With its methodical depiction of the complicity of moneyed interests straddling multiple industries, Chris Paine’s superb, anger-evoking 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? answered its own question, unraveling the rather puzzling crib-murder of a vehicle that could have done wonders for the environment, massively curbed the United States’ dangerous addiction to foreign oil, and put the country on a clearly defined path toward export dominance in both automobiles and cell battery technology.
So, five years, a narrowly averted worldwide financial meltdown and a humbled American auto industry later, it’s sequel time! Narrated by Tim Robbins, Paine’s new film takes as its four chief subjects an upstart (Nissan, radically overhauled by Carlos Ghosn), a start-up (trendy Tesla, fronted by ex-PayPal founder Elon Musk), a re-jiggered giant (General Motors, under the leadership of Bob Lutz) and an entrepreneurial fabricator (Greg Abbott) individually converting classic gas-powered cars like a Triumph Spitfire, GT6 and 1967 Camaro into electric vehicles.
Necessarily, this follow-up is a different animal — less outraged and antagonistic, more flat-out entertaining. The night-and-day difference between the movies in Paine’s access to some industry big boys (and their relative candor) gives his film fascinating perspective, but also raises some questions about being potentially co-opted. While Nissan’s $6 billion market gamble on the Leaf and the whole competitive element give Revenge gripping capitalistic stakes worthy of a double-cross-laden narrative heist flick, the future is yet to be written with respect to a consumer verdict on electric vehicles. Ergo, it would have been interesting to delve a bit further into the market changes or signs that car manufacturers missed with respect to this abrupt about-face on the commercial profitability of EVs — especially in the face of a political climate in which one of two parties wears as a badge of honor their continued rejection of climate science and any sort of incentivization of cleaner energy and emissions. For more on the movie’s nontraditional release in smaller markets, visit its eponymous web site. (WestMidWest, unrated, 90 minutes)