The A-Z of Geek Cinema: S is for Speed Racer
No, I’m serious. 2008’s Speed Racer, written and directed by the Wachowskis. Fresh off the Matrix films, the (then) brothers took ahold of the long languishing production, which had gone through multiple directors and stars, and ran with it straight into the lights. Dayglo technicolor visuals and an anti-corporate plot line combined with the palpable sense of excitement instilled in every frame to make one of the most inventive and, yes, pure FUN movies of that year, or really of the decade. So, of course, it was a critical and commercial failure. People weren’t ready for it, I guess, or perhaps it looked too kiddy for the adults and too intense for the kids? I don’t know, that’s really not for me to say. What there IS for me to say is this: HOLY CRAP, do I love this film.
Let me get this out of the way at the top: Speed Racer is not about racing. Ok, so that’s a bit of a stretch. It IS about racing. It is about giant cartoon racing on tracks made of neon and electricity, against vikings and beauty queens and cars that literally shoot bees at you. It is about good and bad and family and corporate sellouts and duty. But it’s also about life, in a way that is simple and clear cut. It is about knowing what you’re good at, knowing what you were born to do, what you HAVE to do, and doing it the best you can. And all the visual flair and inventive camera work and lightning quick editing are just icing on this heartfelt message.
Like I mentioned above, the Wachowskis made their names with The Matrix, but I think there is more heart and love and humor at the center of this movie than there is in all 3 Matrix films combined. That final race, when Speed is approaching the finish line, with all his family and all the fans and all the announcers cheering for him… THAT is the moment this movie has built to. The idea that someone who knows what he’s good at, what he’s MADE for (I mean, shit, his name is “Speed Racer”, for god’s sake), is on the cusp of achieving that goal. And it never fails to get to me, in my gut. It’s the same spot that almost all sports movies hit me, like Miracle. People who dismiss this movie as visual candy, as stupid fluff, are ultimately missing the point. And I feel sad for them, because they will never know the joy of this film.
And “joy” is the right word to use. Because every frame of this film is joyous, whether it’s in the aforementioned hyperkinetic race scenes, or John Goodman fighting a ninja (!), or Speed & Trixie hanging out. Even the capital-S “Serious” scenes about corruption and dark secrets have a certain spark to them that sanctimonious blockbusters like Transformers could use in spades. Which is the movie’s secret weapon: the Wachowskis know that this is all ridiculous. Like I said before, they have VIKINGS driving RACECARS being bribed with ANIMAL PELTS and launching BEEHIVES at people. That’s a line that once you cross it, no matter how “serious” you think you’re being, you have tread into different territory. And more big budget movies could use that spark, that fun. Movies like Transformers and Battleship and the like treat their inherently goofy subject matter with such po-faced straight lace-ness that it just makes the participants look stupid and immature. Weirdly enough, it’s the films that take the more childlike fun approach, like Speed Racer and Avengers, that succeed at what they’re aiming for. More people should be aiming for fun. It’s a problem I see in the comics industry as well. Unfortunately they, along with the majority of Hollywood, don’t seem to want to acknowledge that,
And honestly, they just need to get that weak shit off my track.