Trying to fall in love with film again.

'Speed Racer' really isn't THAT bad

Speed Racer - movie POSTER (Style A) (27" x 40") (2008) - Walmart ...Story 

A young race car driver by the name of Speed Racer (no seriously that's his name) has dreams of winning the Grand Prix and become the world champion following the death of his older brother.  On the journey to the finish line with the help of his family, he finds out that the world of racing isn't what he thought it was.

Before I talk about the story in this particular movie I do have to say that this based on a manga and anime series of the same name from the 1960s and that says a lot for the way the story is told. That being said, the story really is one of the underdogs. Speed is trying to live up to the legacy of his brother while also showing older and more experienced racers that he is a force to be reckoned with. His family are also underdogs. They're a small racing company that has been pit against bigger companies with more resources that will do anything to win.

Acting

When I first saw this movie, I didn't appreciate the calibre of cast and watching it now, I was surprised at how many familiar faces are in the movie,  Emile Hirsch plays the title character Speed Racer. Christina Ricci plays his girlfriend Trixie and Ariel Winter plays a younger version of her.  Susan Sarandon and John Goodman play Speed's parents Mom and Pops Racer, Matthew Fox plays the mysterious Racer X and Roger Allam plays E.P. Arnold Royalton the film's antagonist.

Emile Hirsch's performance is actually a really good one when you look at the context of the movie. I feel like this is a good time to say that I had a huge crush on Speed when I first saw this movie at 10 and I still kinda do. Speed Racer (still can't believe that's the characters name. He really had no choice but to go into racing, but I digress) is one of those characters that is hard to dislike and I'm pretty sure that was done deliberately seeing as he is the film's protagonist. He's an honourable family man that has a good moral compass and as mentioned earlier he is the underdog in pretty much every aspect, age, experience financial standing. And because of that, you're rooting for him and his family. He is also the audience surrogate. You as the viewer is new to all of this just like Speed. The performance is a lot more layered than I remember. I'm not saying that this is Oscar-worthy, but Speed has a wide variety of emotions throughout the film and because of that, you connect with him.

The performances of the other characters are... fine. No one really stands out and those that do stand out for the hilarious reasons. A prime example of that is Roger Allam as E.P. Arnold Royalton. I have seen a lot of his work and even though he has done a few comedic roles, it never really feels like he is overacting but you can see it in this movie. Given the over-the-top nature of the movie, I'm inclined to allow it but that doesn't mean his performance isn't cringy at times. His character is one moustache twirl away from being Dick Dastardly from the Wacky Races, but hey, it was based on a cartoon.

There isn't much else to say about the rest of the supporting characters. They're fun to watch and have pretty good chemistry but ultimately don't add much to the film. This is one of those movies that you can tell that the cast had fun making.

Writing/Direction 

This movie was written and directed by the Wachowskis of Matrix fame and they did a pretty good job. As mentioned earlier, this movie is based on anime from the 60s and was bound to be inherently extra and campy given the nature of its origins. And while this version of Speed Racer feels like that, it also feels grounded at the same time. From the minute the movie starts you know the kind of movie you're headed in for (you can watch the first seven minutes here)

This a story-driven movie more than a character-driven one meaning that a lot of characters take a back seat (see what I did there?) to Speed and the main plot of the movie. The writing is on the predictable side but you're not going into this for a thought-provoking story.  However, there are interesting themes that I never picked up on like the importance of family and staying true to yourself. Yes, they're cliche but that doesn't mean it doesn't hit home when it needs to. The Spool wrote a great article that discusses a lot of the themes in the movie where they compare it with some of the themes in the Matrix. You can read it here.

CGI/Set Design

When I watched the movie, I kept commenting on how obvious the CGI is. It's obvious to the point that it took me out of the movie multiple times. While I wrote this review, I was reading about the production of the movie and found out that it was shot entirely against a green screen, and I wasn't at all surprised because it REALLY shows.  However, the movie does manage to pull off a few visually captivating scenes. I mean I could watch this gif over and over again. (and I did)




One complaint I have with Transformers movies (trust me there are many) is that there is too much going on. With all the CGI nonsense in those movies, you can barely make out what you're supposed to be looking at. I have the exact same complaint with this movie. It's filled with a lot of colours and movement which can be incredibly jarring and headache-inducing.

 In defence of the filmmakers, having a movie be 99% CGI in 2008 was a pretty big ask. You look at movies like Avengers Endgame that is mostly CGI and you don't question it because the CGI is hyper-realistic. That's not the case with this movie.  Speed Racer doesn't look real and that is because it wasn't meant to. The directors wanted to create a movie that is reminiscent of anime and they did it. I mean look at this...



The cinematography is ambitious and when it works, it WORKS. This movie has some of the most out-there cinematography I have seen. The best way to describe it would be kaleidoscopic and it's like that from the beginning of the movie till the end of the credits.

Score/Soundtrack 

The score was done by my favourite composer (you really should know this by now) Michael Giacchino. The score fits the movie perfectly, Michael Giacchino took elements of the original theme song (that I went to listen to and now have stuck in my head as I write this) and created something fun and exciting while also being thoughtful and heartwarming. And while I didn't pay a lot of attention to the score like I usually do, I noticed that it complimented the movie very well.

Overall Thoughts

I first saw this movie when I saw 10 and I absolutely loved it and seeing 11 years later... I still really like it. This is the prime example of those movies that aren't very good but you love it anyway. It's a guilty pleasure movie and when you think about it that way it fulfils its purpose because this movie is entertaining as hell.  I have seen this movie multiple times and every time I do, I love it a little more.

It has a predictable story, one-dimensional characters and some glaringly obvious CGI, but there it has a lot of heart and it's such a fun watch. This movie has a cult following and I understand why. It doesn't take itself seriously. It's campy and over the top but also doesn't try to be super serious and because of that, you can truly turn your brain off and enjoy it.

If you've never seen it before, I'd recommend it. This movie is so wild that everyone has to see it at least once, maybe twice.

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