The movie starts with Lightning as a 10 year veteran in the racing world and at the top of his game. Then the racing board, for some reason, lets all these new hybrid cars force all the older racers out, except Lightning, who crashes. Months later, with no mention of his injuries or his trauma, Sally gets Lightning to go back to racing. After meeting his new boss, Lightning gets a trainer called Cruz, to help get him back in shape. But Cruz is clearly not a good trainer as she spends more time trying to get Lightning to name his tires, nap, goes overboard on the excessive age-shaming, and he ends up losing his temper.
Lightning makes a deal that will allow him to continue his racing career, if he wins, and goes to train outside but has to take Cruz, who is again, useless. He has to teach her everything and this goes on throughout the film, and she in no way does her job of training Lightning. He loses his temper with her and we find out that oh! She always wanted to be a racer but was told she couldn't and wimped out. Boo boo!
Lightning goes and visits his mentors mentor and this Smokey guy helps somewhat though the old cars from the 1940's take delight in pointing out how old and useless Lightning is, which seems very hypocritical, and Cruz is still incompetent.
Looking thoroughly disheartened, Lightning leaves for his race, starts in last place but works his way up to 15/43. Then he hears Cruz being told she's not a racer, takes pity on her, puts her in the race and she then annoys the top racer, does stunts and has Lightning talk all cutesy to her, then wins. They then basically retire Lightning.
This is a very basic description of what goes on in this movie. The trailers had us believing that this was going to be some sort of awesome, comeback movie. The whole "I'm coming for you, Storm" thing? Doesn't happen. Instead the movie is just a mess of various movie plots mashed together, rehashed plots from the first film, constant age-shaming ( seriously, they never stop calling Lightning old in this) and PC messaging.
The animation was good though and the music is decent. I did like the little flashbacks Lightning has of Doc, very sweet. However, they felt like a forced plot to get Lightning shoved into retirement for this knock-off character, who cannot even fulfill her job to as trainer to Lightning. But then this movie is really about Cruz and her being the new star of Cars and retiring McQueen. Yes, athletes can only do their thing for so long but McQueen is a fantasy character. Also other cars from the franchise got upgrades like full carbon fiber bodies, upgraded to gas/electric types, newer spoilers, exhausts and engine tweaks. Why not Lightning? (think of all the toys his new look would have sold)
Cruz didn't even earn her place as a racer, she had to be given it. Lightning and the other racer all went through all kinds of training, practices, races and worked their way up. She had some racing skills from her past and McQueen taught her stuff but she never works for her place like the others. I'm not sure this is a good message for kids, girls in particular. It's like saying just cruz, yeah I went there, through life and wait for someone to give you stuff. Don't waste time learning/knowing/working for something properly. The whole 2 cars winning the race is cheating. I know in real life a driver can swap with another, using the same car. Here though, the cars are athletes and so by switching in Cruz, that's just like a runner tagging in another whilst all the other runners do the whole race. Not fair at all.
Cruz could have been great. She could have been a phenomenal trainer, who knew the racing world on all levels and looked after Lightning, been the brains behind him, trained him on the tech and outdoors. Instead, being a trainer is shown as second rate and she's stereotyped as the younger, better, smarter, technology reliant gen z kid, who cannot function outdoors. Whilst Lightning is the "damn you kids and your techno whatnots. Get outside and play!"..... Bleh
The newer cars were all boys and this is Pixar's fault entirely. This is a fantasy world. It doesn't have to reflect all the nonsense in real life They could have had girl racers, boys, butch girls, pretty boys, asexual, etc. They could have made it so the Cars world already was all-inclusive, where they didn't have all these gender/race issues. Kids would see that it was normal to except everybody more if they saw it as normal in their media. But nope. Pixar can't do that.
Also, Jackson Storm, Lightning's supposed rival, is rarely seen and is nothing more than a mouthy, antisocial, gen z stereotype that just feels kinda meh as a character.
I know it's a kids movie and you're not supposed to look to much into it but when I went to see the film, no one was laughing, kids were upset, some people just left. My nephew and nieces hated the film. My friends and their kids also disliked it.
The only plus is that Lightning said he was only training Cruz for the season and then going back to racing. Maybe Pixar will finally listen and give us the real racing experience that we asked for, showing us champion Lightning. It's all fine to give stuff up for others, be kind and all that but you are also allowed to be good at something for yourself. To win/earn something, feel good and not have to give it up. Isn't that what part of life is? Oh well..