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Revenge of the Electric Car - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Revenge of the Electric Car
Directing: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Revenge of the Electric Car is both a solid documentary in its own right, and an unusually upbeat one, especially for a natural sequel to Who Killed the Electric Car (2006). Five years ago, the question was why the automotive industry seemed to be rejecting electric vehicles outright. Now, there seems to be fierce competition to dominate the market with them. It's an unusual film, particularly among documentaries, that ends on a hopeful note.

The overriding theme seems to be that there is a shift occurring among consumers -- and different car manufacturers are attempting to stay ahead of the curve. Director Chris Paine focuses on three particular companies and the personalities spearheading their electric vehicle efforts: Bob Lutz of General Motors; Elo Musk of Tesla Motors (who also founded Paypal and runs SpaceX); and Carlos Ghosn of Nissan. Paine also follows the story of "Reverend Gadget," an L.A. man who converts gasoline powered cars into electric vehicles.

In all cases, cutting from one to the other systematically rather than telling each story as separate chapters, Paine follows the arc of a standard story: hopeful beginnings; some kind of fall from grace; ultimate redemption. In that sense, Revenge of the Electric Car is much more entertaining than informative, although it has healthy doses of both.

With General Motors, it's about Lutz being a man who once dismissed the idea of electric vehicles and then used it to help turn the company around. Surprisingly, Lutz, in spite of once being widely reviled by environmentalists, comes across as more genuine than Elo Musk does, as Musk just seems like an eccentric rich guy who only barely grasps what it takes to manufacture cars (and comes very close to losing everything). He's also in the midst of a divorce and about to marry a beautiful young actress, which doesn't exactly help his image. Ghosn seems to be the most pragmatic of the bunch, as well as the most confident -- he's the only one bent on immediate mass production of affordable cars (Musk's cars, by contrast, cost at least $50,000 each). And "Gadget" seems tossed in just to represent a more scrappy character -- someone who ultimately overcomes the total loss of his business due to arson.

In execution, Revenge of the Electric Car, as entertaining as it is, is just a fun story about individuals poised to ride the wave of a paradigm shift. Paine doesn't spend a whole lot of time analyzing or discussing that shift, though; this is all business, all the time; and a mini parade of semi-heroes overcoming the odds. In each case their story begins a few years ago, and they all suffer setbacks in some way tied to the 2008 economic crash.

I kind of wish a little bit of time was spent on the resources used to manufacture electric cars -- after all, they might not run on oil, but there are often other hidden environmental hazards to any kind of manufacturing. At least Gadget says, almost in passing, that converting pre-existing cars to electric is a lot greener than manufacturing new ones. But Paine is clearly not interested in exploring that idea more thoroughly.

That said, these are all very dynamic, fascinating individuals, each a visionary in their own way. That alone makes the movie compelling, and their clear optimism regarding the future of electric cars is infectious and generally makes the film a joy to watch. For the most part, it's just fun, with nice graphics that are never overdone and unusually skilled cinematography for a documentary. It's all in a pretty slick package, much like the design of the electric cars themselves. And when it ends, you're left feeling good about the future of the automobile, or at least its potential. That's certainly a nice turnaround from the comparatively gloomy picture Paine painted five years ago. It's nice to see things turning around.

Carlos Ghosn proudly unveils the

Overall: B+
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