Being a rather large fan of the directorial works of the Wachowski brothers, I have, naturally, as soon as I was able to do so, sought out the DVD of their latest work from my local (ish) library. Jo, my other half, although also a fan of The Matrix Trilogy (although not as much as me), and having quite liked V for Vendetta, did nevertheless decide Speed Racer looked just a little bit too silly, and so I settled down, with a cup of tea and a strawberry Muller Light, after she and our nearly-6-month-old-daughter went to bed at 8.15pm, and watched this odd, but oddly enjoyable film.
V for Vendetta was also odd-but-oddly enjoyable. As was the Wachowski’s earlier, lesser known work, Bound. The Matrix Trilogy was odd in places, but was mostly just an exciting and (I would say) deceptively deep thrill-ride.
Speed Racer was, I would say, the Wachowski’s attempt at a “family film”… which kind of works as such, but it is undeniably… odd! By way of a brief summary of what-it-is-all-about, it is (if my memory of reading about it prior to its release is correct) based on a Japanese anime from the 1960’s… about car racing. But not car racing in the conventional sense. It is “futuristic,” but actually set in an alternative universe where specific times and places are only mentioned in relation to each other – if you see what I mean. The point seeming to be that where and when are of far less importance than what. Anyway, the story… is a pretty basic one. Almost archetypal. The fact that the main character is called Speed Racer is indicative of the basic, even symbolic nature of the plot – which is, in a nutshell, about an aspiring car racer, who takes on not only numerous opponents, but also the greed and might of corporate globalism – and things. It is a film about family values, following your heart, truth, love, justice and all that kind of stuff (pretty similar to The Matrix, in this sense), but what makes it (like previous Wachowski productions) stand out from the rest is its stunning and utterly captivating visuals.
Speed Racer is, without a doubt, a thrilling visual feast!
It is – let us get this very clear – not realistic. Not the plot, the physics of the cars or the Kung Fu (well, you can’t have a Wachowski film without Kung Fu), the characterisation or indeed the world in which all the above is set. But that doesn’t matter! A film like this is not about realism. It’s about art, symbolism and excitement – and like it or not, one would be hard-pressed to deny its Excitement Factor! The cars race and slide and spin and bounce and fly around highly stylised tracks… they fight – yes, fight! – with moves and weapons and gadgets straight out of Wacky Races… all at ridiculously high speeds… and all to a detailed, technicolour backdrop, whose palette undeniably belongs in the 1960’s from which the original anime emerged…
But aside from the car races/fights, which are, of course, the primary focus of this film, there is one scene which sticks out in my mind, which is classic Wachowski and doesn’t feature a single revving engine or clashing of bumpers or shredding of tyres… It is, in the latter part of the film, a good old-fashioned brawl… hand-to-hand combat… Kung Fu (of a sort)… fists, faces, feet, all that kind of stuff… I do, of course, use the term “old-fashioned” very loosely, because in typical Wachowski-esque fashion, it is gravity-defying and there is nothing old-fashioned about its production… but the main thing I recall about this scene is… the snow! The way it moves and swirls and spins and churns, as the fists and feet fly and the bodies are flung… it sounds like a small thing, but it has to be seen to be believed! It is, of course, highly unrealistic, but it is the way the snow is choreographed which raises what could be a pretty standard (albeit gravity-defying and stylised) brawl to a work of art.
As is the way of the Wachowski’s.
Speaking of which, the only significant criticism I would level at Speed Racer is that, unlike all of their previous films, although it doubtless leaves a lasting impression on the senses, it leaves hardly a dent on the mind. I will, however, forgive them this brief diversion into family-friendly fluff… but how about now returning to something a little more serious/meaningful? I miss your rambling philosophical discourse, Smith, amidst bashing the hell out of Neo!