From the safe: As the streaming arena continues to grow, more and more extensive studio catalogs are becoming available. This includes lost and forgotten jewels, bad-it-good duds, and just plain weird bits of film history. And you probably won’t find them waiting for streamers to put them in front of you. In from the safe Android authority aims to save these titles from the algorithm graveyard and help you get more out of your streaming subscriptions.
After The Matrix 4 hit theaters and HBO Max later this year and fans rave about its new trailer, the Wachowskis are back in the news. The Matrix is a popular cultural touchstone and a hugely important piece of sci-fi cinema, but some of the filmmaker-sister duo’s other films haven’t done as well. 2008 Speed Racer was dead when it arrived, but it’s a brilliant movie that deserves the cult after it has built up since its release.
The adaptation of the popular anime series is bold, visually stunning, and full of themes and influences that have made The Matrix an undeniable classic.
But you don’t just have to take my word for it. It is now streamed on HBO Max and is one of the best and coolest movies to watch on the platform.
HBO Max is your home for Warner Bros.-produced movies and television shows like The Lord of the Rings, DC Comics Superheroes, and more. It is also home to new and original films and shows not available anywhere else.
What is Speed Racer about?
Speed Racer, based on the popular manga and anime series of the same name, follows the middle child Speed of the Racer family. Speed’s older brother Rex died years earlier in a racing accident. And now Speed is racing in his memory, hoping to live up to the family name.
But when he is invited to join the racing conglomerate Royalton Industries, Speed Racer gets to know the shady sides of the racing world. He has to choose between fame and fortune or ride with integrity and his family behind him. But facing the crooked Arnold Royalton means risking it all and getting into the same race that killed Rex.
Read: The best anime on Netflix
The film holds a cool 41% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Critics, by and large, didn’t like it. And it bombed at the box office, falling far behind the MCU kickstarter Iron Man, which opened a week earlier.
Speed Racer is far better than its poor RT score suggests.
However, it has garnered a ton of praise since then, with numerous 10-year retrospectives praising its bold and unconventional storytelling.
The film has earned cult status among those who saw through the negative initial reaction. And it’s not hard to see why.
A unique creative vision
It has been more than a decade since Speed Racer was released. And it’s amazing how little impact it has had on the films that have come out since then. Today it feels like taking a look into a parallel universe where the blockbuster aesthetic went in a completely different direction than we are used to.
Speed Racer takes the look and feel of a classic anime and translates it into a (kind of) live action setting. Everything is exaggerated. The colors are as bright and rich in contrast as possible. The acting is caricaturally exaggerated. The physical space works against the basic rules of physics. The Wachowskis use a kind of neo-expressionism that amplifies every emotion throughout.
It would be exhausting if it wasn’t so exciting. Instead, the film feels like a much-needed shock to the Hollywood system.
The Wachowskis deserve better
While Speed Racer was technically the Wachowski sisters’ first anime adaptation, it certainly fit their earlier interest in Japanese animation. The Matrix is steeped in the themes and aesthetics of works like Ghost in the Shell and Akira. Speed Racer was something of a natural progression.
But even more than the anime source material, Speed Racer shows off some of the consistently thoughtful policies and recurring thematic concerns of the Wachowskis. They have always offered heroes who fight power systems and regain their unjustifiably deprived autonomy.
Speed Racer is about the little guy who goes against corporate greed.
At its core, Speed Racer presents a critique of unrestrained capitalism and corporate power. That it does so as a big budget Hollywood blockbuster could hypothetically weaken the message. But that’s actually all the more subversive. And the film’s failure only serves to further substantiate its point. The entire fictional world of the speed racer – yes, including the racing industry – is ruled by profits. Royalton even describes justice as a commodity. So Speed has to fight uphill to maintain its integrity in a flawed, corrupt and cannibalistic system.
Speed (like other Wachowski heroes, including Neo in the Matrix, Jupiter in Jupiter Ascending, or the “Sensates” in Sense8) is a great replacement for the Wachowskis themselves, who were routinely sidelined in Hollywood while holding onto their guns and clung to an extremely independent creative perspective in a money-driven industry.
It’s an industry that hasn’t always rewarded them for their stunning and original creative work. It felt like a great loss to the film world when the Wachowskis closed their once thriving production offices in 2018 due to a lack of active projects.
While Lilly is not involved in The Matrix Resurrections – with Lana taking on the directing duties alone – they are both back in the limelight. So it’s a great time to look back on their unsung gems – like Speed Racer! You can try it out now on HBO Max. And you really should.