I’ll always prefer watching something memorably bad over the consistently mediocre. It’s how I can say, without a hint of irony, that I would take Venom over Captain Marvel any day of the week—one of these movies is another bland cog in the Marvel machine, the other is a cinematic disasterpiece in which a slimy alien goo creature from another planet decides he’ll save Tom Hardy and the rest of humanity because he’s worried he’ll be a “loser” if he has to hang out with his goo peers. It’s no Parasite, but Venom has permanently infected my heart. I think about Tom Hardy jumping in a lobster tank every week; within a few hours, I forgot nearly everything about Captain Marvel—besides its very good space cat.
Unfortunately, I’m already beginning to forget about Sonic the Hedgehog, which is not what you’d expect to happen after the film’s first, haunting trailer was released in April. You remember that, right? If the Razzies nominated movie trailers, this monstrosity would surely be a front-runner. The biggest culprit of the first Sonic trailer’s WTF-ness was Sonic himself: Instead of looking like his video game counterpart, this big-screen iteration had human-like thighs, eyes, and, perhaps most disconcertingly, teeth. The Sonic trailer fiasco was Cats before Cats. Behold what awaits in the seventh circle of hell:
It was traumatizing enough that it took me a while to realize Paramount Pictures soundtracked the trailer to [squints] Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” instead of, you know, any of the innumerable songs related to going fast. (Sonic is an alien hedgehog who can run at supersonic speeds; that’s kind of his whole deal.) The fan reaction was so bad that Sonic director Jeff Fowler announced on Twitter within a few days of the trailer’s release that they were redesigning the title character so he wouldn’t look like an imp crossbred with a Smurf. Considering efforts to get Warner Bros. to release the mythical #SnyderCut have been futile to date, this was a big win for fan-led campaigning.
To the immense credit of the Sonic visual effects team, the new Sonic should not send small children to therapy. Paramount assuaged any Sonic CGI concerns with a second trailer in November that, blessedly, didn’t just feature a normal-looking blue alien hedgehog—if such a thing exists—but used an appropriate song: J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic.” See? That wasn’t so hard!
If the only thing that piques your curiosity about the new Sonic is whether the eponymous hedgehog is still nightmare fuel, we can cut to the chase: He looks fine. He looks great, even, considering the circumstances. Fans were immediately horrified by the cats of Cats when that movie’s first trailer dropped last summer, and the end product was, uh, certainly the stuff of rowdy midnight showings and “Should I take an edible and go see this?” talks with your friends. Sonic the Hedgehog is not that kind of experience—and, sadly, not for the better. It’s boring, bland, and rather than owning the delirious spirit of becoming a so-bad-it’s-good classic, the film is a by-the-numbers, fish-out-of-water tale you’ve seen countless times (except with an alien hedgehog). When one of the things that stands out is all the blatant Olive Garden tie-ins—sidenote: Why the hell couldn’t Paramount broker a deal with Sonic, the drive-in chain?!—it’s clear screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller made a few wrong turns.
The movie is so generic that Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) literally opens the proceedings with one of those memed-to-oblivion, record-scratch, freeze-frame, “You’re probably wondering how I got here” moments as he’s being pursued by mustachioed Jim Carrey through the streets of San Francisco. The ensuing setup is fairly predictable if you have a passing understanding of the character. Sonic’s super speed makes him a target for anyone who wants to harness his powers, so he has to leave his home world and eventually settle into an unseen life on Earth in sleepy Green Hills, Montana. Because he can’t interact with anyone, Sonic (sorta endearingly) stalks the town’s sheriff, Tom (James Marsden), and his wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter), and pretends their life is part of his. When the couple sit down to watch Speed—subtle!—there’s Sonic watching from the outside of their living room window.
The closest Sonic comes to genuine pathos is when the movie explores the character’s loneliness and his ineffective coping mechanisms. A generous reading could argue the movie is about the hollowness of social media and the way people present idealized versions of themselves online, but it doesn’t deserve that much credit. Anyway, that all takes a backseat once Sonic inadvertently destroys the Pacific Northwest’s power grid, and the U.S. government sends the eccentric Dr. Robotnik (Carrey) to investigate. So, Sonic blows his cover to Tom, and the two take a road trip to San Francisco in order to retrieve the hedgehog’s magic portal rings (the ones he collects in various Sega games) so he can teleport to another world and be safe/anonymous again.
That means that, yes, the supersonic hedgehog spends much of the movie in the passenger’s seat of a pickup truck. The best explanation Sonic can muster is that he’s directionally challenged and can’t find San Francisco—but assuming he can cross the entire United States in a matter of minutes, he probably could have stumbled upon the Bay in less time than it would take to drive there. The film, in fact, feels almost afraid to unleash the full power of Sonic, for fear that, if they did, there would barely be any plot remaining in a movie that doesn’t even clock 100 minutes. You can at least understand why: When a bar fight breaks out, Sonic dispatches the whole room within seconds. He essentially moves through the world like Quicksilver, which would’ve been a lot more innovative if the X-Men franchise hadn’t already done the same thing in two of its films, and made it look much cooler.
So Sonic isn’t using his speed, James Marsden has to pretend he’s talking to a blue hedgehog for more than an hour, and a film that could’ve had the most phantasmagoric racing-related imagery since the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer is reduced to a lifeless road trip adventure you’ve seen dozens of times. The only saving grace is Carrey, who gives Robotnik the kind of gonzo energy that was a staple of his ’90s-era comedies. (The Mask is still Carrey’s Apex Mountain in that respect.) When Robotnik says, for no discernible reason, “Look what came out of my egg sac” while referring to his drone technology, well, it’s hard not to admire the writers’ gumption.
But while Tom Hardy’s iconic, Marlon Brando–on-quaaludes performance in Venom carried the rest of an otherwise boilerplate superhero movie, Carrey’s inspired work highlights Sonic’s untapped potential as something bizarre, trippy, or, at the very least, a CGI-infused hellscape. The film makes you yearn for the Sonic that brazenly jumped into the uncanny valley with “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and launched a thousand memes. (Unless you’re a parent, in which case the post-trailer changes made to the movie will save you tons of money on hedgehog-related therapy.)
Paramount will undoubtedly call the character’s last-minute redesign a win, especially if the studio can still turn a profit at the box office. I kid you not, Sonic had an end credits scene teasing the arrival of Tails, so with enough of a haul, we’ll have a Sega Cinematic Universe on our hands. But with such a mediocre, unmemorable final product, it won’t be long before Sonic and its big-screen hedgehog fade into obscurity. We couldn’t forget human-teeth Sonic, even if we tried: He will always have a special place in hell, the WTF Movie Hall of Fame, and our collective nightmares. I can think of few other anthropomorphic creatures more deserving of being the Jellicle Choice.