It’s the first film from writers and directors Andy and Larry Wachowski since their ‘Matrix’ trilogy and here they present a comic strip world played out in a post-Playstation era. Once again they employ and surpass the limitless perspective of a computer game. Their camera (if you can call it that – the film was produced entirely on a green screen) can leap stadiums and entire cities. Geography is of the Gran Turismo sort: nobody blinks when a motor race traverses continents, mountains and deserts to cross the finishing-line at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
The dual worlds of ‘Speed Racer’ are the suburban home and the cut-and-thrust arena of the racetrack. The neon spectacle of the latter informs the look of the entire film. Lawns are day-glo. Home furnishings are orange. On the track, cars look like dragsters but drive like futuristic robots. Our hosts, the Racer family, are a mid-century sort of unit, not unlike the Flintstones or the Jetsons, whose prehistoric or inter-galactic settings were never as important as having a new fridge or its prehistoric or inter-galactic equivalent.
There’s portly Pops (John Goodman), domestic Mom (Susan Sarandon) and young Spritle (Paulie Litt), who hangs out with a real chimp. Our main man, though, is Speed (Emile Hirsch), a good kid, with James Dean looks, whose passion for racing is fuelled by the memory of his brother’s death on the track. Speed is a rising champion who resists the tempting offers of a grand prix magnate, Royalton (Roger Allam), who looks like Christopher Hitchens.
Thematically, it’s classic stuff: the little guy versus the corporation, free will versus destiny. Only the telling, as you’d expect from the Wachowskis, pushes the boundaries of what we expect from the image. It’s so quick that classic edits go out the window; scenes play in extreme close-up, while another angle of the story unfolds behind it on kaleidoscopic wallpaper. You might not follow everything, and kids may be confused by some of the corporate shenanigans, but the two races towards the end of the film gee up the overlong, two-hour plus runtime.If the prevailing mood of the ‘Matrix’ series was dark and suspicious, this is light all the way, and with its tongue firmly in its cheek. It doesn’t make for original storytelling, acting, or writing, but the spectacle eclipses those expectations. Just don’t forget your sunglasses.