A look at how Speed Racer (2008) proves as fun, and colorful, as ever.

After the success of the Matrix Trilogy, it seemed the Wachowskis got total creative freedom for their next projects. 2008’s Speed Racer marked the start of a box-office flop trilogy, and was followed by the rightfully forgotten Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending.

The adaptation of a 1960s manga that was not so well known outside Japan did not get people excited enough to go to the cinema, and in a decade full of mediocre CGI-fests, Speed Racer failed to get the attention it deserved. In this article we will remind everyone what a masterpiece of modern cinema the film is, and also one of the most colorful action films ever made!

You Don’t Get Behind the Wheel Because You’re a Driver, You do it Because You’re Driven

Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is a talented race driver, but is haunted by the memory of his brother Rex, who died in an accident on the race track many years ago. He is invited by Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), owner of mega-corporation Royalton Industries, to join his high-tech racing team. He declines, and a furious Royalton pledges to kill Speed’s career. With the help of his family and the mysterious Racer X, Speed takes up the fight for a ticket to the Grand Prix.

The film takes us into a fantastic world where racing is the best thing in the world. The plot and morality are simple, and easy to catch for kids, but it’s far from being dumb. The story is just as entertaining and captivating as the race sequences, and the romantic idea of professional sports being a heroic rather than a commercial endeavor permeates the entire film. The machinations of Royalton and his goons provide a fitting contrast, and their ultra-commercialized, soulless approach to racing mirrors contemporary enterprises such as the Formula 1.

A Cheerful Acid Trip for Kids and the Young At Heart

From the first minute the film throws us into a positively surreal world with the color palette from a children’s painting. The term visually unique has been used ad nauseam but here it is totally justified. Speed Racer is an explosion of colors with a production design that blends futuristic and vintage imagery. The Wachowski’s use of CGI is a form of art, with a fantastic utilization of the green screen where the fore- and background is transforming in the most awesome ways, like panels in a comic book.

The cast is another reason why the film is so great. Every member of the Racer Family delivers a charming performance but the attention tends to gravitate towards John Goodman’s imposing character Pops, father of Speed and owner of the family business Racer Motors. Roger Allam’s take on the evil CEO Royalton is equally awesome, rarely before has a corporate psychopath been presented in such an entertaining way.

The Presence of Speed Racer has Completely Changed the Equation

The races are definitely the most exciting sequences of the film, and they all look like they were dreamed up by a kid. Cars are going at 800 km/h, bouncing and flipping like ping pong balls, plunging down a vertical road and shooting through loops, it’s like gravity doesn’t exist on the racetrack.

A great assembly of vicious opponents (mercenaries, rednecks and vikings!) make the races even more fun, throwing saw-blades, hammers and a whole beehive at Speed. The special effects are perfect for its time, with the CGI allowing for insane zooms and pans that no real camera could ever make. 

Every time I watch it, the sincere joy and excitement of Speed Racer puts a smile on my face. It is one of the rare modern cases of true family entertainment, that is not too stressful or convoluted for kids, and not too dumb or silly for parents.