When making a follow-up to a movie, it’s important not to be too original or inventive, or else admirers of the previous feature become disaffected – creativity should not take precedence over canon. If any studio should recognise this, it’s Pixar, but even the talented folks at Emeryville got carried away when producing a second Cars film, which does a great disservice to its predecessor.
Fresh after winning yet another Piston Cup, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is challenged to participate in a one-off worldwide racing series organised by Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), an environmentally-conscious entrepreneur. For the first race in Tokyo, Lightning brings along his best friend Mater the Tow Truck (Larry the Cable Guy) to act as his pit-crew chief. Being inexperienced and easily distracted, Mater proves to be a hindrance rather than a help, and so he leaves McQueen to head back home.
Whilst in Japan, Mater is mistaken for an American secret-service agent by Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), a spy working for the British Intelligence service. Oblivious as to why he is mistaken for a spy, Mater nonetheless goes along with the situation, and is swiftly brought up-to-date by her superior, Finn McMissile (Michael Caine). Mater learns that the Brits are investigating Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschman), a German doctor who is planning to sabotage Axlerod’s championship.
Upon writing the above synopsis, this reviewer came to a startling realisation: this plot is absolutely ridiculous. The idea that Lightning would want Mater – a character who doesn’t possess a great deal of intellect at the best of times – to be his crew chief makes no sense, as does Holley’s belief that a rusty, buck-toothed tow truck would be an elite secret agent. Further complicating matters is the film’s lack of focus, ungraciously switching between McQueen’s storyline and Mater’s.
There’s also a significant difference in tone with Cars 2. Whereas the first Cars was a somewhat delightful form of escapism, its sequel is manic and chaotic, throwing so many imaginative ideas at the audience that they cannot help but be confused. On top of that, Cars 2 is far darker than its easy-going predecessor, seemingly fixated on seeing vehicles beaten, crushed, tortured and, in one instance, killed. Whoever thought this was appropriate material for a family film obviously never had a childhood, or a very unhappy one.
Thankfully, not all of Cars 2 is unpleasant, as it does have its qualities. Shiftwell and McMissile are pretty likeable characters, the animation has that typical Pixar gorgeousness, Michael Giacchino’s brassy score is delightful to hear and the sound mixing is excellent – the noise coming from McMissile’s exhaust is enough to make a petrolhead orgasm. Yet none of these factors are enough to make the movie worth watching even once.
Let’s not dwell any longer on this – Cars 2 is a huge disappointment from a studio that knows far better. In being overly creative, the film-makers produced an incoherent story that is frustrating, perplexing and not in keeping with the universe they themselves conceived. Be sure to give this one a wide berth.