I Am Speed.
Much like Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) for long stretches of this film, Cars 3 is a confused, unmotivated sequel that feels directionless until around the final third of the script. The plot lends itself to some interesting themes around passing the torch, clinging to past glory and when to admit defeat but its lost in a film that never quite knows what it wants to do. The returning lovable characters from Cars 1 and 2 are lost in this sequel too, reduced to a few lines of dialogue and an under-developed antagonist further hurt this sequel that lacks the usual Pixar charm.
The story follows Lightning McQueen, the former Piston Cup winner who’s time on the racing track is drawing to an end. With new, younger sport car models beginning to effortlessly outperform him, an accident on the track brings serious questions around the longevity of McQueen and whether his time has passed. Thematically, Cars 3 is solid but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. There are plenty of talks around past glory and when to give up as well as training scenes that feel a little like the juxtaposition of Rocky. McQueen braving the sandy beaches while Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer)trains inside in simulators feels akin to Rocky IV with the Russian inside with cutting edge technology and Rocky outside braving the elements. It all lends itself to a cliched, triumphant return for McQueen but without giving too much away, the surprise twist feels slightly forced even if there is some clever foreshadowing early on to suggest this twist was coming.
The animation is solid all round and the returning vibrant colours for the cars including some nice reflective work solidify Pixar at the forefront of animation films. Cars 3 isn’t necessarily a bad film and there are some nice ideas included. The ideas around new cars replacing the old is really well done and seeing the evolution of the racing game while McQueen clings desperately to his status is engaging enough to keep you rooting for him, even if the characterisation is light throughout.
The biggest issue with Cars 3 is the sheer lack of heart and direction. Its frustrating because in many ways Cars 3 is the sequel that Cars 2 should have been. It course corrects a lot of the issues evident in that film with a more grounded story and character-focused plot. The themes are strong but for a solid hour of this film, McQueen and his crew stumble from one scene to the next with little engagement or motivation. Perhaps with a little more characterisation and screen time for new car Jackson Storm we might have a reason to dislike him but aside from a few arrogant quips, there really isn’t much here to digest.
Overall, Cars 3 rights the wrong of Cars 2 but doesn’t truly live up to its potential as a great sequel. There’s some nice themes thrown around that are never fully realized until the film’s nearly over. The final third of the film is solid though with a nice, touching story despite it feeling rushed and a little forced. I can’t help but feel Cars 3 should have focused on this angle more and made an entire film out of it, rather than throw it in as a “twist” that didn’t quite work for me. The animation is as solid as ever and the supporting cast all return, despite their minimum screen time. The more grounded, character driven plot is a welcome change from Cars 2 but it doesn’t quite meet Pixar’s usual high bar in this lacking sequel.