At the dramatic conclusion of Chris Paine's 2006 documentary feature "Who Killed The Electric Car?," it appeared as if this alternate source of transportation was already a thing of the past. As we know, however, electric cars (or cars that incorporate this technology) do exist in contemporary 2012. It seems quite fitting, therefore, that Paine would have compiled a follow-up film with "Revenge of the Electric Car." How did the market shift so dramatically in such a short period of time? That is a question Paine seeks to answer, and for this film he received surprising behind-the-scenes access to some of the most influential power players in the industry. The journey begins shortly after the conclusion of the initial film, with an unlikely advocate being GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz whose company received the most vocal condemnation for pulling the EV1 off the market (this is the primary subject of the first film, if you have not seen it). With Lutz cooperating with the filmmaker (and other companies working on the electric car), "Revenge" plays as a decidedly less political film. It is not as interested in chronicling the issues already raised in the previous documentary, but in showcasing the rise of this new industry.
But it's still a path that is fraught with challenges, and the film astutely chooses to focus of the viewpoint of four major characters over the course of several years. We see these individuals at their best and at their worst as they deal with the ever-changing world. Aside from GM's Lutz, who wants to leave his company's Volt as his legacy, there are three other stories to tell. We've got PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, whose start-up Tesla Motors in Silicon Valley is working on high-end luxury cars. Carlos Ghosn, the driven CEO of Nissan, sees a need for an affordable mass-market product if the electric car is to succeed. His company is working on the LEAF. And lastly, there is Greg Abbott who is working as an independent converter of normal cars to electric technology. We have four distinctly different points of view, but all four are united in recognizing that there is a need and public desire to push the automotive industry into new realms. The film has drama, tension, huge obstacles (the financial collapse of 2008 has ugly repercussions for everyone involved), and is thoroughly entertaining.
As with "Who Killed the Electric Car?," a number of celebrities and politicians are among the interested clients so you get a number of testimonials by famous faces. Actor Tim Robbins, also, serves as the piece's narrator. But far and away what distinguishes "Revenge of the Electric Car" as a must-see documentary is the close involvement of its principles. Spending time, in particular, with Lutz, Musk, and Ghosn (no offense intended to Abbott) is like getting a peak behind the magic curtain. It is intimate, and occasionally unflattering, but you feel like you're a part of the journey. Paine has done a nice job getting close and so his film works as a character study that can be appreciated by anyone interested in automobiles, business, or environmental issues. About 4 1/2 stars, this is a fascinating second chapter in the life story of the electric car. KGHarris, 1/12.