Cars 2 (2011)

This one is fair game, it’s about spies.

The opening scene’s concept of a one-man insertion with no local assets and an emphasis of gadgetry over tradecraft is symptomatic of Bondian cinema.  As is the preponderance of ethnic stereotypes which up until the end of the Cold War meant it was easy to say, “do whatever it takes, it’s us vs. them and the differences between the two are clear”.  It has a greedy transnational acting out their greed via “dirty tricks”.  It has that artificial notion that secret agents are known the world over by all the bad guys and good guys but not by normal people.  It’s got a deep-cover US agent but no one knows anything about who he has infiltrated.  Then there’s the UK spy apparently unaware of him despite the kissing cousin nature of MI6 and the CIA.

It’s got karate, it has torture.  It has car chases, machine guns, explosions, electroshock of prisoners on a whim and organized crime.  It has secret intelligence activities complicating personal lives.  It has informants with deferred prison sentences (20 years! what does a car have to do to earn 20 years?).  It has the WWII countries (US, Japan, Italy, France, England, Germany deferred for some reason).  It definitely does not have the countries most of note in the 50’s to 70’s: Latin America, South America, post-colonial Africa, Eastern bloc and Warsaw Pact.  This one even has a British guy who turns out to be working for the enemy (except his name isn’t Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt, or Hollis).

The thing I don’t understand is when and where the switch was made in these movies.  Here we’ve got a bumbling, good-nature’d, non-discriminating hero who is the everyman that everyone likes to think they are.  It’s a normal guy recruited by professionals and happens to be pretty good at what they’ve trained their lives for.  Time was when secret intelligence was elitist and mysterious but now it’s apparently entry-level and anyone can do it.  The interesting ripples of this is that the in-movie clash is class-based and not ideologically.  It’s the poor, ugly and downtrodden vs. the attractive and privileged.  It’s reminiscent of the days of the Comic Code Authority.  The bad guys are born/made bad, have inherent flaws leading to evil behavior.  They look bad therefore they are bad and do bad things that must be stopped by the attractive and sophisticated good guys.  Crime doesn’t pay and we must see the bad guys get caught!  Except Mater is their downfall and he is basically one of them in appearance and has every reason to join them especially with his rejection by McQueen.

It’s not a communist or socialist undertone of the proletariat (service vehicles) against the bourgeois (luxury, SUV) because the plot is driven by capitalist greed.  It is interesting that there is a strong perception that the worst cars are made in eastern Europe despite the diversity found on most lemon lists.  What does that say when Mater is basically our white-trash rusted out old hillbilly (with a heart of gold) infiltrating the enemy who is basically just like him (although he never leaks oil).  It’s an attempt to cash in on the appeal of old-timey us vs. them spy movies without the cartoonish democracy vs. communism vs. socialism vs. fascism vs. totalitarianism.  The irony of that sentence is that it is done with a cartoon and perhaps more legitimately than if if it had been live-action.

And then it ends with the facile notion of someone who has extensively traveled the world in luxury in several days, been involved in events that are spectacularly extraordinary, been recognized by the royal ruling class of a sister nation and been invited to continue their adventure in an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity rejecting all of that in favor remaining in their homey podunk town to return to everything as it was.  I think most kids, at least those raised on the King Arthur/Harry Potter style mythos of normal kid turned hero, would say that they took a shit on one of our most treasured conventions to go to extreme cinematic lengths to essentially imply that yes, Mater’s Tall Tales are all true, even the hard-broiled ones.

At the end, it’s less about what the CIA actually does but more the public perception, appetite for and tolerance of the things that appear in this movie that make it fascinating in context of actual history.  40 years ago there was very real and legitimate outrage around the world but 40 years later those very things are in the movies we are willing to show toddlers.