ST. LOUIS — Sequels can be risky. Studios going back to the well for another round of excitement will always find themselves walking over heavily treaded territory.
There are an abundance of follow-ups in theaters these days: second attempts, trying to trap lightning in a bottle twice, or just a bored continuation. The great thing about "Sonic the Hedgehog" a couple years ago was how light and fun it was. A breezy 90 minutes featured a comeback role for Jim Carrey and a nice voice performance from Ben Schwartz as the popular Sega Genesis character. A creature who finds a wormhole to Earth via a magic ring and finds plenty of trouble (hello, Jim), but also a potential for family and acceptance with James Marsden's good guy cop. A battle ensued, Sonic won, and the bad guy was dispatched on a mushroom planet.
The good thing about Jeff Fowler's "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" is that it follows most of the beats of the original while adding a few new elements that carry it to higher ground than the original. The return of Carrey's maniacal Dr. Ivo Robotnik, along with a powerful new foe in Idris Elba's Knuckles and a hilarious supporting turn from Natasha Rothwell, create an even more cohesive experience.
I appreciated the screenplay from Pat Casey, Josh Miller, and John Whittington. The pop culture jokes hit the bullseye again, giving plenty of fodder to adults and their kids in attendance. It's not an animated film that only plays to younger generations. I laughed harder than my ten-year-old when someone compared Carrey's new look to "Professor X meets the Monopoly Man" because those are adult-themed games. Wise choices are made when a game that may look like it's for ten years and younger remembers that many adults played this game too. It's like casting a comedy guy from the 90's in a big villain role.
Carrey leans into the mischievous acts and wacky humor of the goat's milk latte-loving Robotnik once again. He's in his natural habitat here. The film opens up with his mastermind trapped on an abandoned planet trying to stay alive after being defeated by his tiny opponent in the first film. Only Carrey can create the hyper facial expressions as Robotnik test-tastes a cup of mushroom water coffee. When he creates a trap that takes down some unwanted invaders, Knuckles walks through the wormhole to rescue the mad doctor and stir up trouble back on Earth.
The rest is for you to run down at your local theater. Spoiling the goods would be like ruining a woman's wedding after she warned you not to. That's Rothwell, playing the best friend of Marsden's wife who is getting married to the handsome Randall (Shemar Moore) as the new battle breaks out. Seeing her go nuclear in "Fast and Furious" mode when the nuptials go wrong is an early candidate for scene of the year--at least funniest scene of the year. Along with another well-picked soundtrack, the sequence is a crowd pleaser and should make you take note of Rothwell's talent, who nearly steals this film.
Elba beats her to it though. His Knuckles, a warrior with his own moral code who may or may not be as evil as Robotnik, is the secret element that helps Fowler's film climb over a long-in-the-tooth running time (this one is just over two hours, which is one or two action sequences too long). He doesn't just add that suave British voice to a threatening opponent; he gives him depth and layers over the course of the running time. Hearing Knuckles interpret an iPhone text message should make mom and dad laugh harder than the kids again: "dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot."
He adds heart and charisma to the movie, pushing it to a higher tier than part one. Marsden, who is usually only as good as a ham sandwich from a gas station in the middle of the night, loosens up this time as Tom. In the first film, he was still overly stoic and only had about two different expressions to use. In the sequel, he's more of a supporting character but he has better material to work with.
So, you have a great overall cast with some nice tunes and funny writing. If that's not reason enough to go watch "Sonic the Hedgehog 2," I don't know what is.