With the monumental success of the Uncharted movie and critically acclaimed The Last of US TV series, Sony Pictures is inevitably pumping out more movie adaptations of popular PlayStation IPs. Gran Turismo is the latest.
Given the series isn't renowned for its compelling characters and gripping storylines, Gran Turismo may seem like an odd choice to base a movie on. It makes sense, however, when you consider it’s Sony’s most successful PlayStation franchise of all time, with over 90 million sales since it began 26 years ago.
Based on a true story
If you didn’t already know from marketing campaigns that are as subtle as a sledgehammer, the Gran Turismo movie is based on a true story. To drive this point home, it even had a late title change to Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story.
Gran Turismo tells the incredible true story of Jann Mardenborough, played by Archie Madekwe (Midsommar, See), a gamer who becomes a professional racing driver after winning a gaming competition known as the GT Academy for the best Gran Turismo players in the world.
In real life, Mardenborough went on to race at the 24 Hours Le Mans, arguably the most demanding race in the world. It's an inspiring story not many people know about that deserves to be told.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie), Gran Turismo takes a while to get into gear. The first act is essentially a glorified advert for Gran Turismo 7 and Fanatec racing wheels, peppered with copious Sony and Nissan product placement. Fortunately, the pacing picks up when Mardenborough enters the GT Academy.
Its unique gamer-to-racer premise elevates an otherwise formulaic sports underdog story we've seen countless times. There's also some clunky dialogue – one scene where a mechanic calls Mardenborough a “noob” is particularly groan-worthy. Despite this, the story is engaging thanks to strong performances from the lead actors.
David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy) steals the show as Jack Salter, a cynical racing coach and former racing driver who trains Mardenborough. At first, he’s sceptical that a gamer has the mental and physical stamina to be a racing driver, but Mardenborough proves him wrong. They have great chemistry and Salter's fatherly bond with Mardenborough is touching.
Harbour’s character provides some welcome comic relief during the initial training sessions, though the way he ridicules stereotypical “scrawny little gamer kids” feels outdated.
Orlando Bloom plays Danny Moore, a fictionalised version of original GT Academy founder Danny Cox. A smarmy marketing executive for Nissan, Orlando’s character is less interesting and likeable than Salter, who has a more developed story arc.
Compared to the more experienced main cast, Archie Madekwe’s performance is wooden at times, but improves in the second half. Even so, his character is likeable and relatable.
He effectively conveys Mardenborough’s all-consuming determination to be a racing driver, much to the disapproval of his parents, played by Geri Halliwell Horner and Djimon Hounsou.
Although Gran Turismo is an authentic adaptation, the film takes a few creative liberties, resorting to tired Hollywood tropes. Because every racing film needs a rivalry to heighten the drama, Mardenborough ends up feuding with Nicholas Capa, an arrogant but underdeveloped racing driver. A shoehorned antagonist, he’s basically the equivalent of F1 23’s Devon Butler.
There’s also a forgettable love story subplot that doesn’t go anywhere. Mardenborough's relationship with Audrey (Maeve Courtier-Lilley) could have easily been cut to improve the pacing of the 135-minute runtime.
Around the midpoint, the film takes a surprisingly dark turn that mirrors a tragic real-life event in Mardenbourgh’s racing career. This takes an emotional toll on the characters, raising the stakes for the rest of the film while highlighting the real dangers of motorsport.
A new standard for cinematic car racing
If you thought Gran Turismo would be a low-budget straight-to-streaming film, think again. This is a big-budget Hollywood production, and it shows.
With spectacular aerial drone shots and purpose-built in-car cameras, Gran Turismo's racing scenes are thrilling to watch. Aside from a few CGI-heavy crash scenes (if only the damage modelling in the Gran Turismo games matched the on-screen destruction), the intense racing was shot practically, providing a visceral sense of speed.
The final Le Mans race has you on the edge of your seat, echoing the climactic race in Le Mans 66 (or Ford v Ferrari as it’s known outside the UK). Gran Turismo's filmmaking sets new standards for cinematic car racing.
Gran Turismo’s excellent sound design is also worthy of praise, with authentic racecar engine sounds immersing you in the action. This alone makes Gran Turismo worth seeing in the cinema.
The racing scenes often incorporate visual elements from the Gran Turismo games. From grid positions appearing above the cars to coloured racing lines on the track, these creative flourishes lend the film a unique visual style.
Long-time Gran Turismo fans will also recognise audio cues like the iconic countdown and menu sounds taken from the games. Kazunori Yamauchi briefly appears as a character played by Takehiro Hira, but the real Gran Turismo creator also makes a small but amusing blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.
Despite suffering from predictable sports film tropes and distracting product placement, the Gran Turismo movie is a great time. Strong performances, high production values, an inspiring story, and heart-pounding racing scenes raise the bar for video game adaptations - even if it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as other Hollywood racing films like Rush and Le Mans 66.
Even if you’re not an avid Gran Turismo fan, this is a solid and entertaining racing film. Perhaps most importantly, it also shines a spotlight on sim racing to a wide audience.
Gran Turismo races into theatres on 9 August in the UK and 25 August in the US.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Gran Turismo page.