“I’m sick and tired of worrying about gas prices every six months, I’m sick and tired of these failed wars in the Middle East,” says Gavin Newsom. “I’m sick and tired of breathing the air that we’re breathing.” One of the several celebrity talking heads in Revenge of the Electric Car, Chris Paine’s follow-up to Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006), the California Lieutenant Governor lays out the most obvious reasons electric cars are a good idea. Taking such rationale as pretty much self-evident (Danny DeVito on his now-extinct EV1: “I wasn’t gunking up the air, it was a fantastic ride”), the new documentary follows independent entrepreneurs like Gadget Abbott (who refits a gas-fueled Triumph Spitfire and a GT6 to take electricity) and Tesla CEO Elon Musk (whom Jon Favreau describes as “The closest you’re going to get in real life to Tony Stark”), as well as mainstream bosses like GM’s Bob Lutz (who presses for the Chevy Volt) and Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn (the Leaf). They all want to make the world better and also make money. Narrator Tim Robbins introduces turns in the story with colorful, if simplifying, phrases (“Elon’s coup was just what Bob needed to drag GM back into the race”), and the film briefly recalls the 2008 auto hearings (with a shot of a corporate jet to emphasize the Big Three automakers’ tone-deafness) as well as the subsequent bailout. These efforts to bring back electric cars help to structure a seemingly linear adventure, as the documentary accepts and even celebrates the ways that money drives the process of revolution. Where the first film railed against conspiring corporations and government, this one insists they need to be part of the solution.
Revenge of the Electric Car premieres this week on Independent Lens.