HEAT VISION

'Sonic the Hedgehog': What the Critics Are Saying

After a high-profile delay, does the videogame-based movie impress?

After famously taking a pit stop to rework the animation of its title character, Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog races into theaters this week, looking to break the bad-luck tradition of movies based on video games. Can one reworked blue hedgehog — and Jim Carrey’s return to over-the-top comedic roles — succeed where countless others have failed?

As of Thursday afternoon, the film holds a 67 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, a decent score given its trouble, but critics weren't totally satisfied.

“The production may have riled the internet months ago, with furor over the look of its first trailer sending FX crews back to work on a character redesign; but what's made it to the screen is light-hearted fun unlikely to offend anyone,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore, but others seemed to be offended by the movie’s overall lack of ambition.

“Even as undemanding kids fare, the formula represents a thin concoction, with the most amusing gag — in which the superfast Sonic manipulates those around him while they appear to stand still — essentially pilfered from the later X-Men movies, where the Quicksilver character does much the same,” noted CNN’s Brian Lowry, adding, “The bottom line is not every piece of intellectual property really has the heft to merit such big-screen treatment, and if there was a way to build a viable cinematic franchise around the game, this doesn't feel like it.”

Josh Spiegel of /Flim agrees, writing, “Here is a film that refuses to stop making quips, somehow pulling off the unique feat of never making any of those quips funny. Marsden and Carrey are about as good as you can hope for in a film like this, in part because there’s always a distinct look in their eyes that communicates a weary sense of awareness, that it’s come to this.”

Still, at least there are the special effects and action sequences to enjoy, right? Or… maybe not, if Time Out’s Michael Gingold is anything to go by. “Worse, it feels so derivative: the basic plot trajectory recalls the superior Transformers spinoff Bumblebee, while the tech-wielding Robotnik is just a thin, villainous facsimile of Tony Stark. In a pileup of similarities that damn Sonic by comparison, there’s an effects-laden chase through San Francisco that can’t match up to the one in Ant-Man and the Wasp,” he complains.

Steve Rose from The Guardian feels the same. “There are action scenes and effects flourishes, but even these feel borrowed from other movies,” he writes. “Sonic’s ability to freeze time then dart about rearranging things before starting it again, for example, is clearly indebted to QuickSilver’s antics in the X-Men movies. And what messages this exercise can be bothered to deliver are trite and familiar: the true meaning of friendship, be happy with what you’ve got, machines bad, people (and space hedgehogs) good. All in all, like its fast-moving, attention-deficient hero, this just feels like a rush job.”

Not everyone feels as if such familiarity is necessarily a bad thing, though. “This year’s Sonic the Hedgehog could have been the biggest hit of 1996, in ways both good and bad,” writes Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. “From the movie’s shopworn one-liners, to the un-ironic use of the 'Yup, that’s me, now you’re probably wondering how I got here' freeze-frame meme, to the spectacle of Jim Carrey (finally, thankfully) being Jim Carrey again, to the random Olive Garden jokes, to the fact that we’re watching, y’know, a Sonic the Hedgehog movie … the whole project feels like it was written, conceived, and greenlit decades ago. But that’s also part of its appeal.”

Surely, though, there’s something more to this movie! Hasn’t anyone found something underneath a surface that’s notable? What about you, Leigh Monson from Birth.Movies.Death? “What’s more surprising is how thematically the film expresses this aggressive perspective of rural community’s moral superiority to urban elitism, which is to be expected of a film aimed squarely at Middle America, but also touts strong pro-immigrant support through Sonic’s status as a refugee of his own world and anti-militarist sentiment through Robotnik’s excessive reliance on drone technology," writes Monson. "These aren’t themes that beat you over the head as obvious messages of the film, but it’s interesting to see this mish-mash of political perspectives permeate through what is ostensibly supposed to be a family popcorn movie.”

It’s fair to say that no other reviews appeared to have caught on to this subtext.

So, what to make of Sonic the Hedgehog, then? The problem doesn’t seem to be that it’s a bad movie, but that it’s not a particularly good one, either. Or, as Empire’s Amon Warmann puts it, “The negative response to the first trailer — specifically Sonic’s disturbing, excessively realistic look — led to the film’s release being delayed and a promise of a redesign. But while the new look is a big improvement, the finished product is, by and large, forgettable.”

Is forgettable enough for audiences? It won’t be long before we find out — Sonic the Hedgehog bows Friday.

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