In 2006, “An Inconvenient Truth” propelled Al Gore’s climate change activism to a new level of awareness, proving that distilling a PowerPoint to a feature-length format doesn’t have to make great cinema to achieve its goals. A decade later, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” does it all over again, with somewhat more engaging filmmaking and a far greater sense of urgency.
Co-directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (taking the reigns from “Truth” director Davis Guggenheim), the filmmakers manage to improve on the limitations of the original by showing more of Gore’s resilience in the field. He’s grayer, wrinkled and a little wider around the midsection, but the former Vice President continues to wage a seemingly effective crusade to widen environmental awareness.
Although it opens with a self-congratulatory note about the popularity of the first entry, “An Inconvenient Sequel” makes it clear that the fallout to that movie only intensified criticism of Gore’s mission. In an upsetting opening montage, the filmmakers pair images of melting ice caps with audio clips of climate-denying critics putting Gore in their crosshairs. The sequence culminates with Gore facing down one such naysayer at a 2007 U.S. Senate hearing, calmly expressing his desire to find common ground.
So begins a competently-assembled pileup of moments featuring Gore’s ongoing efforts to elaborate on the destructive effect of carbon emissions, and the movie’s assemblage provides a linear path for following his logic.
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While his PowerPoint again provides an anchor for the narrative, Cohen and Shenk thankfully emphasize a broader range of encounters, yielding a more engaging dramatization of Gore’s efforts: He visits melted ice flows in Greenland, then traces the water to the flooded streets of Florida, drawing a clean line between different parts of the world impacted by rising temperatures. He converses with world leaders about ways of eliminating carbon emissions and tracks positive efforts around the world. And the movie finds an ideal climax with the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, when some 55 countries agreed to eliminate greenhouse emissions.
The cameras are with Gore in Paris when the November shootings take place, adding a grim context to the proceedings; his emotional address to his younger peers shows his capacity for leadership in dire times, implying the possibilities of the 2000 election that could have been.
Though Gore spends a few minutes sharing memories of his early days in the Senate, “An Inconvenient Sequel” is largely a professional profile, and often tips over into hagiographic territory. But he’s also a figure of deep sympathy, and his relationship to his fame in the aftermath of “An Inconvenient Truth” gives the project a unique function: It acknowledges the impact of the first movie in addition to the ire it provoked from climate change deniers, giving Gore the opportunity to drop the mic on the issue all over again.
At one point, he recalls criticism of the scene in “An Inconvenient Truth” where he predicts the site of the World Trade Center reconstruction could be engulfed in water, then explains how that exact event transpired in 2012. In another fascinating sequence, he visits the conservative Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas, where renewable energy policies dominate in spite of the dominant political mood. As Gore beams at the notion of bipartisanship, it’s impossible not to get swept up in his cause — and relate to his relenting optimism.
While “An Inconvenient Sequel” mostly just celebrates Gore’s outlook and gives him a fresh platform to make his case, it showcases his practical impact as well. During a key moment at the Paris conference, he hastily brokers a deal between India and the American energy company SolarCity, which results in a massive loan to help the country get onboard with the Paris accords. In his own words, he may be “a recovering politician,” but his diplomatic skills haven’t waned.
In the years since “An Inconvenient Truth,” climate change documents have congealed into a genre, with recent entries such as the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced “Before the Flood” and Charles Ferguson’s visually alarming “Time to Choose” furthering the awareness-raising tactics kickstarted by Guggenheim’s film. But Gore’s unique blend of pragmatism and idealistic drive handily justifies this latest entry, particularly as it informs the present moment. The movie naturally acknowledges the Trump presidency, with fleeting images of Gore watching the would-be leader of the free world trashing climate change on television; in the aftermath of the election, he’s plainly frustrated.
Still, not all is lost. “An Inconvenient Sequel” caps off the story with media footage of Gore heading into Trump Tower as he recites the movie’s subtitle, before he reminds viewers that he’s survived naysayers more than once before. Rolling up his sleeves, Gore hits an inspiring note at a moment when it’s in short supply, and his dedication to spreading his gospel suggests that in the next few years this franchise will need another installment.
“An Inconvenient Sequel” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Paramount will release it theatrically this summer.