Returning once again to the hot potato of sustainable, green(er) fuel, American director Chris Paine follows up his 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car with the more optimistic Revenge of the Electric Car (2011). Packed to the rafters with industry insight and a number of largely pointless celebrity interjections (from the likes of Danny DeVito and Jon Favreau), Paine’s sophomore feature arguably says more about the car industry’s gargantuan marketing machine than it does about the embryonic, titular technology.
Back in 2006, over 5000 models of General Motors’ EV1 electric car were destroyed in fit of financial panic. Yet, fast forward several years and the gasoline-alternative returns to haunt those who once denounced it. With everyone from GM to Nissan seeking to exploit this potentially lucrative loop-hole, a different kind of arms race begins to capitalise on Western society’s new preoccupation with environmentally-friendly fuels. However, with gas-guzzling vehicles very much the norm, is the United States truly ready to embrace its electric-powered saviour?
On paper, Paine’s case is compelling. The great American public seem more willing than ever to at the very least stand up and take notice of the new breed of four-wheeled, electronic transportation. Joining the vehicular ‘new wave’ are Tesla Motors (with the full backing of PayPal founder Elon Musk) and Greg ‘Gadget’ Abbott’s small car conversion business. Yet despite such initial optimism, just as this reinvigorated air of innovation began to waft its way over the Land of Opportunity, the Lehman Brothers folded and manufacturing belts were well-and-truly tightened.
Frustratingly, Paine seems far more interested in fawning over this rag-tag group of faux-environmentalists than tackling the real issues at hand, with GM’s cigar-chomping exec Bob Lutz and chief philanthropist Musk the focal perpetrators. Musk in particular comes across as a petulant opportunist, with Favreau’s off-the-cuff remark likening the self-styled entrepreneur to a real-life Tony Stark wildly off-topic. Lutz similarly does himself few favours, more concerned with how the new EV2 will dispose of his car ash than whether it’s a viable alternative to GM’s current fossil fuel-reliant fleet.
Despite the best of intentions, Paine barely scratches the surface of the electric car debate, preferring instead to give precious publicity to those that deserve it least. Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn is perhaps the only individual to come out of Revenge of the Electric Car with a scrap of self-respect, an astute businessman who is even offered the top job at GM during the course of the film (which he dutifully declines). Fans of Paine’s inaugural outing would be better served delving into the issues at hand themselves, rather than sitting through his fatally flawed follow-up.