Here's a movie that years ago I didn't really expect to see another sequel for. Everyone hated Cars 2, so one would've expected that Pixar would've just put the franchise on the shelf. But I guess it was still making enough money at least on merchandise. And they decided they had a passable enough storyline, so... here we go.
Cars 2 was different from the first Cars in every way possible. While the original was one of Pixar's more slower-paced movies and was about slowing down and enjoying life, Cars 2 was a James Bond-esque spy action extravaganza taking place in the Cars universe. Cars 3, however, goes back to the roots of the franchise--at least the racing roots, anyway. Lightning McQueen is the main character again, and Mater has been demoted back to side-character comic relief.
The movie centers around McQueen being challenged by a new generation of racers--with better technology and stuff. Basically, they're more stylish and faster than their previous counterparts. Jackson Storm is the best of the bunch, and he quickly speeds into the spotlight. McQueen finds himself unable to keep up (literally) and due to this and a season-ending crash, his retirement is expected to be soon. And he won't have any of that... but he's gonna have to learn a new trick or two. Or something. He's assigned a new "trainer" Cruz Ramirez to help him bounce back, but her role in this movie ends up being more than that. Not really much else can be said without spoilers, but she needed to be mentioned somewhere.
Here's kind of the problem: Jackson Storm is faster than McQueen is capable of being. Even a new mentor character named Smokey says as such--"You'll never be as fast as Storm, but you can be smarter." So you might have to suspend disbelief a little to deal with the idea that McQueen can actually challenge Storm.
Despite that problem at the core of the movie's storyline, it's still a decent movie. It's a little slow for a while after McQueen's big crash, but there's some fun stuff here and there. The demolition derby sequence stands out. And the final race/act of the movie is pretty cool too. Just like the first movie's final race ended with a satisfying twist, this one does too--albeit in a different way.
The biggest issue with this movie is that it doesn't have much to say. Whereas the first Cars movie had a lot to say--not just the whole "slow down and enjoy life" thing, but other things such as taking the road less traveled and sticking it to the Interstates of America--this one just doesn't really have that kind of touch to it. I guess McQueen comes away with another new view on racing life and all, but it's not as memorable.
Ironically, the other Cars sequel six years ago was Pixar's first real misstep in that it didn't hold up with the rest of the lineup. And six years later, I'm still waiting for Pixar to truly return to its glory days. While they've escaped the rut of movies that weren't even good (Brave, Monsters University), now they're stuck in a rut of movies that are decent/good... but not great. Of all things, Finding Dory was the closest they've gotten to to their former glory (sorry, Inside Out fans). While "good but not great" isn't a bad thing and is still above average, it's still kind of frustrating because we know they're capable of better. Cars 3 is another addition to that lot. You'll have a decent time with it and you'll probably come out liking it when it's all said and done. But it still feels like there was a missed opportunity here or two.