Is it just me, or was Speed Racer ahead of its time?

Speed Racer
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Summer 2008 saw two tentpole adaptations go head to head: Iron Man and Speed Racer, both of which unexpectedly shaped today’s cinematic landscape. Releasing a week after the MCU’s debut certainly didn’t do Speed Racer any favors; nevertheless, it’s the latter film that has arguably prevailed as the more prescient of the two.

Speed Racer wastes little time in plunging audiences into its death-defying neon circuits and rapid-fire storytelling. Indeed, the Wachowskis barely wait for the chequered flag of the opening credits to settle before making their bold statement of intent.

The opening race encapsulates the film’s resonant qualities: scintillating colors, dynamic compositions, and unabashed melodrama (Speed Racer’s desire to live up to his late brother’s legacy provides the emotional heft).

As modern blockbusting awkwardly expands from shared universes to multiverses, Speed Racer remains a great example of how to integrate inspirations from across different media without losing coherence. Tatsuo Yoshida’s original manga (and subsequent anime) is the key influence, but the Wachowskis also evoke everything from F-Zero’s adrenaline rush, Dragon Ball’s lively choreography, and the infectious enthusiasm of eSports coverage.

I should also address the elephant (or rather pet chimp) in the room: the all-consuming visual effects. Speed Racer avoids leaning into conventionally slick CGI; there’s a hint of LazyTown to its hyperreal digital environments, an aesthetic that eerily anticipates today’s Volume-shot productions. 

While the technology has undeniably evolved since 2008, these modern movies/shows often falter in a key area: clarity of expression. In embracing artifice, Speed Racer triumphs in conjuring up a sense of transportation (ahem) absent from its uncanny-valley successors.

The Wachowskis’ filmography is packed with prophetic works. Red/blue pills and simulation glitches are part of today’s online vernacular. And yet, as much as it feels like we’re now living in the Matrix, we’re still catching up to Speed Racer’s drift… or is it just me?