My dad grew up in the 60s and was a big Speed Racer fan. He was the youngest of three children who had but one television in the house. In the race for after school television shows, my dad, much like his hero Speed, had to use cunning to make sure he got to watch his favorite cartoon. He set his sister's clock back an hour so she missed the Monkees and he and his brother could watch Speed Racer.
I didn't grow up watching Speed like my dad, but I saw the love he had for the series and enjoyed the few episodes I did see. I am familiar with anime and Speed Racer was really America's first introduction into the genre. The action, drama and plots are over the top, the colors pop and we are taken to a fantastic world that we want to be a part of. A lot of people feel nostalgia for these kinds of beloved shows (evidenced by the popularity of Comic Cons and Cosplay) so contemporary reworkings of favorite characters rarely lives up to standards. For evidence of this in Speed, look no further than the vomit inducing tragedy that is Speed Racer the Next Generation.
So my 6 year old son and I went yesterday to see the new Speed Racer film by the Wachowski brothers and I thought that at least it would be a fun kids film. I'd heard a lot of negative press about the movie, namely that the CG was poor and it was just too much, like a hyperactive kid's sugar rush. The film was completely over the top insane and it was perfect.
You can tell watching this movie that it was made by fans who understood what Speed is all about. They took the heart of the anime and punched it up, taking it to the brink of what film can do. It was like watching a live action comic book. The edits work much like the panels in graphic novels and it takes a moment to get used to how the film tells the story. In the beginning flashbacks are woven into an intense action sequence that the younger members of the audience might not completely get, but it serves to establish an essential drama in the rest of the film. The edits are jarring, but for a reason.
I don't want to get into the plot too much for a couple of reasons: one, fans of the series already know the plot. The Wachowskis were smart enough not to deviate from the original story. Two, it's very simple: Speed has to win the race fair and square. Everything that falls in between are details that are easy to geek out over, but aren't necessarily what makes this a movie to see.
What most impressed me was that it was intense in every respect without being too much. It's weird to talk about restraint in a movie like Speed Racer, but it could have so easily been cheesy. The sweetness wasn't sappy. The sincerity wasn't forced (or insincere). The action was crazy but believable in the world of the movie. The bad guys were bad, but not too goofy. The comedy was slapstick, but not the kind that makes you groan.
One thing I did find distracting: Susan Sarandon's boobs. I had no idea she had such huge knockers. All the clothes they had her in made her boobs look really big and it was hard to look away. Did they do that on purpose? Oh yeah, and one of the bad guys says, "turd" twice, which is my all time most hated word. It hurts me to even type it. Ugh.
This is a movie I will definitely see again in the theater. I don't remember the last time I had so much fun at the movies. If you go in looking for flaws, you can probably find them, but that's true with anything. Go in open to the fun and you won't be disappointed.