Cars 3 begins with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) still at the top of his game, largely trading wins at races with his best friends. But then a new generation of racers led by superstar Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) start taking over. McQueen pushes himself too hard in one of the races and has a terrible accident. Months later, he tries to mount a comeback. He gets the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), an eager young trainer who accompanies him on a journey to his mentor’s old stomping grounds, hoping to discover some magic that will allow him to go as fast as these newer cars.The film, right away, seems to struggle to find a story that it really wants to tell. By the end of the first Cars movie, Lightning McQueen had already completed his very basic character arc, and there just isn’t much else to do with him. The creators seem to acknowledge this with Cars 2, where they shifted the attention to another one of the characters, Mater the tow truck. In having to return to McQueen, in having to keep the franchise character at the center of the action, the film ends up floundering in most of its runtime, unable to tell the story that it really ought to be telling.So much of this film is about McQueen trying to figure out what it is that he needs to do in order to go faster than his much younger rival. He goes far and wide to find ways to train himself to go faster, and ends up doing some pretty unorthodox things in order to give himself an edge. And this all hardly matters in the end. The story actually gets to kind of an interesting place, but the movie takes too long to get there, because it keeps its focus on McQueen trying to get faster. It feels like a waste of time, since again, McQueen’s story as a racer was completed in the first movie. It all just feels redundant.Without giving too much away, the film is just as much about the journey of another character in this movie, and it might have served the narrative to take more focus away from McQueen, or to at least shift his role so that the film can be more about him having to adjust to new realities. So much of this film is just the character spinning his wheels, going through the narrative signposts that he passed in the first movie.If nothing else, the movie looks great, and however lackluster the narrative is, the filmmakers still have a pretty good grasp of how to sell any given moment. The improvements in CGI visuals are a little harder to suss out now, since everything looks so great, but this still feels like a technical leap forward. Owen Wilson is still perfectly charming as Lightning McQueen, his easygoing voice going a long way in smoothing out the edges of the character. Cristela Alonzo brings some new energy to the movie, and Chris Cooper brings some old-timey grit.It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call Cars 3 the weakest film in Pixar’s substantial body of work. The first Cars was already one of the less inspiring pieces of work from the esteemed animation trust, but it still felt like a passion project to some extent, the movie exhibiting a real affection for its subject matter. This third film feels like an obligation. For a while, it really did seem like Pixar could operate outside of the regular demands of Hollywood filmmaking. But things change, and the company shows its age in having to capitulate to market demands.
CARS 3 IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.