Here's something I never guessed I would say: It might be worth going into the new Cars movie spoiler free. At its climax, Cars 3 eases into a surprising new gear new and takes a hard turn into becoming the movie that, during its earlier lulls, I had idly longed to see. The final scenes surge as though Disney's Pixar has huffed some Fast & Furious nitrous, but they also serve as an eloquent critique of the boilerplate franchise plotting to which the film has thus far adhered. There's even a moral: Let others take a turn sometimes, boys.
Of course, to get to that ending you need to get through Cars 3, a prospect that turns out to be much more pleasant than a summary of its plot might suggest. For much of its running time, it tells the too-familiar story of an over-the-hill pro out to prove himself one more time. This time it's that zippy sentient race car, Lightning McQueen, who is bested by young bucks. Director Brian Fee and his team tear into this story with such vigor that it might not occur to you to wonder why exactly we should care.
Lightning and his new trainer, a V-6 yellow sports coupe voiced by Cristela Alonzo, establish an uneasy friendship in the leadup to a big race, even baring their souls in a stinging argument. The series still hasn't solved the problem of how to make compelling scenes out of quiet conversations between big-eyed but inexpressive vehicles. But the ending is perfect and the set pieces dazzling. There's no reason this guaranteed blockbuster had to be this smartly engineered.