This article contains spoilers for the film Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Being a Sonic fan and seeing every trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was an exciting series of events. Each new bit of footage (and killer posters) instilled further confidence that the sequel was going to be a Sonic movie for Sonic fans — one that captures the essence of Sonic better than the last. To a great extent, this is true of the film. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is, for better or worse, the first movie but bigger and mostly better. Like its predecessor, the sequel is a fun flick that’s perfect for Sonic fans old and new, and one I ultimately loved more than the first.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 fires on all cylinders when it comes to its characters and relationships, mix of action and adventure, and overall Sonic-ness. There is a perfect Sonic movie nestled in between awkward human character plotlines, family humor, outdated pop culture references, and overused needle drops. This isn’t to say these aspects ruin the movie. They’re annoying but ultimately typical for a family-friendly film. The film isn’t primarily for me, it’s for kids — that’s fine, especially because the sequel’s merits shine brighter than its faults.
The sequel sees Dr. Robotnik return to Earth with a new ally: the powerful Echidna warrior, Knuckles. After a brutal confrontation, Sonic discovers Robotnik and Knuckles are trying to locate the Master Emerald: a gem of incredible power (made from the Chaos Emeralds combined into one). Knuckles claims it’s his destiny to recover it from Sonic and restore his tribe’s honor. But Robotnik is, of course, after the Emerald’s power for himself.
Sonic teams up with his own ally, the brilliant but unconfident Miles “Tails” Prower, to recover it first. Along the way, Tails and Sonic form an unbreakable bond; Knuckles realizes Robotnik is the bad guy; and the mad doctor uses the ultimate power of the Master Emerald to take his revenge on Sonic and Green Hills, leading the Sonic-Tails-Knuckles trio to team up and stop him.
Sonic and Tails’ friendship in the movie gets everything right about their dynamic in the games. Tails, a kid bullied for his extra tail, idolizes Sonic for using what makes him weird — his speed — to be brave and cool. Sonic, in turn, finds a friend for life and gives Tails the confidence he needs to believe in himself. Their bond is sweet and meaningful and even made me well up, as I’ve struggled with making friends for being “weird” (because of my ADHD). Sonic actor Ben Schwartz brings hard-hitting emotion to these deeper scenes and longtime Tails voice actor Colleen O’Shaughnessey doesn’t miss a beat, exploring new territories for the character and knocking it out of the park in Tails’ first big-screen appearance.
The pair journey to retrieve the mystical compass that leads them to the Master Emerald, an adventure that echoes and builds on what I loved about the first film. It takes narrative elements from the Genesis-era games and constructs them into an original but spiritually faithful lore with room for great storytelling. This dial is cranked up to 11 for the sequel, taking the protagonists on adventures in an ancient temple in Siberia and a labyrinth zone in the Pacific Ocean. While some segments evoke humor that feels like adult writers guessing what kids enjoy, nods to the franchise and bizarre (but not unwelcome) choices preserve their delight. After all, Sonic media is at its best when it’s a little batshit.
Knuckles is easily the movie’s breakout character, with Idris Elba being an ideal casting choice. A proud warrior looking to fulfill his destiny but naïve to anything outside of it, movie Knuckles brings the best of Sonic Boom’s himbo humor and the Adventure games’ versions of the character. Elba’s performance is the perfect cocktail of proper warrior and serious straight-man delivery that brings a wonderful energy to the character that’s been absent in more recent games. With a great character arc that nicely adapts Knuckles’ experience of teaming up with Robotnik before realizing his evil nature in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, he is easily my favorite part of Sonic 2.
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As for Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik, I have mixed feelings. After spending so much time isolated on the mushroom planet, Robotnik has lost all sanity and gone full mad scientist — a perfect fit for Carrey’s signature over-the-top, humorous acting style. But something is still lacking: In the first film, Robotnik’s fury would boil over in sudden fits of rage that contrasted with his smug, exterior demeanor. Unfortunately, this is somewhat lost in the second film, as his character leans into meme humor instead. The ratio of ego and mad scientist has been flipped to mixed results.
Another flaw of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 lies in the imbalance between the Sonic characters and the movie-only human characters. In the first film, the humans’ plotlines were interwoven with the Sonic ones — Tom (James Marsden) is actively a part of Sonic’s journey and the buddy-movie narrative. But here, the Sonic-centric plot and the human-centric B-plot are distinctly separate; Tom and Maddie (Tika Sumpter) are off to Hawaii for Rachel’s (Natasha Rothwell) wedding, a completely separate plot save for when Sonic bursts in via warp ring. This separation does wonders for the Sonic plot but makes the human aspects stick out like a sore thumb.
There are a few redeeming moments, but overall, I would rather have the Wachowskis play a larger role in the central plot proper, especially since Tom’s wisdom in the first act is the foundation for the movie’s most important theme. But at the end of the day, the human plotline is nothing more than an acceptable annoyance to deal with in exchange for the fantastic second and third acts of the film.
One of the highlights of the movie is when Sonic and Knuckles clash at the temple of the Master Emerald. It’s a fantastic Dragon Ball Z-esque battle that showcases Sonic’s spin-dash, homing attack, and just how fun his speed can be in a fight. It’s satisfyingly brutal how Sonic repeatedly hits Knuckles in ball form — and the same goes for Knuckles’ hulking strength and fighting prowess.
The film’s climactic final battle showcases Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles teaming up in Sonic Heroes fashion, and it just feels damn good to see as a Sonic fan. The characters’ personalities are wonderfully nailed down, and the interpretation of their powers is just as perfectly executed. It had the theater cheering and made me feel like a kid playing Sonic Adventure 2: Battle for the first time again. As cool as the battle gets, there’s no need to worry about the film ever losing its sense of humor. Sonic reveals he’s still the hedgehog we know and love by using his ultimate power to summon a chili dog — a great cap to the fight and genuinely my favorite bit in the film. Cue a cute end cap and a fantastic mid-credits reveal, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 sticks the landing.
I stated earlier that I loved this movie more than the first, and I stand by that. Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s ambitious heart is wildly successful and creates some truly iconic moments, from small nods to its unique flavor of adaptation and great action sequences. Ultimately, it’s a great movie for both kids and Sonic fans. Much like the first one, it will give kids further reasons to get into the Sonic franchise. For longtime fans, there is more than enough to love despite having to sit through some kids’ movie schlock.