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There are not many dedicated fans to the original Cars in the way other Pixar films do. Cars 2 only hurt the franchise's reputation further. So Cars 3 is effective to a small group of people: kids who grew up loving Cars.
The good news is that it delivers. The film calls back in big ways and small to the original film, and carries the emotional beats from it forward. The young hotshot becomes an old man. Apprentice becomes master. For the 5 of us who care about Lightning as a character, it's great.
Touching, funny, and damn sad when it needs to be, the film is the perfect bookend to the Cars franchise.
At least until Pixar makes a fourth film
Before I went to watch this movie in cinema, I made sure to rewatch the previous two movies to be up to speed on not just the plot elements and the overall atmosphere, but also on exactly how good they were. My general consensus was as follows:
The first movie wasn't particularly good, primarily because we are forced to tolerate Lightning McQueen being an insufferable asshole for the majority of the movie. That in and of itself makes the movie not something I'm particularly willing to rewatch, even ignoring the predictable story.
The second movie, while I actually used to like it in the past (in contrast to almost everyone else), now I can very clearly see how much of a problem Mater (the first movie's comic relief) is in it; with him taking away the spotlight and often being careless and somewhat selfish, and the movie itself treating it as if it was a good thing and that he shouldn't change whatsoever. Not to mention the convoluted plot that makes no sense upon closer inspection.
So I am happy to report that this third movie has none of those problems; Lightning is again front and center, is likable now, and the plot is just well-made enough to be easy to follow while also providing at least one unexpected plot twist that I myself haven't seen coming. And Mater once again serves as the movie's comic relief (if even that), with his role and presence in the movie being reduced to just one important scene and a few minor appearances throughout.
The movie centers around Lightning having to face the sad reality of him becoming more and more outdated and being slowly outdone by the newcomers in the racing community, who start treating him like an old geezer who's no longer fit for racing. After a particularly painful reality check in the form of a violent crash on the racing track, he has to decide whether he should retire, or whether he should try to get himself back to top physical condition and train himself on how to outdo the newcomers.
The movie presents the issue of Lightning feeling past his prime and desperately wanting to have his one last victory in a very relatable manner and keeps you wondering if he will actually manage to win, and whether he will end up giving up after a multitude of failures. His quest ends up leading him to various interesting locations and him meeting various interesting new characters, in particular Cruz Ramirez, who tries to be his coach, but... well, you gotta see that for yourself.
Honestly, I think that out of the three Cars movies, this one is the only truly worth watching. The first one might be nice if you want some backstory on Lightning, but isn't much of an interesting movie in and of itself, while the second is entirely skippable. I guess Pixar wanted to end this franchise on a high note.
Overall, I recommend the movie, and I suggest to give it a chance if the previous ones disappointed you.
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