Home Top News and Stories World News Headlines The world wasn’t ready for the Wachowskis’ ‘Speed Racer’ in 2008. It’s now a must-watch.
The world wasn’t ready for the Wachowskis’ ‘Speed Racer’ in 2008. It’s now a must-watch.

The world wasn’t ready for the Wachowskis’ ‘Speed Racer’ in 2008. It’s now a must-watch.

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The world wasn’t ready for the Wachowskis’ ‘Speed Racer’ in 2008. It’s now a must-watch.

It’s no surprise that Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections is a polarizing film. The director, and her sister/collaborator Lilly, rarely play it safe in their work. The original Matrix revolutionized sci-fi filmmaking, while other films like Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending took big storytelling swings with varying results (and some truly egregious makeup and casting decisions).

One of the directors’ biggest perceived misfires was 2008’s Speed Racer, a live-action adaptation of the anime franchise about an 18-year-old race car driver. Critics panned the movie for its length and flimsy storytelling, and the film was a box office bomb. In the years since its release, though, Speed Racer has become a cult classic, with fans pointing out that its brilliance was misunderstood.

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say Speed Racer is a masterpiece, it is a supremely good time. It’s cheesy and wacky and eye-poppingly memorable. It’s sweet and heartfelt and gutsy. In terms of sheer insanity and creativity, it’s hard to beat. For that, it deserves to be celebrated.

Where to begin with Speed Racer? If you, like me, knew nothing about the original before watching the film, you may be surprised to know that “Speed Racer” is a character’s actual name instead of a title. With a name like that, it’s no surprise that Speed (Emile Hirsch) is a gifted driver with a bright future ahead of him. His parents, Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Pops (John Goodman) Racer own and operate Racer Motors, the independent racing team that Speed drives for.

Things get tricky for Speed when he declines to race for mega-conglomerate Royalton Industries, a decision that exposes him to the corruption at the heart of the World Racing League (WRL). To protect his family and the sport he loves, he must prove the WRL is fixing races. So he drives the deadly race that killed his brother Rex: the Casa Cristo Road Rally.


While I wouldn’t go as far as to say Speed Racer is a masterpiece, it is a supremely good time.

That’s a lot of plot already, and I haven’t even touched on the chimpanzee, the corporate espionage, or the ninjas. Speed Racer is bursting at the seams, with everything dialed up to 11 — including the performances. As the evil head of Royalton Industries, Roger Allam delivers one of my favorite evil monologues of all time, spitting condescendingly about money and stocks and racing. It’s Shakespeare meets supervillain, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of this movie’s larger-than-life approach to adapting a famed cartoon.

This approach extends to Speed Racer‘s insane (and awesome) visuals. For a glorious two and half hours, you’re immersed in a world of psychedelic colors and shiny cars, bright lights and flashy transitions. This movie has absolutely no desire to tether itself to reality, choosing instead to bring viewers into a new realm of imagination and mind-bending race sequences. It’s the perfect antidote to the dark, de-saturated blockbusters of today.

On top of all that, Speed Racer is hilarious. John Goodman defeats a ninja then declares it a “non-ja.” A team of Viking race car drivers hurls beehives at Speed. The line “Inspector Detector suspected foul play” is delivered with the utmost seriousness. Whether everything I find funny in the film is actually meant to make viewers laugh, I don’t know. But Speed Racer has the delightful ability to speak to your inner child, making every moment an opportunity for laughter or awe (or sometimes both).

As with the Wachowskis’ other films, Speed Racer contains a Big Important Message, one that decries corruption, corporations, and capitalism. Our heroes assert time and time again that racing isn’t about business. It’s about teamwork and family and doing what you love. It’s a sweetly earnest moral that can just as easily be applied to other kinds of art, including filmmaking. The Wachowskis approach movies, including Speed Racer, in the same way that Speed and his family approach racing. They take big risks and work together as a family to create something they love, all in the hope of changing the world. 

The world may not have been ready for Speed Racer in 2008, but I urge you to take a chance on it now. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it.

Speed Racer is now streaming on HBO Max.