The visually stunning 2008 live-action Speed Racer is an icon of modern cinema, or at least it should be. It was stylistically revolutionary in its day, and in the 2021 landscape of homogenous formulaic Disney-fication of everything, it’s a refreshingly unique experience. It’s fun in a way that many movies just aren’t anymore. Every inch of this movie is dripping with drama, hokey slapstick, and self-referential snark.
And on top of that, in typical Wachowski fashion, it attacks everything in all directions with a 360 no-scope slow-motion action fest of deep nuance. The movie itself stretches the boundaries of art and storytelling, taking a potentially schlocky topic, like futuristic hyper-drive motorsport, and using that canvas to paint the battle of personality versus capitalism. Who is Speed Racer if he races for Royalton? A sellout? A success? Either way, he won’t be a Racer.
We’ve discussed this wonderful film on Jalopnik in the past, and EIC Rory has talked at-length about his love for this motion picture. It truly has everything you might want from a movie based on a Japanese animated television program from 1967. There was one shot to get a live-action Speed Racer film perfectly right, and I will argue until my dying day that Lana and Lilly Wachowski smashed it in a way that nobody else could have. I will die on this hill, if I must.
I’ve long held a belief that this is the most fun you can have watching a movie with a G rating. It’s just good wholesome fun. Every time I see John Goodman—as Pop Racer—reply to Christina Ricci’s “Oh my God, was that a Ninja?” with “More like a non-ja.” my heart grows three sizes, like the Grinch.
In the deeply cynical Hollywood of 2021, this film just wouldn’t be possible. It was too pure, like a cinnamon roll with too much icing on a Sunday morning. Everything is a gritty reboot or a sequel to a gritty reboot, or a massive world-building universe like Marvel and Star Wars have been engineered into. While there are tons of avenues a Speed Racer Cinematic Universe could have explored, I’m glad that it wasn’t a financial blowout, and that the studios walked away from the potential for future versions. It stands alone. It’s better for it.
Somehow Speed Racer managed to blend The Matrix with Le Mans in a traditional Japanimation over-the-top style, while actually being good. It’d never been done before, and it’ll never happen again. The Wachowskis built a piece of art inside the system, like a ship in a bottle.
Anyway, my favorite movie reviewer, Mikey Neumann, released this video essay on Friday about Speed Racer and why it was a truly visionary film. I agree with every word of this, and learned a bit along the way. Cubism. James Joyce. Art. It’s an excellent video and you should watch it. And if you haven’t spent any time with the Racer family recently, or you didn’t like it the first time around, please give it another chance. Be the change you want to see in the universe.