Film Review: ‘Revenge of the Electric Car’


Chris Paine’s 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? chronicled the rise and fall of the eponymous vehicle using a rather affected ‘whodunnit’ framework. Featuring an actual funeral for General Motors’ famous EV-1, the film was a jeremiad rammed with facts, stats, very important information and impotent rage but failed to ever be truly engaging.

Six years later, Paine is returning to the same subject but this time centring on the resurrection of the vehicle with Revenge of the Electric Car (2012). Eschewing the contrivance of suspects in an investigation, this new documentary is a much more straightforward look at how the USA – from independent mechanics to the major car companies – is now trying to re-establish this alternative transport.

Where the first film lacked for real people and their stories to engage in, the follow-up concentrates on several key characters as it goes beneath the bonnet and has unprecedented access to the process of reviving this technology thought to be dead. The main story threads see Bob Lutz and Carlos Ghosn (of GM and Nissan/Renault respectively) trying to force a concerted shift towards electric in their companies. Meanwhile, entrepreneur and real-life Tony Stark, Elon Musk, founds electric car company Tesla and Reverend Gadget fits out classic cars with electric motors.

Very different in tone to the previous piece Revenge of the Electric Car is all about following the story from around 2007 to the present via the men’s desire (whether fuelled by conscience or profit margins) to bring this technology to the forefront of motor vehicle manufacture. It still features talking heads with celebrities (Danny DeVito, John Favreau, Anthony Kiedis) but zeroes in on these four individuals allowing the audience to see their personal journeys alongside those of their cars. This means that the viewers are not just being asked to empathise with the technology.

More compelling than its predecessor – which in itself was worthy and cried out for better handling – Revenge of the Electric Car won’t be likely to scoop any prizes for innovation, but it’s an important issue that can be appealing even to those without a burning passion for cars, electric or otherwise. It also has the added bonus of positivity.

Ben Nicholson

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