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Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Review: The Power Of The Schwartz

There's something undeniably sexy about confidence. When a person is comfortable in their skin, leaning into their strengths and accepting of their weaknesses, it goes a long way toward making them charming, funny, magnetic. It becomes infectious to the point where it's hard to fight a desire to simply be in their presence. Movies are the same way — if one is waffling, uncertain of what it is, who it is made for, and whether it's headed in the right direction, the smell of flop sweat is enough to overwhelm your buttered popcorn. But when you find a movie that is confident, one that knows what it is and aspires to be nothing but precisely that, the experience can be similarly magnetic.

Of course, the last adjective anyone would use to describe "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" is sexy. But from the initial frame, you can feel its confidence. The first film was something of an unexpected hit, delighting its fanbase and only growing in stature upon repeated viewings. The second film is wise enough to deliver the same, just bigger, crazier, sillier ... and of course, faster.

The sequel picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first film, with Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) trying to launch a career as a crimefighter and his friend/father figure Tom (James Marsden) determined to teach him that fate will come calling at its proper time. The moment arrives sooner than expected as Dr. Robotnik (a delightfully over-the-top Jim Carrey) escapes from his Mushroom Planet imprisonment (there's a shiitake joke, natch), teams up with the intense, vindictive Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba) and comes calling. Thankfully for Sonic, another visitor arrives in Tails (voiced by

Colleen O'Shaughnessey), as glimpsed at the end of the first film — and a massive tease for kiddos who've waited two years to watch Sonic play with the friends who've been staples of his shows, games, and comic books for some time.

This being a "Sonic" movie, there is plenty of screentime set aside for "Home Alone"-like shenanigans that have an empowering appeal to younger members of the viewing audience. Not only does Sonic stop bank robbers and run circles around those who would do him harm in funny Quicksilver-from-the-X-Men-movies-like slow motion moments of rearranging reality, but he also gets to stay up late, eat junk food, and take bubble baths with the family dog.

Much of this is because Tom and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) are headed to Hawaii (at a certain hotel whose product placement is about as subtle as a hedgehog quill) for the wedding of Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) and a beefcake named Randall (Shemar Moore). Rachel is determined that nobody disrupt her nuptials, Tom is determined that Sonic remain in Green Hills and keep it on the down low — and if you think either of those are going to happen, you must be imagining a really boring movie.

In no time, there are snow avalanches on Hawaiian beaches, car chases in stolen police vehicles, hidden fortresses, and giant robots, all because Robotnik and Knuckles are determined to find the "Master Emerald," a magical MacGuffin that allows the user to make anything they can imagine a reality. Yeah — as Deputy Wade (Adam Pally) points out twice — just like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in "Ghostbusters."

Somebody stop me!

Which brings us to the first of many reasons the "Sonic" sequel is worth watching: the supporting characters. From Pally to Rothwell to Sumpter, Lee Majdoub as Robotnik's foolish flunky Stone and veteran actor Tom Butler (who returns as Vice Chairman Walters, still professing his love for Olive Garden), there are a lot of non-CGI characters in this franchise that are a hoot. The actors who play them receive significant screentime, have clearly been encouraged to improvise (Pally has a great throwaway joke about an old school chum named Knuckles), and are entertaining for both kids and adults. At one point in the film, Rachel and Maddie have a side adventure taking on government agents, and it's shocking how long the scenes go without any talking hedgehogs to be found; it's not at all a concern, however, as the kids in my screening were laughing as loudly at them as Sonic himself.

The leader for this rapidly expanding universe of crazy characters, however, is without a doubt Jim Carrey. Even if you despise Sonic the Hedgehog, even if you have no reason to be interested in these movies, you owe it to yourself to look in on his work in these films. It might just be the closest any human being has ever come to transforming themselves into a live-action cartoon — it ranks right up there with Christopher Lloyd in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and, of course, Carrey himself in "The Mask." Every facial tic, every noise, and every outfit change blurs the line further between Carrey the actor and Robotnik the video game character. If nothing else, these movies evoke Carrey's mid-'90s heyday ("Liar Liar," the "Ace Ventura" movies), when he gained a reputation as the greatest physical comedian of his era; for adults who loved those films, and their kids who might only now be discovering Carrey, the best way to describe his Robotnik work is sssmokin!

These are "Sonic" movies, so they wouldn't get very far without a central blue critter who is fun, endearing, and inherently worth rooting for. Schwartz and the army of visual artists working in conjunction with his line deliveries have done exactly that, creating what might be the best CG character of the past few years. Like Korg from the MCU or the foul-mouthed teddy bear from the "Ted" movies, every time he appears onscreen he's compelling to look at, fun to listen to, and injects a huge jolt of life into any scene he's in.

Knuckling down

But of course, "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" has extremely different goals than an MCU film or an R-rated Mark Wahlberg flick. It aims to activate the nostalgia cortex for '90s kids who grew up with a Sega controller in their hands, attract new fans in young kids attracted to the character's bright colors and need for speed, and provide enough Jim Carrey to keep everybody else in the theater happy. The success of the first film has clearly given the sequel a mandate, and it has resulted in a confidence that fuels the flick and indulges in strange, funny moments like a severed fish head talking or Robotnik saying he doesn't want to die in an Indiana Jones-like booby trap temple because it's too derivative.

The third act does drag on a bit too long, and the ending of this film isn't nearly as satisfying as the first. There isn't enough 1-on-1 time between Sonic and his buddy the Donut Lord, and the inevitable betrayal of Knuckles by Robotnik is hinted at so many times before it actually occurs that you'll wonder if there's even a single kid left who can't see it coming. Also, Elba's voice work as Knuckles is occasionally uncomfortably sultry. But such nitpicks are minor in the face of a film that is, quite simply, entertaining enough to make even the most obsessed gamer in your life put down the controller for two hours.

This "Sonic" sequel also has several well-orchestrated action scenes, most memorably a moment when the little blue guy has to run across a swirling, tumultuous ocean. Blending the Hedgehog's CG with photo-real waves of water is not only impressive, but a reminder of how far computer-generated technology has come from the days when things like hair and water seemed like impossible caverns to be traversed. As witnessed in moments like the aforementioned Indiana Jones-type temple, these films also excel at leaning into that sweet spot between fast-moving action appropriate for the character and slo-mo closeups that offer a glimpse into the silliness behind his speed.

Put most simply: it's fun. "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" has confidence in what it wants to be, sticks all its landings, and honors many jokes and memorable moments from the first film while offering plenty of new stuff and inside jokes (like Tom's ringtone, background music from the old Sonic game). Part of the package, of course, is an end credits scene with a big tease about which Sonic character is coming next. Parents, brace yourselves — you're about to endure two more years of being asked when the next "Sonic" movie is finally gonna come out.