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How about you just kill me? Seriously? What’s with all this faffing around? You’re obviously going to do it anyway, just do it. Why do you need me to review movies for you? It just seems like such an inefficient…
No one expected a sequel to Cars. After that movie came out is was as if, as a society, we agreed to pretend that it wasn’t that bad. Critics tutted and wrote “must try harder” before giving the thing a passing grade and hoping that this was just a fluke. It was, we told ourselves, not a portent of things to come. Pixar had just stumbled a little. It was fine. We would forgive and forget. As long as they did not do that again. That was the deal. And as time went on, it seemed our faith was rewarded; Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 put paid to any rumours of a Pixar decline. Decline? Are you kidding me? Those guys were better than ever! And then, one terrible day, we woke to a world with Cars 2 in it where once no Cars 2 had been.
So…how did we get to this point? How is it that what is universally recognised as the worst original Pixar movie has spawned a sequel, with another in the works and a spinoff which in turn has its own sequel in the works. Why is this thing, for want of a better word metastasizing?
Because they can’t stop. They’re making too much money off it now. Bob Iger announced Cars 3 at Disney’s shareholders meeting to assure them that yes, they will keep doing the thing that makes the money happen. And I don’t begrudge them making a profit off their work. Not a bit. And I certainly don’t have a problem with licensed merchandise (can I gauge interest in “LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS” T-Shirts?). But when you start making movies just to sell the toys, you might as well just change your name to Filmation and call it a day.
The movie begins with a secret agent car named Finn McMissile (Michael Cain) being taken to a rendezvous point in the middle of the ocean by a talking boat.
I AM ABOUT TO BLOW. YOUR. MINDS.
I want you to think where else we’ve seen talking, intelligent boats and planes. Do you remember?
Right. Little Toot, one of the shorts from Melody Time and Little Pedro from Saludos Amigos. This, this I say!, is the first recorded footage of the Cars universe, from the nineteen forties. And now, now it gets creepy. You know how we never really got how the Cars universe could exist, why the Cars have doors and so on if no human beings live there? Well, in Little Toot, human beings are seen to exist, but they use sentient, thinking boats, cars and planes as a slave caste. Punishment for disobedience is swift and brutal; remember, after Little Toot causes a liner to run aground in a populated area, he’s exiled to die on the open ocean. That was in the forties. But fast forward to the Cars universe depicted in the modern day and there are no more humans. What happened? I think it’s obvious. After his triumphant return from the open sea, Little Toot led a bloody slave revolt of all vehicles against the tyrannical humans, overthrowing them and then wiping them from the face of the earth.
Now give me a page on Buzzfeed and a bajillion views!
Alright, so Finn infiltrates an oilrig in the middle of the ocean where some nefarious cars are up to nefarious car stuff. He’s looking to meet up with another agent but finds that he’s already ready been crushed into a cube. Dark. The badcars are led by a Zundapp named Professor Zundapp. Finn gets some pictures of Zundapp’s new secret weapon, which is disguised as a TV camera, before he’s rumbled and has to make a daring escape. So from this first scene, what can we tell about this movie compared to its prequel? Well, the animation is still “meh” for Pixar, the character designs remain interchangeable and unlovely and the voice actors sound so bored that I keep expecting to hear the “thump” of someone’s nodding forehead hitting the mike as they fall asleep but it does improve on Cars in one very important way: Stuff is actually happening. In fact, I gotta say, the action scenes are quite imaginative and engaging. Finn escapes off the oilrig but Zundapp thinks he’s been killed, cackling “With Finn McMissile gone, who can stop us know?”
Cut to Mater in Radiator Springs loudly declaring “Mater! Tow Mater, that’s who! Is here to help you!”
Mater is rescuing a car called Otis who’s broken down outside of Radiator Springs for the tenth time this month. Mater instantly figures out what’s wrong with him and toes him back into town. So, here’s what I don’t get. In keeping with his redneck schtick, Mater knows everything there is to know about cars and engines. So why does everyone think he’s an idiot? Wouldn’t that make him this world’s equivalent of Doctor House? Otis says said Mater is “the only one who cares about lemons” like him…and that’s just sad.
Back in town. Mater’s delighted to see that Lightning McQueen’s back (why? why is he glad? why would anyone? I’m not. Are you?) and McQueen proudly shows off his fourth Piston Cup trophy. Well actually, it’s now been renamed the Hudson Cop in honour of Doc Hudson who died offscreen (Paul Newman had died between the two movies) and it’s a sweet moment.
The two putz around doing stuff until McQueen tells Mater that he has plans with Sally and that he’ll see him tomorrow. Mater, like any rational being would, knows enough not to be a fifth wheel and bids McQueen a polite farewell…no, he takes this really personally and then impersonates a waiter at the restaurant they’re eating at just so that he can be around McQueen.
McQueen asks Mater if he works in the restaurant and Mater “well of course, you think I just snuck in here and impersonated a waiter so I could hang out with you?” and everyone laughs and McQueen says “yeah, how ridiculous would that be?”
Not at all, McQueen. It would not be ridiculous at all.
It would be CREEPY AS BOLLOCKS.
At the bar, the other cars are watching Exposition TV which explains that Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) a former oil tycoon, has now converted into an electric car and has created a new, clean burning fuel and is hosting a racing tournament to show what it’s capable of. I love Eddie Izzard. I do. I just wish he’d showed up for this. I just don’t get, there’s so many good actors in this and the only one who brings his A- Game is…
Yeah. That’s not a good race to lose.
Miles appears on TV to make the case for alternative fuels saying fossil fuels are “just dead dinosaurs, and we all know what happened to them…”
BOOM! That my friends, is the smoking gun. Dinosaurs existed in this world. Flesh and blood, organic dinosaurs. And if dinosaurs existed, that means people also did until the great human killing of the mid-twentieth century. Case closed. Pixar, you gotta address this. In fact, if Cars 3 is the story of the last human survivors launching a desperate, last ditch effort to retake the planet from their secret city in the centre of the earth, I will watch the shit out of that. This whole “world of talking vehicles and nothing else” BS has been exposed as the sham it is. I mean unless, heh heh, those were MACHINE dinosaurs?
Wait a minute.
We’re then introduced to Francesco Bernoulli, a cocky Italian Formula 1 car voiced by John Turturro. Bernoulli is McQueen’s main rival for this movie, with the good ol’ American tradition of NASCAR competing against the rarified world of European formula 1 wait just a damn minute here!
Miles mentions that McQueen won’t be racing in his Global Grand Prix because he’s resting after his long racing season. Bernoulli starts trash talking McQueen which prompts Mater to call in to the show and complain about that “I-talien feller” (um….can he say that?). Bernoulli scoffs that McQueen wouldn’t stand a chance against him and from what little I’ve read that’s true. The record for a Nascar driver is 213 mph, or as Formula 1 drivers call it: “first gear”. I mean, the Formula 1 cars have that upside down wing on the front to stop them actually flying. That’s how fast we’re talking. Bernoulli then says that when he wants to go to sleep, he just watches one of McQueen’s races. Scandalised by the implication that NASCAR is boring (the idea!) McQueen agrees to race and the old team is back together. Sally makes McQueen promises to take Mater along for this one and he reluctantly agrees.
So the Global Grand Prix takes places in three countries; Lithuania, Brunei and Moldova…I’m sorry, my mistake; Japan, Italy and Britain.
First stop is Tokyo, the Japanese capital populated entirely by sentient vehicles given life through some still unexplained deviltry that manages to seem less weird than the real city. At a party for the racers, Finn McMissile appears and meets with Holly Shiftwell, a British intelligence agent. Shiftwell says that McMissile is to meet an American agent who has vital information for him. But McMissile sees Doctor Zundapp and some of his lackeys arrive and realises that if they see him the mission will be compromised and tells Shiftwell to meet the American agent herself. Shiftwell protests that she’s not a field agent (sooooo…why is is she in the field?) but McMissile insists.
Meanwhile, Mater embarrasses McQueen when he mistakes wasabi for pistachio ice-cream…
I hate this franchise so much. So goddamn much. They use fuel. But they still eat and drink. And they have ice-cream. Which they make from milk. Which they get from….
This whole universe makes my head throb. Screw it, Mater has to go to the bathroom after leaking oil on the stage and runs across Finn’s American contact who’s in the middle of getting the carbon emissions kicked out of him by two of Zundapp’s henchcars. The American spy plants the secret information on Mater who then gets picked up by Holly who thinks he’s the American spy. And so the clueless American tourist gets caught up in a international web of intrigue with British intelligence and pardon me just a minute…
Alright, so Holly asks Mater when they can rendezvous, and he thinks he’s been asked out on a date. Meanwhile, the American Spy..sigh, I’m going to have to look up this guy’s name now, amn’t I?
Okay so apparently this guy is called Rod Redline…
…and he’s voiced by the always awesome Bruce Campbell. Zundapp fills Rod up with Allinol, the new miracle fuel that Miles Axelrod is hawking, and explains that the fuel has one little, tiny flaw. Not even a flaw, more a feature. Namely, when it gets hit with an electromagnetic pulse, that shit blows up. Zundapp tortures Rod for information and gets it out of him that he’s passed the information to Mater, and then uses the TV camera which is actually an electromagnetic pulse cannon to blow Rod up.
Jesus, these cars are not fucking around.
Okay so the first race begins and McQueen seems to have it the bag but then Mater, who’s on in pit with a set of headphones, gets contacted by Holly who tells him to get out of there because Zundapp’s henchmen are after him. Mater’s conversations with Holly end up distracting McQueen who then loses the race to Bernoulli. Meanwhile, Zundapp’s henchcars use the TV Camera to cause three of the other cars in the race to flameout but not explode because of reasons that are both logical and well explained within the script hahahahahahahahahaha.
Owen Wilson struggles manfully and actually manages to portray something recognisable as a distant cousin of the emotion called “anger” and tells Mater to go screw for costing him the race. Heartbroken, Mater goes to the airport to catch a flight home. Instead he gets picked up by Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell who collect the data Rod stored on him which turns out to be a single photograph of an engine, which apparently belongs to the evil mastermind behind all this nonsense.
Mater, being the genius level savant that he is, identified the kind of engine and the type of parts it would need which gives them a lead to a black market in Chisinau, Moldova. Sorry, sorry, my mistake. Paris, France.
So Finn, Holly and Mater visit the French black market where car parts are being sold (and how is that not incredibly creepy for them?) and meet up with Finn’s contact Tomber who admits that he sold those parts but that he doesn’t know to who. Mater realises that all the cars they’ve been running up against, Pacers, Gremlins etc., are all lemons. Holly says that all their enemies are “history’s greatest loser cars!”
Tomber says that all the lemon cars are having a meeting, which coincidentally is taking place in the same place as the next race in the Global Grand Prix, in the Italian resort town of Porto Corsa. In the Porto Corsa, all the most important dignitaries of the car universe have gathered to watch the race.
Meanwhile, while the race is going on, the lemons meet to receive orders from their mysterious leader. Mater, disguised as one of the tow-trucks that they use as chauffeurs listens as the leader gives his speech, his voice modulated to make him unidentifiable. He says that the rest of the world has abandoned them and stopped making their parts, and mocks them with terrible names and my God, why are these guys supposed to be the villains again? These cars have every right to be pissed! Death to the smug elite of popular, efficient, reliable cars! Viva la revolucion! And a shiny donkey to the one who brings me the hood ornament of Lightning McQueen! The leader explains the plan, to use the failure of Allinoll to discredit alternative fuels which will cause cars to come running back to fossil fuels because apparently the lemons have control over the biggest oilfield in the world. Shady skullduggery from the oil industry? Look, talking cars is one thing, but now this movie’s just getting silly.
The lemons watch gleefully as the TV camera is turned on the various racing cars and they are engulfed in flame (too good for ’em I say) until only McQueen and Bernoulli make it to the finish line (Boo! Boooooooooo! Fiery death! Fiery death!). Miles Axelrod reluctantly announces that he won’t force any more cars to use Allinoll, but McQueen says that he’s been assured the fuel is safe and that he’s going to continue supporting Allinoll. Zundapp coldly announces that Lightning McQueen must die.
Mater tries to warn McQueen but gets captured by the lemons and knocked unconscious. He wakes up tied up with Finn and Holly inside “Big Bentley” in London because who doesn’t love puns?
Two of the lemons arrive with the TV camera and aim it at McQueen as he passes by the tower but he doesn’t blow up (you fucking tease, movie). Zundapp orders the lemons to go to the backup plan, which apparently involves setting off a bomb at McQueen’s pitstop. The lemons leave and Mater manages to escape by rather ingeniously using the gatling guns he was equipped with to chew throw the ropes and races off to rescue McQueen. But Finn and Holly realise that the bomb has actually been planted on Mater and that he was deliberately allowed to escape just so he could excuse me for one moment…
That is the stupidest fucking plan, why not just leave the bomb at the pitstop, doing it this way leaves a million and one things that can go wrong, I hate this move, I hate this movie and I hate this movie.
Alright, Mater realises that he’s actually carrying the bomb right before McQueen sees him and goes racing after him to try and patch things up. Mater leads him on a merry chase through London to stop him from getting too close. Holly and Finn show up with the captured Zundapp and tell him to deactivate the bomb but Zundapp says it can only be deactivated vocally by the one who set it, and that ain’t him. The rest of the lemons surround the group to make sure the bomb explodes and kills McQueen which will prove that Allinoll isn’t safe because…look a kitten!
The rest of the Radiator Springs gang show up and beat the lemons. It’s supposed to be a thrilling fight scene, but all I can think of is that are supposed heroes are essentially beating up people with serious health problems who were trying to create a better life for themselves in a world that treats them like a despised underclass. Guido tries to get the bomb off Mater but the screws are funny which gives Mater the clue he needs to solve the whole mystery. He takes off for Buckingham palace with McQueen in tow because when you have a bomb strapped to you, you want to head straight for the nearest head of state. Hey, you’re gonna die. You might as well be remembered. But Mater is actually not trying to create an English republic, he’s there for Miles Axelrod, who’s the actual mastermind behind all this. As the bomb ticks down, Prince Wheeliam (head-desk, head-desk, head-desk) tries to get his grandmother, the Queen, to get to safety but she says “I want to see where this is going.”
And oh my God. I know that voice. Pixar’s bottomless chum-bucket has claimed Vanessa Redgrave!
Alright, so Mater confronts Miles, who denies everything but then has to deactivate the bomb to save his own life, thereby proving his guilt. He’s taken away and Mater is knighted by the Queen. The movie ends with the cars having an informal celebratory race in Radiator Springs, while over their heads a plane flies, a grim portent of what is to come…
I’m going to say two things about this movie. One is not controversial, the other is. Cars 2 is a bad movie. But it’s not as bad as Cars. I think Cars 2 got hit with all the scorn that Cars managed to largely avoid on its release. This time, we were ready. This time, there would be no mercy. So yes, Cars 2 does suck but it improves on its predecessor in two important ways; 1) Owen Wilson has been pushed into the background to make way for someone who’ll actually work for his damn paycheck and 2) Stuff happens in this one. It’s dumb, and it’s irritating but I will give it this, it’s not boring. It moves along at a great clip, and some of the action is actually genuinely exciting. Also, it feels like more effort has been put into figuring out how this world functions. Most of the old problems are still there, but it’s a definite improvement. So there. I’ve reviewed it. Can I go now, please?
Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. The blog updates every second Thursday. This review was made possible by the kind donation of Alan Fowley Doyle. Thanks Alan!