24th Aug2020

‘The Speed Cubers’ Review (Netflix)

by Jason Brigger

Stars: Max Park and Feliks Zemdegs | Directed by Sue Kim

The newest documentary on Netflix, The Speed Cubers is a look into the competitive world of solving a classic Rubik’s Cube in the quickest time. I never knew there was a world of professional Rubik’s Cube solvers (is that the word?), in which the competitors can actually make a living, while also have a small but loyal following but that’s what is great about documentaries: opening people up to new worlds.

The documentary follows the top two speed competitors in the world, 23-year-old Feliks Zemdegs of Australia and the unquestioned greatest in the world and 17-year-old Max Park of the United States, an autistic competitor that has gradually beaten the majority of Feliks’ world records. Max is the up-and-coming star in this world and fans of Speed Cubers are solidly split 50/50 in support of these competitors.

Feliks has been in the Rubik’s Cube spotlight since he was a child, learning algorithms to master the “Cube” and becoming a minor celebrity in his country of Australia. We learn that as competitors are about to hit the “real world” after college, their stars shine less, and their speed worsens as their new responsibilities of paying rent and starting a career leaves less time for competitors to practice their craft. This is the situation that Feliks finds himself in as his world records are beginning to fall but with the 2019 world championships coming to his country, Feliks might have one last chance to go out on top.

Max fell into this world of competitive speed cubing due to being born with autism and his parents looking for something, anything, to break him out of his own space and into a bigger world. Since the first time Max picked up the Rubik Cube and the dedication his parents have to continue to work with Max, who has a 7-8 year-old mentality in a 17-year-old body, Max’s world grows and is truly a sight to see. By starting in a small local Rubik Cube competition to his meteoritic rise on the national stage, the dedication and persistent Max has is inspiring.

The Speed Cubers builds upon Feliks and Max’s friendship, which started as Max idolizing his hero and grew to a healthy but competitive friendship, and culminates into the World Championship in Australia. The two friends compete in several competitions involving different sizes of the Rubik Cube including the 4×4, 5×5 and several others, but the biggest and most famous championship is held for the 3×3. The film builds enough tension to keep the audience guessing about the outcome of the championship while still making both competitors seem like good people and showing everyone wins in the end.

The Good:

  • The Relationship. The relationship between Feliks and Max could have been exploited by the documentary into a “fictional” hatred, but to their credit, the film presents Feliks and Max as who they are really are, friends. From Feliks calling and congratulating Max every time he beats one of Feliks’ world records to Max showing genuine happiness when Feliks regains a record to them talking “trade secrets” amongst each other, the friendship is truly what shines in this documentary.

The Bad:

  • Nothing. It’s a very enjoyable film with no negatives.

The Middling:

  • The Length. The film is considered a “documentary short” at a running time of 40 minutes and while a lot of information is presented in that amount of time, I was hoping for a little more detail on the other competitors in the documentary. I understand the main plot revolves around Feliks and Max’s relationship and while the film does touch on their families, I would have liked to seen more background on the other competitors that participated in the championship along with why the fans have fallen in love with Feliks and Max more than others. The addition of a little more time to the documentary, even 20 more minutes, could have added to an already rich story.

Final Grade: B+ (Very Good)

The Speed Cubers is a fun and quick documentary that explores a world I did not know existed or had any interest in but once I was introduced to this world, I couldn’t stop watching. The documentary does a tremendous job of explaining the level of mental prowess and skill needed to solve over 300 algorithms quickly, while also presenting a terrific friendship that grew out of competition. At just 40 minutes, The Speed Cubers is well worth your time.

You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcasting apps. 
You can listen to their latest episode right here.

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