Watching SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, you start to feel for Crazy Carl, the townie who asserts, to the disbelief and mockery of his fellow townsfolk, the existence of a “blue devil.” Unfortunately for us all, the apparently psychotic Carl turns out to be right. The blue devil does exist, and his name is Sonic, a manic vessel of anti-authoritarianism, with a disturbing fixation on James Marsden’s Wachowski, a small-town cop, and his anesthetizing rictus. The movie is reminiscent of the original GHOSTBUSTERS in its wacky premise, and its insistence on the incompetence, or authoritarian measures, of the state. SONIC is a return to nostalgia, to a time when going fast was sexy, when escape was masquerading as forward progress. Do we still need to run?
Aww! Look at those puppy dog eyes!
The Pentagon contracts Jim Carrey’s Doctor Robotnik to capture the cute little alien, voice with a real “I don’t want to do this” demeanor by Ben Schwartz, while Robotnik secretly hopes to harness Sonic’s incredible power for his own nefarious devices. Those devices being drones. Lots of drones. The movie assumes the viewer shares its same ambivalence about impending automation—Sonic quips, in the middle of a drone shootout, about the Amazon corporation’s plan to deliver packages with the things. Robotnik’s evil seems to derive solely from his obsession with machines as the ideal companion. We never see him do anything which could be categorized as villainous or anything that would make him even the least bit threatening. He’s a joke, the movie says, but his machines aren’t.
Carrey is something approaching fun, but his high-energy schtick is butchered by stiff editing and a boring screenplay. Much of SONIC’s appeal hedges on whether you find jokes about Sonic being really fast funny. The little guy outperforms Marsden in menial tasks because he’s really fast, he can paddle a ping pong paddle really… er… fast, and he can go to the bathroom really… fa—it’s a dumb bit taken to a 98-minute extreme, and it gets old—you guessed it—really fast.
At a certain point, every film eventually comes back to this. Two characters, in a room, talking
Sonic doesn’t have genitalia, but he makes a reference to not wearing pants (the context being a joke about anal probing). Why would Sonic be concerned about not wearing pants? He doesn’t have an anus. Though that doesn’t preclude the movie from introducing a weird element of gay panic; when Sonic and Wachowski are confronted in a biker bar with the classic “we don’t like your kind here,” it’s clear the rednecks are talking about homosexuals, not “hipsters,” as they dubiously clarify. An attempt by the two late in the film to express intimate feelings to one another is quickly cut down, and the characters return to their repressed masculinity and socially acceptable selves.
I was amused to read on Wikipedia that the video game Sonic’s personality was based on Bill Clinton’s “can-do attitude.” And the movie Sonic carries that same emphasis on rugged individualism that proved to be so ruinous for the country. The hedgehog protests Wachowski’s decision to move to San Francisco—the town of Green Hills, with all of its loving and eccentric people, is all the cop really needs. I’ll leave it to you to decipher where the Wachowski couple ends up.
You thought I wasn’t going to remind you of this, huh? Sorry, it had to be done
SONIC’s problem is not necessarily its anxiety about automation, which isn’t an unimportant idea to dramatize. What is objectionable, however, is the way this anxiety is weaponized to advocate for the mind-numbing fealty to God and country synonymous with small-town domestic tranquility—there is no “helping people,” there is stay in your own lane and mind your own business. The only time you must protect others is when your own life is in danger. SONIC is, frankly, a movie designed to appeal to a very specific crowd. In fact, now that he’s out of the race, I can’t imagine a better consolation prize for Andrew Yang’s supporters.