as the first one did, with hints that this blue hedgehog will buzz-saw his way through more adventures. Stick through the credits to find out which franchise character Paramount and Sega promise to introduce next. A word of advice to the studio: Don’t rush it. Audiences were appreciative when you took the time to redo the design of the CG Sonic, and they’ll wait as long as it takes to do right by characters they’ve already dedicated so many hours to playing at home.