‘Speed Racer” Runs Out of Gas Long Before It Ends

I’m not sure if I ever watched the original “Speed Racer” cartoon, but I feel like I have. Maybe it’s because that darn theme song can be so hard to get out of your head. Speed is one of those characters who has permanently engrained himself into pop culture for all time. Back in 2008, the Wachowskis brought this popular cartoon which is credited for bringing the world of anime into full focus onto the big screen in a live action version that is bursting at the seams with the most vibrant colors imaginable.

In short, “Speed Racer” is a visual splendor to behold, and also kind of an endurance test to sit through. At over two hours, this movie is simply way too long. I usually don’t complain about a movie’s length, but I can’t resist bitching about it here because I kept yawning in the second half and was checking my watch. When I check my watch during a movie, it is NOT a good sign.

“Speed Racer” starts off innocently enough as we see Young Speed (Nicholas Elia) daydreaming about someday being a great racecar driver like his brother Rex (Scott Porter). Speed comes from a family weaned on race cars and building them. His father Pops (the always dependable John Goodman) runs Rex’s race team along with Speed’s brother Sparky (Kick Gurry) until Rex ends up walking out on the family and their cars. No real reason is giving by Rex to his dad, but he warns Young Speed not to believe all the bad things people are going to be saying about him. Soon enough, Rex is slammed with a bad reputation which is not of his own doing, and he later perishes in a tragic car crash which haunts the family to the point where Pops won’t go into his garage to do any mechanic work.

Fast forward to several years later, and we see Speed all grown up (and played by Emile Hirsch), and he is as a good a racer as Rex. He amazes everyone with his skills on the track to the delight of his fans and ever-loving family. Pops has even come back into working on cars again along with Sparky, and Speed also has a great mother in Mom Racer (Susan Sarandon) who I can’t help but say is quite sexy. He also has a loyal girlfriend in Trixie (Christina Ricci) who flies her pink helicopter in the most alluring miniskirts ever to make their way into a PG-rated movie. And there is also his annoying younger brother (is there any other kind?) Spritle (Paulie Litt) and his chimp friend Chim Chim. Still, he could not have asked for a better family.

Then into the picture comes Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam), a spiffy CEO of one the world’s largest auto industries who offers Speed a chance to sign up with him to represent his corporation. Royalton is basically a man with the mind of a used car salesman (and I have dealt with many of them over the years) with an extravagant attire. This man wants to seduce Speed into a world where he can have everything he could ever possibly want, but Speed would rather stick with his family as he finds these corporations a little too frightening to deal with. This ends up bringing out the devil in Royalton as he gives Speed lessons in how the world really works, and he is determined to see Speed will never win a race from here on out. The movie then becomes a journey to showing how one racecar driver can change the world for the better, and can also succeed in blowing apart the corrupt corporations which threaten to destroy the world of racing.

The movie is deliberately campy, and that’s fine. I imagine the show was too. The beginning was fun as it introduced us to the world of Speed Racer and the people who inhabit it. There is an innocence which proved to be quite infectious as we see Speed daydreaming about the life he wants to lead. Who hasn’t had moments like that? Had the movie contained more of this innocent feel, then I imagine I would have liked it a lot more. There’s nothing wrong with a good throwback to the past, and it always brings back good memories which are always welcome.

But towards the last half, I found myself really getting restless. Just when you think “Speed Racer” has reached its climax, there is more and everything feels dragged out as a result. Maybe it’s because we all know how the story will end, and the depressing part is there is no excitement in it. The movie has heart, but not enough to fully envelop us into its gloriously colorful world. Because the Wachowskis are working with CGI and have practically shot just about every frame in front of a blue screen, we know everything is precise in movement and direction. This is nothing you can really improvise around, and it makes the race scenes all the more disappointing because there is no real thrill in them. In fact, there is no friction which you really need in any cinematic car chase to make it effective. By the end, I was ready for it to be over. It didn’t matter how brilliant the visuals were. They don’t mean anything without soul.

This was the first movie the Wachowskis directed since the “The Matrix Revolutions.” They still have a knack for groundbreaking visual effects, and of following that one character who is “the one.” If it’s not Neo, then it’s Speed himself. They do surround this film with good actors like John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci and Emile Hirsch who was coming off a plethora of praise for his work in “Into the Wild” at the time. But the story and the characters are not enough here like they were in “The Matrix.” Maybe it’s because we have seen this story so many times before; the one man on a mission to stop those who control everything and blind us to the truth of the world we live in.

With “The Matrix,” that story was revolutionary and groundbreaking. But with “Speed Racer,” there is nothing revolutionary except the visual spectrum of what’s on display, and it doesn’t change the fact that the story about a man going against the corporate world is old, old, old. There is also the sheer irony of the corporate world funding a movie where the independent people go against the corporations to win the day.

I didn’t hate “Speed Racer.” There is a lot to admire about it. It’s not really an actor’s movie, but then again, these movies rarely are. I guess I’m sad this movie, despite the amount of money put into it, didn’t excite me the way I hoped it would. And I am sick of being forgiving to movies like these. The Wachowskis may forever be imprisoned by the success of “The Matrix” movies, but they are better filmmakers and storytellers than this.

* * out of * * * *

‘The Matrix Resurrections’ – Welcome Back to the Real World

It’s been a couple of days since I watched “The Matrix Resurrections,” and my feelings about it are a bit mixed. Truth is, I have been waiting for a fourth “Matrix” movie for years following the ending of “The Matrix Revolutions” which ended the trilogy with a whimper instead of a bang. My friends and I came out of it thinking there had to be another one, and we guessed it would be called “The Matrix Resurrection.”  So, when the first trailer for “The Matrix Resurrections” was dropped for the whole world to see, I was thrilled to see Neo and Trinity alive again, and I could barely contain my excitement for what was to come. Then again, I am always reminded of how expectations and anticipation can lead you to an ecstatic high which the final product can never ever live up to.

To me, “The Matrix” movies are a lot like Peter Gabriel’s albums, you have to go in expecting the unexpected, and this is certainly the case here. Sure, all the cool special effects like bullet-time and characters jumping all over the place are back, but this installment is also more intimate. It takes jabs at Hollywood’s incessant need for remakes, reboots and sequels as nobody seemingly has the guts to produce anything original, and it echoes the events of “The Matrix” trilogy to where some will be saying “déjà vu” out loud. But deep down, this one is at its heart a love story of two people torn apart in their battle against the machines, but who now have a second chance to be together again because, hey, wouldn’t it be nice?

We meet up again with Neo and his alter-ego of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who has once again been plugged back into the simulated world and works as a highly successful video game developer who has long since created a successful trilogy of games entitled, you guessed it, The Matrix. The games are based on his dreams from his faint memories of being Neo, and now the parent company, Warner Brothers, wants him to make another game to the delight of his boss, Smith (Jonathan Groff), who starts off sounding quite a bit like Agent Smith…

Suffice to say, Lana Wachowski is looking to have a little fun with Warner Brothers as they have been constantly asking her and her sister Lily to make another “Matrix” movie. As Mr. Anderson’s fellow employees try to keep coming up with ideas about how to make a fourth game, and no one can seem to agree on anything. Lana ended up co-writing and directing this installment by her lonesome as Lilly did not want to return to this franchise, but I imagine Lana is speaking for the two of them as she flips the bird to the studio as if to say, “you think it’s easy coming up with another sequel? Just be happy with what we give you dammit!”

Still, Thomas is plagued by what he says are “dreams which are not really dreams,” and he tells his therapist (played by Neil Patrick Harris) that he believes he is going crazy. But his therapist, with his blue-rimmed glasses, assures him he is not and prescribes him medication which comes in blue pills. And we all know what happens when you take the blue pill, right?

There’s a lot going on in “The Matrix Resurrections” to where watching it once will not be enough. While it does repeat some scenarios and themes, it does so in a way which feels relatively fresh. Yes, Neo, has to be awakened from the simulated world and brought back to the real one once again, but history does have a nasty habit of repeating itself. After all this time, choice is still seen as an illusion to certain characters, but there are those who are willing to challenge this perception which helped bring me into the story on an even deeper level. After all these years, I refuse to believe choice is an illusion.

One character who looks like an agent introduces himself as Morpheus, but he looks a bit different here as he is played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. As to why Laurence Fishburne did not reprise his role, you have to remember what happened to Morpheus in the game “Enter the Matrix” which is considered canon. While Abdul-Mateen does try to sound like Fishburne at times, his Morpheus has his own moves and rhythms to where he comfortably makes the role his own and is a lot of fun to watch.

Jonathan Groff makes for a menacing Agent Smith (the second trailer revealed who this actor was playing), but it would have been great if Hugo Weaving were able to return as this character makes an interesting decision towards the latter half of the movie. Jessica Henwick, who opted out of Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” to do this, makes Bugs a badass gunslinger whom you want to follow from start to finish. Lambert Wilson returns as The Merovingian, but this time he looks like he just jumped out of Terry Gilliam movie. And yes, Christina Ricci appears here in a small role which is like one of those blinked and you missed it ones. Much was said about her being in this sequel, but she’s barely in it.

The action here is exciting, but it does not have quite the same exhilaration as the original “Matrix” did. Regardless, there were some interesting moments on a train and throughout the city of San Francisco. Cinematographers John Toll and Daniele Massaccesi give this particular “Matrix” movie its own look to where it feels like its own thing. Composing the score this time around instead of Don Davis are Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer who have big shoes to fill, but the two give us music which makes the action and emotions on display all the more rousing. Having said that, I kept asking myself, “Where the hell is Juno Reactor?!”

But for me, the heart of this movie is in the relationship between Neo and Trinity. Although their characters were killed off in “The Matrix Revolutions,” something never quite sat right with me or with the conclusion where the humans essentially reach a draw with the machines. Lana has said writing the screenplay was her way of dealing with the grief of losing her parents, and bringing back these two iconic characters felt very welcome to me. While some may consider this a cheat as it threatens to retcon all Neo and Trinity went through, I am reminded of how anything is possible in this particular cinematic universe.

A lot of people still like to pick on Keanu Reeves’ acting, but I am willing to defend him on a number of roles he has taken on including this one. While there are certain scenes which have him emoting, his work overall was solid overall as he realizes how the dynamic between Neo and Trinity is taking on a different dimension this time around, and his time as John Wick is proof how he can handle action scenes like a seasoned pro.

It is also so cool to see Carrie-Anne Moss back as Trinity as she has not lost a step and still looks far too young to be getting grandmother roles. In the simulated world, she is Tiffany who is married with a couple of kids and has a thing for motorcycles, but upon meeting Mr. Anderson, she is convinced she has met him before. Moss invests this character with the same boundless energy she gave Trinity in the original trilogy, and I am thrilled she is back to keep some ass. Also, I am glad that the choice to leave the Matrix was given to her because, seriously, women should have the right to choose.

When it comes down to it, what really got me more involved in “The Matrix Resurrections” was seeing Neo and Trinity on the screen and wanting them to be together again. Seeing them torn apart previously may have inevitable, but I like to believe in second chances as the world of machines has gotten bigger and stronger than what we saw previously. In a world dominated by technology, the need for human emotions like love is stronger than ever.

As I write this, “The Matrix Resurrections” has been getting some rather polarizing reviews. People have been calling it a needless and soulless cash grab while others see it as a worthy installment which takes things in a fresh direction. Indeed, while Lana Wachowski does deliver on certain expectations, she openly defies several others as she is determined to make this movie her own and not simply give in to corporate studio heads or test screenings. The fact people are mixed on the final result is not really surprising as these movies are anything but your average sci-fi action spectacle, and they don’t always give you what you think they will.

For the most part, I did like “The Matrix Resurrections” even if it didn’t thrill me as much as I hoped. But like I said, it helps to expect the unexpected. I will see it again at some point in the hopes of uncovering more of its multiple themes and visuals as there is only so much I could take in on a first viewing. Many will be judging this sequel at its surface, but hopefully they will take the time to see what’s underneath it.

The Rolling Stones were right: you can’t always get what you wanted, but if you try sometimes, you just might find get what you need. That’s how I view this movie.

* * * out of * * * *

Knock, Knock – The First Trailer for ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ is Here

It is September 9, 2021, and I knew exactly what I needed to do: have breakfast and watch the first trailer for “The Matrix Resurrections.” But of course, breakfast would be second as this particular trailer could not come soon enough. All I can say is, wow! Keanu Reeves, looking more like John Wick than Neo, is back. Lana Wachowski is back. Carrie-Anne Moss is back, and no, she does not look to be playing a grandmother here.

The first thing I want to point out about the “Resurrections” trailer is how excited I am at how part of this movie takes place in San Francisco. It all looks so beautiful here, and it feels like it has been forever since anyone shot anything there. Part of me expected those digits to descend down the screen, but the trailer instead opens up with Thomas Anderson (Reeves) talking with a therapist (played by Neil Patrick Harris) about these strange dreams he has been having. From there, we see him taking what I guess are anti-depressants, and they are blue pills. And one other thing, Harris is wearing blue glasses in his session with Thomas. Coincidence?

What blew me away about this trailer was that it has a unique look to it. Sure, there are many images from the original featured, but “Resurrections” is made to look like its own thing and not a simple repeat of what came before. While its story line feels a bit similar to the original as Mr. Anderson is slowly waking up to the world around him, there is a different feeling this time around.

Quite wisely, this trailer only tells us so much about what we will be seeing this December. Lana Wachowski is not about to give everything away which is smart, and we are left to ponder the reality this sequel takes place in. As a result, I am left with a string of questions I am eager to see answered:

Will this sequel take place following the events of “Matrix Revolutions,” or is this a whole new timeline featuring the same characters?

Is Thomas Anderson (a.k.a. Neo) too woke to use a cell phone while in an elevator?

Why does Neo recognize Trinity but Trinity does not recognize Neo?

Will the bullet time effects be utilized frequently in this film?

Is Morpheus, now played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, meant to be a younger version of the character previously played by Laurence Fishburne?

Is this a prequel instead of a sequel?

Christina Ricci is co-starring in “Resurrections,” but did we see her in this trailer?

Is Thomas/Neo dumping those blue pills into the sink meant to be smack in the face to big pharma?

Do we really want to see this on HBO Max instead of on the big screen where it belongs?

Was Keanu Reeves shooting the fourth John Wick movie while filming “Resurrections?” Is this why Neo looks like John Wick?

Is Trinity pregnant with Thomas’/Neo’s baby? Well, whatever the case, she certainly does not look to be a grandmother in this installment.

With Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer taking over music scoring duties from Don Davis, will Juno Reactor be along for the ride as well?

Lastly, why is everyone stunned that Laurence Fishburne does not appear in this trailer? For crying out loud, it was announced he would not be appearing in it ages ago! Besides, he will be reunited with Reeves in the next John Wick sequel, so stop complaining!

Suffice to say, I am as excited for this sequel as I am for “Halloween Kills.” As a result, I need to keep my expectations in check as they can be easily ruined for all the wrong reasons. I have enjoyed all “The Matrix” movies, and I include the third one even though its ending really sucked. With this trailer for “The Matrix Resurrections,” we look to be getting something as striking and visually spectacular as the original which wowed us back in 1999. I cannot wait, and I am about to say something I have not said in years: Christmas can’t come soon enough!

Check out the trailer below: