I have to say that I was surprised when Pixar greenlit a sequel to Cars. Why would the studio set out to make another Cars, when the original is often referred to as their weakest film? Personally, I enjoyed the first film. Yes, it is not my favorite project to come out of Emeryville, but it was not a bad film by any means. I was intrigued when I found out that Cars 2 would be a spy film – not a parody of a spy film, but a bona fide spy adventure. On those grounds, it succeeds in a big way, as the action sequences are pretty fantastic and it moves at almost a breathtaking pace. It is an enjoyable adventure film, but if you come in looking for much more than that, you may not walk out of the theater completely satisfied. Read on for a spoiler-free review!
Lightning McQueen is invited to participate in the World Grand Prix, a set of three races taking place around the world. Mater tags along as well and unknowingly becomes embroiled in a spy plotline with new characters Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell. The evil Professor Z and his cronies are up to no good and the spy team of Finn, Mater, and Holley aim to take them down.
Wow. The film is visually spectacular. From the animation, to the lighting, to the incredible detail on buildings that are only seen for brief moments, there will be no argument that Cars 2 is one of the studio’s best looking films. The cars move fluidly and believably and the environments that the characters drive through are simply stunning. I have never been a huge proponent of 3-D, but Pixar’s use of the technology is always balanced enough to not annoy the viewer, and the same holds true for their latest. Seeing it at home on the television screen simply will not compare to the theater experience.
Michael Giacchino is one of my favorite composers. His work on LOST produced some of the best soundtracks ever for a television show, and his (Academy Award-winning) score for Up was emotional and memorable. While his Cars 2 music does not match his previous Pixar work, there is a catchy theme that runs throughout the film that you will likely be humming afterwards. It is great to see Giacchino insert a theme into the film, as the amount of musical themes in movies have been declining over the last few decades. More nice work from the genius of Michael Giacchino.
The plot for Cars 2 was more complicated than I expected to see for a family film. I had no trouble following along, but I can imagine children not quite ‘getting’ the intricacies of the spy plot. However, that has always been the beauty of Pixar films. There is enough for both children and adults to enjoy. There is genuine danger present throughout, though I do not think it is more than kids can handle.
The spy aspects of the story are well played. It recalls some classic spy films and more modern action flicks like the Bourne franchise. Director John Lasseter said he wanted to create a good spy film – he does that much.
However, I could not help wanting more. While the transition to a spy-oriented story had the sequel feeling extremely different from the first, the change was an interesting choice. Never in a million years after seeing Cars did I imagine we would see explosions galore in a sequel. With the change, though, some of the hearty elements that drove the original film are not as apparent. There are moments that are sweet and touching but I wanted more. Maybe that is just me starting to get used to my eyes tearing up while watching the studio’s most recent films. Cars 2 is not meant to be a tear jerker and I have to learn to accept that. I just wish there was a larger emotional aspect.
This leads into a larger discussion on people’s expectations of a film preceded by the logo with the jumping lamp. What we have come to expect from Pixar has risen to such an astronomical level that it is remarkable that the studio has continued to rise to the challenge. This sounds like it is going to morph into the clichéd, “Even Pixar’s lesser films are miles ahead of what we are used to seeing from many other film studios.” We may have heard that statement many times before, but it is true.
While I would not rank this film among Pixar’s greatest, this is far from being an awful film. The production value is sky-high and it has led to a well-made film. Just because it may be missing that extra oomph does not make it a disastrous effort (as I have seen in a few reviews).
I liked it – didn’t quite love it. Even with the impossibly high standards that Pixar’s constant success has created, Cars 2 is a good spy action adventure that looks gorgeous. Go see it.
Cars 2 arrives in theaters this Friday!
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