Published Oct 17, 2011The sequel to 2006's successful Zeitgeist-y documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, Revenge of the Electric Car follows the resurrection of the electric car as a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles for everyday use.
When we last left the electric car, General Motors was a greying powerhouse, but a powerhouse nonetheless, and the development of their EV1 (potentially the first mass-produced zero emissions vehicle) was slowly being quashed. Two years later, GM is desperate for a bailout and ready to declare bankruptcy. With Nissan and Honda throwing their hats in the ring, suddenly the electric car is buzz-worthy again.
Revenge concentrates largely on the corporate side of the electric car story. Its two main players are Bob Lutz (a take-no-guff fixer whose specialty has been bringing the near-moribund big American automakers back from the brink of extinction) and Elon Musk (the Silicon Valley wunderkind behind PayPal, who's launching his purely electric car company from scratch called Tesla Motors). On the periphery are the similarly hard-ass CEO of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, and Greg "Gadgett" Abbott, who specializes in retrofitting collectors' cars to electric power.
Director Chris Paine should be commended for gaining confidential access to his subject's highly sensitive manoeuvres and machinations, especially with gazillions of dollars at stake. He manages to humanize the gargantuan face of General Motors, capturing the touch-and-go nature of Tesla's tentative early years. The ashen faces of Musk and his Tesla staff are impossible to hide as the inevitable delays and the reality of the nature of building a car company from the ground up set in. It is the Tesla story that's the most interesting and most inherently cinematic, and a more specific focus on the start-up may have made for a tighter, more compelling film, but Paine clearly wants to cover all the angles and he manages to present a new and inventive look at the inner workings of big auto. As Ghosn says, it is in Nissan's best interest to follow public opinion and divorce themselves from the "politics of oil."
The overwhelmingly rosy picture the film paints of the future of the electric car, despite the preliminary struggles, seems a touch propagandistic. That said, Revenge of the Electric Car is a solidly educational and compelling portrait of the new vehicular vanguard. (Mongrel Media)