Cars 2 (2011)
Directed by: Brad Lewis, John Lasseter
Written by: Ben Queen, Brad Lewis, Dan Fogelman, John Lasseter
Starring: Eddie Izzard, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Owen Wilson
CARS 2:in cinemas now
RUNNING TIME:113 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY:Walt Disney Pictures
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In a world populated entirely by cars [and the odd ship and plane!] who talk, agent Finn McMissile narrowly escapes with his life on his latest mission. Meanwhile, Lightning McQueen returns to Radiator Springs having won his fourth Piston Cup and is looking forward to spending time with Mater and Sally. When famed millionaire Miles Axelrod appears on TV advertising a new alternative fuel source called Allinol and is organising a new three race competition to use and promote it, McQueen is talked into racing once more. The opening race is in Tokyo, but once there Mater is mistaken for a secret agent by both McMissile and a gang of bad guys with a secret villainous agenda……….
Up to now, out of all of Pixar’s movies, only Cars seemed to not receive almost unilateral critical approval, despite it actually being quite a personal project from Pixar honcho John Lasseter, and it wasn’t a big hit either, though you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was due to the huge amount of kid-aimed merchandise that has been shifted since, and of course by the fact that it now has a sequel. Well, lo and behold, the reviews have been average again, along with some ludicrous complaints about violence [but more on that particular topic later]. I happened to thoroughly enjoy Cars 2, a thrilling, imaginative ride of a movie that is probably the best action film so far this year. Yes, I mean that, for Cars 2 is more than anything an action movie, an almost non-stop series of car races and chases, and maybe that’s why the critics have been so harsh, because after all action movies, like horror films, are generally looked down on by the majority of mainstream critics. Fortunately it seems that, as is often the case, people have ignored the reviews and turned the film into a sizeable hit. Though I’m probably the only critic on the planet who will admit this, I personally consider it an improvement on Toy Story 3, which may have been touching and all that, but didn’t it basically remake the first two movies? I know that what little credibility I may have as a reviewer has probably just gone out the window, but never mind!
Things get off to a really cracking start with an extended action scene which takes elements from several James Bond movies, especially The Spy Who Loved Me and Tomorrow Never Dies, as McMissile spies on mysterious happenings in a ship warehouse and is chased in a wonderful sequence around the ship and underwater, where he turns into something resembling Bond’s undersea Lotus Esprit. Then we switch to Radiator Springs, the sleepy small town where much of the first movie was set, and for about ten minutes the movie starts to resemble its’ more leisurely predecessor. There’s a great continuation of that film’s ‘tractor tipping’ gag where McQueen and Mater ‘tip’ a tractor that is so bit it almost kills them when it falls, but there’s little time for hanging about, because McQueen is off to race again, this time accompanied by Mater. The original Cars had action at the beginning and at the end, but for most of its duration was quite a slow [though not at all boring] affair with a distinct message about the benefits of slowing down and savouring life. This message has clearly been forgotten in this sequel, and once we arrive in Tokyo it really is action all the way. Of course there is some comedy, such as a scene with Mater trying to cope with a Japanese toilet full of incomprehensible gadgets, but not that much, certainly not enough to please most critics it seems. The plot, which takes in mistaken identity, switched and possibly lethal oil, a vague ‘green’ element, and other things, is surprisingly complex, but it never allows the thrills and spills to slow down for a minute. The countless chases occur on diverse locations, often feature gadgety which would make ‘Q’ weep and sometimes reach surreal heights, such as the cars doing martial arts! These scenes are also filmed in a way so that you can see everything that’s going on, a rare thing these days in action movies!
This brings me to the film’s most criticised aspect – it’s supposedly excessive violence. We certainly have cars beating each other up, shooting at each other, many deaths and one mostly off screen torture, but they’re cars for Christ’s sake, it all takes place in a fantasy world with little connection to reality, and I very much doubt any young kids would be traumatised. Watch an old Tom And Jerry cartoon and you’re probably see more brutality than the entire duration of Cars 2. Possibly it would have been better off with a ‘PG’ certificate [which bizarrely the first movie has], but, whilst I do have issues about certain things that are aimed at young children or that young children can easily see, such as the horrid glut of sexist, crude music videos that you get on MTV all day long, I really don’t see a problem with Cars 2 at all. You still get the usual messages that Disney still sees fit to put in most of their films, such as the importance of friendship and ‘be yourself’ anyway, though I rather liked it that McQueen was pretty much the same shallow, arrogant character he was at the start of the movie! Mater though is a little too annoying and I wished at times he would just shut up! I must mention that visually this movie is stunning, almost like Speed Racer in its wondrous brightness, and the detail of the various locations is very clever indeed. Certain landmarks, such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, have been subtly altered so they fit into this car dominated world, and as someone very familiar with Central London, I couldn’t believe the incredible detail in some of the shots, many of which only last a few seconds, and the way certain places have been slightly changed. Cars 2 has one of the best realised alternate realities I’ve seen in a movie for ages.
Once again Owen Wilson and Larry The Cable Guy are perfect voicing the characters of McQueen and Mater, but for me it’s Micheal Caine as McMissile, clearly relishing the chance to ‘play’ a tough secret agent like Harry Palmer again, and John Torturro with a wonderful Italian accent as McQueen’s greatest racing rival, who stole the show for me. There are also great cameos from a really eclectic variety of actors and actresses including Jason Isaacs, Franco Nero and Bruce Campbell! Sadly motor racing fans will be disappointed that Lewis Hamilton is hardly in it and only says one word. Now I must say that one of my complaints about film scores at the moment is that there seems to be a shortage of actual themes, certainly of memorable ones, but coming out of Cars 2 I actually had composer Michael Giacchino’s groovy theme for McMissile going through my head, something which hasn’t happened in ages. Giacchino, who has already done sterling work in Up, The Incredibles and others, excels himself in the exciting but often catchy score for this film, and I think he should have a go at a Bond film, as he’s perfect. The spectre [sorry!] of 007 hangs all over Cars 2, and some of the folk at Pixar must have a thing about Bond, as The Incredibles had a strong Bondian vibe. Not that I’m complaining. Ignore the critics and the [admittedly many!] naysayers, Cars 2 is a terrific, rollicking piece of escapism that, appropriately, races from beginning to end at top speed. Maybe it’s rather empty, but not every movie, and certainly not every animated movie, needs to leave you with food for thought, nor be full of emotion! I’m a little disappointed though that Pixar seem to be getting more and more into the sequel business, with Monster’s Inc 2 being planned. Saying that though, I’d happily sit through another Cars instalment!