Review: Cars 3

Well, this movie happened. Don’t worry, The Incredibles 2 will be coming around eventually. Did it need to happen after Cars got a trilogy, though? The original Cars was a fine-enough one-and-done ordeal; its story didn’t need continuation, yet here we are. We have the original, a weird spy spin-off movie billed as a sequel, and an actual sequel that serves as what I hope is the finale. With that in mind, you don’t need to see Cars 2 before watching Cars 3; there is absolutely nothing from that wreck that Cars 3 would call back to because even the movie knows that nonsense shouldn’t have existed. In fact, Lightning McQueen is back as the protagonist of the film rather than the dopey Larry the Cable Guy car, Mator.

The movie begins with a series of racing events. There’s a ton of exposition and watching cars go around a track. In fact, the pacing is so sporadic it was hard for me to tell when the exposition would end. It’s relieving to see the whole movie isn’t like this, but it is an off-putting way to start the film. Anyway, the scenes are here to show that Lightning’s still the famous racer he always was, except he’s having some trouble dealing with the newcomers that gradually replace familiar faces on the track. This inability to keep up with the rookies soon results in the highlight of the trailers: the crash. Lightning McQueen suffers a huge life-threatening crash, and police cars rush onto the track to check the scene.

Oh, of course he’s okay! The very next scene shows Lightning as if he never had a scratch on him. Perhaps a situation like that would have made for too interesting of a film in the Cars world. Oh well. What they do here has potential in its own right, I guess. Despite Lightning’s inexplicable recovery, it’s come to him that he can’t face the rookies with his old racing tactics. He has to figure out how to get better than Jackson Storm, the rookie that serves as the antagonist of the film.

In the mix of things, Lightning’s old sponsors have sold their brand to this businesscar that runs a training facility under his legacy. Despite acting as a big fan of his, this car wants to put Lightning’s name on all sorts of products and use him as a mascot for their company. I’d say Lightning is right to be concerned with this, but this is Cars we’re talking about. Saying that Cars isn’t meant to be exploited for the sake of merchandising is like saying South Park was never meant to be hilariously crass and over-the-top.

Speaking of hilarity, where is the humor in Cars 3? Has it entirely been decided that the funny moments come from the fact that the characters are cars or what? There are jokes, but they don’t land. I think I only chuckled a few times throughout the whole movie. Isn’t this a Pixar film? I always thought they had the emotion-comedy balance down to a science. There’s a fair amount of drama in Cars 3, but even then it’s no Toy Story 3 in that department.

Nevertheless, highlights of the more heartwarming scenes do include some solid interactions and connections. Interestingly, the old car Doc Hudson plays a prominent role in Cars 3 despite the voice actor’s (and therefore, the character’s) death in 2008. Since he was Lightning’s mentor in the first film, touching moments are aplenty when characters reminiscence about his presence. I also like the character interactions between Lightning and newcomer Cruz, who serves as his trainer for much of the film. Sure, they try to squeeze a few jokes that fail to land into the mix, but there is a down-to-earth vibe that derives from them as they learn more about each other. Lightning’s the potential has-been that needs a technical shakeup, and Cruz is a motivational, upbeat car that hardly ever experiences the roads racers actually drive on.

Really, Cars 3 as a whole is a very middling experience. The movie picks up the more viewers sink their time into it, but it still doesn’t offer enough to make the entire thing that much worthwhile. Things feel too run-of-the-mill for me to really get intrigued before the final act arrives. If you like the Cars movies, you will at least like seeing the characters again and the paths they take as the series comes to a close. I just don’t think that’s really enough to warrant going out of your way to see it.

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