Let me preface this by saying that I love a lot of crappy movies. I am no means qualified to review any movie, due to the fact that I love films like Xanadu.
My first memory of anime (not that I knew it at the time) was Speed Racer. It was the first show that my parents remember me being insane over. I must have been 2 or 3 years old, and I have a vague memory of being in footie pajamas and watching it on a black and white TV.
It was probably the exposure to this show at that early of an age that imprinted my fondness for Japanese animation.
So naturally, when I heard that the Wachowski's (the creators of the Matrix trilogy) were making a live-action Speed Racer movie, I was thrilled. I love the Matrix movies (yes, ALL of them) and I could only wonder what they were going to do with my childhood hero.
What they did do was bring Speed Racer to life in a way that I never could have imagined. This movie is a fast-paced action-packed kids movie. That is not to say that adults won't like it too, but they have to be the kind of adult that has a bit of kid in them. Those going into this movie expecting high art will be disappointed. Those expecting a visual spectacle like they have dropped acid on the Shinkansen will be delighted.
For those of you not familiar, Speed Racer was the US version of Japan's Mach Go Go Go!, a story about a boy who could drive like a demon on wheels. The US version was campy and good-natured, but the car races and the gadgets and the fantastic visuals what really sold the show. The Wachowski brothers must have been huge fans, because there are so many good tributes in here that any fan of Speed Racer will be going "ooh OOH!" throughout the picture.
For me to talk about the plot here is not necessary. Speed Racer likes to drive fast. It's in his blood. His brother dies during his childhood, and now Speed is coming into his own as a legendary racer. Team Speed gets an offer from a major corporation to sponsor the team, and Speed gets a lesson in corporate evil. Oh yeah, there are also Ninjas, Monkeys, Piranhas, candy, milk, flinging poo, and heart attack-inducing racing.
What really did it for me with Speed Racer is just how fun the whole thing was. All the colors are saturated to the point of being like a world seen through a Jolly Rancher candy. This is not reality. This is a world of fancy cars and futuristic cities. There are loads of great details all over the place, but there were a few things that the Wachowski brothers did that no other comic book/anime has managed to do so far:
Dont f*ck with the Mach 5. Or the costumes.
The Mach 5, like you knew it from the show, is there. Exactly. It's not made "extreme", nor does it have flames on it. It is EXACTLY as it should look in real life. And it gets a LOT of screen time. Sure, there is a Mach 4 and a Mach 6, but those were made for a different purpose. And the same goes for the character designs and costumes. Speed, Trixie, Pops, Spridle, Chim-Chim - all look like they just stepped out of the show. And they all ACT like they came from the show. Hell, Speed jumps out of the car at the end and does this pose that only fans of the show would really get. Even the bad guys have bad 60s anime hairstyles. It's just awesome.
No corporate sponsorship
You watch movies today, and its likely you are bombarded by obvious product placement throughout the movie. This annoys me to no end. In the world of Speed Racer, billboards are everywhere, the cities are lit up like Neo Tokyo. You would think that the producers would have sold this thing to every company that wanted their soda on a billboard. Fortunately, there is none of this. There is No McDonalds. No Pepsi. No Doritos. In fact, I couldn't find a single product placement in the entire movie. Considering one of the main plot points is about how Corporations are the Devil, this shouldn't be a huge surprise, but STILL it is a welcome change from the status quo.
It should go without saying that the visual effects in Speed Racer are amazing. But you don't get a good idea really until you see it on the big screen. Yes, the movie is mostly digital, and has a very cartoony look, but that was the idea. When people get into fights, the screen slows down and motion lines fill the screen, just like in anime. The cars defy the laws of physics in tracks that just could not ever exist. The details are sharp and each race is treated with respect - each has a story with it to advance the plot. While it is eye candy, it is not JUST eye candy.
Readers of CollectionDX will probably love this movie. Kids will love this movie. People who are prone to seizures will not.
Oh yeah, and Christina Ricci is smokin' hot in it.
Go see it and have fun, and then let us know what you think!