Revenge: Zombie Thriller or Second Coming?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 12 Sep 2011

In Hollywood, movie sequels either turn out to be disappointingly cliched -- The Matrix follow-ons being one sad example. Some sequels are better left unmade. Or, gratefully, they end up notably better. Here I am thinking of Pixar's Toy Story franchise.

I am pleased to report that Chris Paine's sequel to "Who Killed the Electric Car?" falls into the latter category, not the first. What "Revenge of the Electric Car" lacks in a certain naive spontaneity -- the original cinéma vérité was shot almost as an afterthought: they're taking away our electric cars and somebody should be documenting this -- it more than makes up for in serious story telling, powerful cinematography. and superb editing.

When I was learning how to give public speeches, the first lesson was to immediately grab the audience's attention. You could pose a question, hold up something to show them, or you could make a bold and seemingly outlandish statement. Paine's opener relies on the third option and it's a jaw dropper, at least to those of us familiar with the backstory of how GM gave birth to the modern electric car -- the EV1 -- then suffocated it in its crib, only to remorsefully recant in the form of the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car/hybrid.

The surprisingly phenomenal success of his first documentary, which in my mind ranks it right up there with Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock ('Supersize Me'), gave Chris, whom I've known casually now for close on to a decade, the opportunity and the resources to embark on a much grander vision once it became clear that, in fact, the electric car dream was still alive and well, even at the evil General Motors where its godfather came in the form of a most unlikely champion, Bob "Global Warming is a Hoax" Lutz.

But the General Motors angle only represents one quadrant of the story, which also includes the irrepressible Elon Musk at Tesla, Renault Nissan Alliance chairman Carlos Ghosn, and Greg "Gadget" Abbott, the LA-based EV converter who symbolizes the tragedy and triumph of the little guy among the giants.

Shot over the course of some three-plus years, Revenge traces, as any good film should, the emotional highs and lows, triumphs and setbacks of its protagonist's journey, just as Joseph Campbell long-ago described it in "The Hero of a Thousand Faces." These aren't unfeeling corporate automatons, just flawed humans like the rest of us, who have by merit, past accomplishments, and no small amount of good fortune found themselves placed in extraordinary positions of power: at least three of them, that is. Greg Abbott's story mirrors that of Musk and Ghosn and Lutz, but on a smaller stage with far more immediate personal impact. The corporatists' business decisions will usually impact the lives of the Greg Abbotts of the world far more than their own. Although Musk probably has placed the largest personal gamble of the four, even here he could walk away and still live a comfortable life. Abbott's setbacks will cost him his home, his livelihood and his health.

The question Paine leaves unasked and therefore unanswered is this: Is the revenge of the electric car a zombie thriller where the "living dead" will eventually be blown to pieces by a hobo with a shotgun, or are we truly witnessing the long-awaited coming of the electric car? It's a question that neither director Paine, narrator Tim Robbins, Lutz, Ghosn, Musk or Abbott -- along with a cast of other notables from columnist Thomas Friedman to actor Danny Devito -- can answer with any surety just now. While the electric car seems to be resurgent, it is still a vulnerable infant that could, yet again, succumb to a host of industrial 'childhood' diseases: a weak economy, low oil prices, failures of technology, misguided policies, ineffectual marketing, societal apathy and skepticism. In which case, the title of the next film in the series could end up being "The Empire Strikes Back."

At the moment, 'Revenge' appears to be scheduled for limited release, so to find out if and when it is screening in a theater new you, visit the film's website.

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