Coming to cinemas this week is Cars 3, the third in the Cars franchise starring Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, and the late Paul Newman. Cars 3 follows Lightning McQueen (Wilson) still on a hot streak since the first Cars film. He’s enjoying the most successful stage of his life, he wins, and he loses, but there’s an incredible sense of competitiveness from his rivals, and he loves it. Enter Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) a brash young rookie who is above and beyond a more powerful racer than Lightning. Slowly but surely a new generation comes into the Nascar scene, and all the old guard are pushed out until Lightning is the only legend from the previous generation left. After a devastating race Lightning and his friends decide that he needs to train to become the greatest racer once again and reclaim his title from Jackson Storm.
The story of Cars 3 is a decent one with several elements going for it but at the same time several elements working against it. There is a predictability that comes from the story of an old down and out sports champion who is outclassed by the new generation and wishes to reclaim their title, and that makes for a generic story that is not compelling. Thankfully Cars 3 in its second act heads down a second avenue that breathes fresh air into the film that is very much welcome. There is also an issue with the humour in the movie; there is none. The jokes rarely land, and I can’t remember a single moment in the film where I laughed.
Cars 3 is a beautiful movie, once again Pixar knocks it out of the park on the visual aspect of their film. The colours are bright, the scenery is lush and sharp, and the attention to detail is top notch. This level of quality elevates the racing scenes when you have to be able to differentiate between the many cars on the one screen at any given time. Being able to tell where every character is while such fast paced action is going on and not feel overwhelmed is a quite a feat. There are many franchises that could learn from this (Transformers) attention to detail.
The characters, for the most part, are affable and charming, Lightning has matured since the first Cars film, no longer a brash young fool but a mature and well-rounded champion. His relationships with his friends have also evolved, and the warmth and familiarity of them feel genuine. There are exceptions though: Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) continues to be the Jar Jar Binks of this franchise offering little to nothing of an interesting character, thankfully though he is used sparingly in the film. The main villain of Cars 3 Jackson Storm (Hammer) is probably the worst element of Cars 3, for several reasons. He is an afterthought of the film; he’s not a character he’s a goal for Lightning to conquer, not only that he is poorly written coming across as one of those clichéd Disney villains with no real motivations save for the fact that he’s the fastest and no one is better than him. It’s a shame because Pixar is known for breaking the mould when it comes to characters and their motivations and Jackson Storm felt like a step back in the development of genuinely threatening and engaging villains.
The most remarkable addition to the cast is Cristela Alonzo who plays Cruz Ramirez, Lightnings personal trainer who joins him on his journey of self-improvement. At first, I found her a throwaway character with uninteresting and clichéd motivations. Once the film got into its second half, she blossomed as a character with an excellent and relatable personality. Her story and its path is easily the most compelling aspect of Cars 3.
Cars 3 is a fun film, easily the best of the franchise and is a fitting ending to the legacy of Lightning McQueen and the residents of Radiator Springs. If there are more races down the road though I welcome them with open arms.