A speed demon he may be, but Sonic The Hedgehog has had a laboured journey to the big screen. Delayed by three months after the character’s initial design was greeted with revulsion, early signs were not promising. The tireless work of VFX artists, who deserve more credit than they’re ever going to get for salvaging a guaranteed car wreck, has not been entirely in vain. Sonic won’t be troubling any best-of-the-year (or, indeed, of the week) lists, but it does exceed the abyssal low expectations it started out with.
Raised by an owl called Longclaw on an alien planet that looks pleasingly like the Green Hill Zone of the games, Sonic’s abilities are unique even among his species. When he’s discovered, the blue blur (voiced energetically by Ben Schwartz) teleports across the universe to hide out in Montana, where small-town cop Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) dreams of a meaningful assignment. Tom gets his wish when Sonic accidentally causes a blackout, prompting the government to bring in their top man on tech – sociopathic super-genius Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey).
Predictably, the script rarely rises above functional. But while recent game adaptation Detective Pikachu had one eye on the middle-aged audience who played these ’90s classics the first time round, Sonic is aimed squarely at a younger viewers, emulating the blindingly fast and brightly coloured nature of its eponymous ’hog. Ignoring the pandering anal-probing gags and Vin Diesel references, the primary appeal for older viewers is nostalgia; it’s fitting for a character whose heyday was 30 years ago that the entire film should feel like such a throwback. This comes to the fore most clearly in Jim Carrey, whose performance is like the missing link between Ace Ventura and The Mask.
If you can sanction his boundless buffoonery, Carrey’s Robotnik is a scene-stealing treat – a brainiac with a mean streak who even has a dance number. You get the impression 90 percent of his odd line deliveries and gurning to camera must have been improvised in the moment. For Carrey’s performance to be the strangest thing in a film about a blue space hedgehog tells you everything you need to know.
And for a film that could have coasted on fart gags and flossin’ (both, admittedly, present as well), there are flashes of creativity. A bar fight ends with a visually impressive, family-friendly spin on the Quicksilver scene in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and Dr Robotnik’s arsenal of HAL-inspired murder-bots are effectively deployed in one madcap highway chase sequence.
Ending with a pair of mid-credits scenes that don’t so much tease a sequel as outright confirm intentions to make one, it’s a film that should have die-hard fans doing loop-the-loops. Whether Sonic has the box-office mileage to make it that far remains to be seen, but on the basis of this better-than-expected first instalment, further fast times wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.