Film Review: Revenge of the Electric Car

If you've paid any sort of regular attention to websites like AutoblogGreen over the past four years, the movie Revenge of the Electric Car will feel awfully familiar. Many of the events in the film were written about at the time on these pages, so it's fair to say that none of our long-term readers will need any spoiler warnings for this article. What director Chris Paine has done here is whittle down years of plug-in vehicle progress into a compelling story that succinctly shows why electric cars are here to stay. We told (and continue to tell) the story in real time. ROTEC tells it in 90 minutes with the addition of some behind-the-scenes footage. Given the time constraints, the film sadly leaves out equally interesting story lines like the development of the Ford Focus Electric, the Coda Sedan or the Fisker Karma.

This is because Paine narrows the plug-in vehicle story to four main protagonists: GM's Bob Lutz, sometimes known as the father of the Chevy Volt; Carlos Ghosn, the head of Renault- Nissan and the man who's made the biggest bet on plug-in cars; Elon Musk, who – c'mon, do we really need to introduce the man who was the basis for Robert Downey, Jr's Tony Stark (i.e., Iron Man) – and Gadget, the do-it-yourself EV conversion expert who was also featured in Paine's earlier film, Who Killed The Electric Car? The film follows these four men for the last few years, and the resulting tale is wonderfully commentated on by Dan Neil, the always-entertaining auto journalist for the Wall Street Journal.

To craft his narrative, Paine relies somewhat on the "Us vs. GM" tropes of his first film – "behind enemy lines," a phrase that'll make sense to anyone who saw WKTEC, is mentioned at least twice in ROTEC – but the new movie expands on the adversarial relationship to show that, in a very real sense, GM is trying to make the Volt work. In fact, the entire movie lives up to Paine's repeated claim that he didn't want to simply make a sequel, he wanted to wait until the electric car was actually, legitimately having its revenge to before putting a new movie out there. Heck, the well-done opening credits show the Leaf being built. How much more of a revenge can an EV have at this stage of the game?

Another way to look at the "revenge" of the film's title is to pay attention to the way that Lutz describes how Tesla Motors kicked GM into gear to make the Volt because of the Roadster. As Lutz recently said, he now thinks that Tesla is going to make it. Five years ago, though, the film shows, the upstart little electric car makers from California changed the minds of people in GM – and the Volt concept was the result. As you watch (and rewatch) the movie, note the meta-story about the personal conversions that both Lutz and Ghosn go through as they become supporters of plug-in vehicles.

So, even though the general story will be familiar to regular readers, we can heartily recommend seeing Revenge of the Electric Car as it rolls into select cinemas nationwide this month or on the eventual DVD and digital releases. It should be compelling to someone who doesn't follow this scene obsessively, too, especially "reel three," where all the problems are laid out, from the personal (a devastating fire) to the technological ( Tesla's faulty Roadsters) to the global (the economic collapse. The stakes are high and you can tell that "Revolutions don't come easy." In a film like this, though, everybody somehow wins by the end, even as we know that the story continues even though the cameras have stopped rolling. As we said, the changes happening in the auto industry are too big for one film. In fact, there is footage we know exists that wasn't included in the final cut. We know Paine and his crew shot in Iceland and I was interviewed for the film at an event in Los Angeles a few years back, but these parts are not in the movie. Perhaps in the DVD version. (Disclosure: I am in the film briefly, for some reason considered one of the "sharks" circling Ghosn as we ask questions about the Leaf's progress.)

If you still haven't seen the trailer, have a look down below. To follow along with the release schedule, check out the movie's Facebook page or official website.

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