|Film review: Revenge of the Electric Car|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 16 July 2012 12:57|
Director: Chris Paine
No, it's not a slasher movie about an evil Toyota Prius.
In the last 10 years, 400 million cars have been churned out of production lines. Almost all of them run on gas. But back in 2006, US car manufacturers designed and produced 5,000 electric cars, including the popular EV1. Then, they recalled and destroyed them all.
After asking Who Killed the Electric Car?, director Chris Paine returns to the automotive industry as the technology hits top gear once again. Is the electric car really having its revenge?
Yes, is the simple answer. And in a way, it’s odd to see Paine’s sequel take such a positive note, celebrating the car industry after chastising it so strongly.
Once a villain of the piece, Bob Lutz (Vice Chairman of General Motors) is now a hero, championing the use of the once-shelved technology. Nissan’s ruthless CEO Carlos Ghosn, meanwhile, is admired for his fanatical desire to keep ahead of the competition.
But the real star of the show is Elon Musk. Down in Silicon Valley, his start-up company Tesla unveils the world’s first electric sports car. 100mph, a sexy chassis and lots of manly horsepower? It’s a product that sends the industry giants running for the plug sockets.
As customers line up to pay the $100,000 price tag, is this the turning point for the whole automobile industry? Paine certainly thinks so: and the industry is loving him for it. Given behind-the-scenes access to General Motors’ facilities, he follows their research and development teams as they try to gain back the momentum they lost when they canned the EV1. "Five years ago we would’ve been arrested for getting into these places," he tells the camera.
Without the threat of exposing trade secrets or the mystery surrounding the demise of the EV1, Revenge of the Electric Car’s happy ride may lack some dramatic tension, but Paine makes up for that with human drama – and the sudden arrival of the global recession.
As Elon's daring venture goes bust, the entrepreneur finds himself clutching at pennies to keep going, at the same time trying to look after five kids and get through a messy divorce. At the same time, Bob Lutz puts a brave face on as General Motors go cap in hand to the government for a bailout; a journey he makes in a lavish private jet, before returning home to feed his swans.
That odd glimpse of an exhausted father or struggling innovator is what gives the story some emotional heft, while watching massive corporations scramble around to avoid unexpected bankruptcy is also undeniably fun. But rather than dwell on the ironies, this is a straightforward celebration of an industry that has done a u-turn on something crucial to the survival of the planet. It’s satisfying, for once, to see a documentary about a cause that achieves some success.
Yes, Revenge is sweet. Sometimes, a little too sweet. Maybe that Toyota Prius slasher flick wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.