Speed Racer review

Could this be the blockbuster surprise of the summer? We've seen Speed Racer, the new film from The Wachowski Brothers. And it's....

Speed Racer: a genuine surprise

In a summer full of remakes, rehashes and sequels, it’s good to see something fresh. And let’s face it, Batman, Iron Man, The Hulk and even Doctor Jones are about original as William Shatner’s hair.

Speed Racer is an original film. Yes, it’s an adaptation of a cartoon series, and no its story is not groundbreaking in any way, but – and it’s a big slap you in the face with a giant Crayola ‘but’ – it is a movie the likes of which you haven’t seen before and probably won’t see again (until they green-light the inevitable sequel of course). The term “rollercoaster ride” was all but invented to describe it.

The film starts with a young Speed Racer at school failing at his school work, and also failing to notice a young Trixie giving him the eye and showing an obvious obsession with racing cars. We see a fantastic shot of Speed in his imaginary world of racing, presented with a mixture of computer graphics and traditional cell animation. It’s a quick shot but beautifully put together, and a sure sign that you’re gonna see some cool shit in the next two hours…

Let’s get something straight: this is a family movie. It’s very cheesy, it’s very inoffensive ands it’s been coloured by a hyperactive, acid-taking cartoon-loving nut job. Every shot is brilliantly composed using over-saturated colours, fluffy blue and white skies, purple skyscrapers and pink helicopters to name but a few. It’s as original in visual style as Roger Rabbit was back in its day.

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It can be jarring at first. To see such an over the top visual style is almost too much to handle. But you can’t help but enjoy it, and when you realise you’re doing so, you forget about the abnormality of it.

After discovering some of the biggest and most prestigious races ever have been fixed by Royalton Industries’ top man, played by the lavishly over the top Roger Allam (V for Vendetta), Speed has to save his family’s business and the sport he loves by beating Royalton at his own game: racing. It’s all about the racing…

And race he does, taking part in an infamous and lethal cross country race that spans two colourful continents and more “car-fu” than any Matrix fan boy could dream up, whilst polishing his 6 inch Neo.

One of the Wachowski Brothers’ talents lies in their ability to realise jaw dropping effects, previously demonstrated in the Matrix movies. For Speed Racer they shot all the action against green screens then took high definition 360 degree captures of exotic locations and created wraparound virtual sets that they could manipulate to any degree they wanted, recreating the flamboyance of Speed Racer.

The effects, as you would expect these days are brilliant but unlike other movies the angle isn’t to achieve a reality we are familiar with, but instead to create an emotional impact. And in this case the emotions are most definitely fun and excitement.

Casting is spot on with Emille Hirsch taking the lead as Speed Racer, a rather large John Goodman as Pops Racer, Susan Sarandon as Mom and Matthew Fox as the mysterious Racer X, an ally in Speed’s battle against the badass Royalton Industries.

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For the male audience, if 400mph car chases aren’t enough than Christina Ricci will definitely get a few pulses overclocking as Trixie, Speed’s brightly dressed and leggy girlfriend. She proves once again that she is an incredibly versatile actress (this is the lady we saw in last year’s Black Snake Moan). It’s just a shame that she’s a bit under used…

Chuck in Inspector Detector, Sparky, Spirtle and a monkey named Chim Cham and you have the recipe for a summer blockbuster kids will go apeshit over. Which they will.

The narrative is fast paced, the script snappy and appropriately cheesy, the action is intense and the last ten minutes when Speed Racer discovers his true abilities (akin to that of Neo in The Matrix) are quite simply very, very cool indeed.

The Wachowskis have created a live action cartoon, a beautifully shot visual feast using all the things that traditionally would make a film unbearable. Yet in the case of Speed Racer, it makes it undeniably fun and entertaining.

See this at the cinema, take a kid with you, go on a Saturday when there’s a good crowd. Then spend the rest of the day playing car chases with said child whilst giving the appearance it’s for their sake, and not because you’ve you just regressed 20 years and now have the mental age of a sugar intoxicated 10-year old.

Go Speed Racer, Go…

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4 out of 5
Second opinion? Try Ben Lankester’s review of Speed Racer here.

 

Rating:

4 out of 5