'Revenge of the Electric Car' Film Review
Image courtesy of Revenge of the Electric Car
'Who Killed the Electric Car?' was one of the most exhilarating environmentally-themed documentaries of the last decade. The 2006 film, which investigates General Motors' decision to discontinue its revolutionary electric car, the EV1, made a huge splash -- it embarrassed the auto industry, shed light on the murky confluence of corporate and political interests, and invigorated a brand new generation of EV enthusiasts in one fell swoop. "Revenge of the Electric Car", director Chris Paine's follow-up, will probably do none of those things. But it's still an engaging look at the progress the electric cars have made over the last few years, and the unlikely corporate leaders that are pushing EVs mainstream. Anyone who keeps up with electric car news will already be fully abreast of the developments chronicled in this film -- the ascent of Elon Musk's Tesla Motors and its world-renowned Roadster, GM honcho Bob Lutz becoming the nation's most unlikely champion for electric cars, and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn unleashing an EV blitz in trying to bring its more affordable all-electric LEAF to the masses.
EV aficionados will, however, most likely get a kick out of the up-close-and-personal narratives that detail both Musk and Lutz's dedication to the EV. Where WKTEC was an expose, Revenge is more of a character study. The problem with this approach is that most of the characters are major CEOs of high profile corporations -- and as such, are quite clearly aware of the camera at all times. Musk's story works best in this regard, as he's the most candid and naturally ambitious (his other venture seeks to put a man on Mars in 10-20 years). It helps that Tesla's underdog story -- its exuberant beginnings and grand plans to beat crusty old Detroit at its own game giving way to myriad financial woes and staff troubles, along with its unlikely partnerships, its borderline recklessness, and eventual triumphs -- make it the most inherently intriguing.
Much of the action takes place in corporate board rooms, and it's interesting watching the men try to sell the world on their respective visions -- but much of the film feels like they're doing the same thing directly to the camera, too. We do get a sense of the psychology of the bigwigs in the corporate EV game, but I was hoping to get more of the nitty gritty about the status of electric cars in America. Revenge seemed to content to take these CEOs at their word -- that they really, really want to make EVs mainstream, and that they're trying really hard to do it.
But where's the other half of the story: How are consumers responding to the resurgence in EVs? Is charging infrastructure on the way? What does the political landscape look like in terms of incentives and tax breaks (these are barely mentioned)? What do actual production numbers look like for the cars? There is one storyline that follows 'Gadget' a DIY electric car retrofitter who works out of his garage, but he doesn't really provide much context for how average Americans view EVs.
In short, the film doesn't make a convincing case that the electric car has actually had its revenge yet -- just that a handful of very wealthy men are hoping that it will, primarily for monetary and egoistic reasons. But the movie works on that level -- whether or not electric cars take root over the next couple years will depend partially on the success of the tactics of these men. As such, it was good to get to know them a bit.
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