'An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power'
Eleven years ago, former Vice President Al Gore turned a PowerPoint presentation into an Oscar-winning documentary. That’s not easy and probably shouldn’t have been possible. However, the subject was climate change and the information was staggering. The film helped spread awareness and made a positive impact. It would be nice to say that Gore’s sequel isn’t as important all these years later, but thanks to the new administration, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ might be even more vital, even if it isn’t quite as strong as a film.
The big issue with ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ is a lack of focus. The last ‘Inconvenient’ documentary might have been didactic, but at least it had a clear structure and purpose. Unfortunately, the new movie has too many fish to fry, updates to impart, and is just a little too in love with its subject. (Al Gore, that is, not global warming. It’s very clear that co-directors Bonni Cohen and Jo Shenk aren’t pleased with the current state of climate change). The one thing that does link the doc together is Al Gore’s undying commitment to saving the planet. The guy cares passionately and archival clips show just how long and hard he’s been working at raising awareness around climate change issues. What a shame it is that the film hits screens in such dark times for his country’s commitment to the cause.
Startling images throughout the film show just how much worse things have gotten since the last ‘Inconvenient Truth’. Sequences showing the how much the ice caps have melted are unsettling, as are the scenes in which Gore marches through a flooded Miami, discussing the work local politicians have made to deal with the problem and how fruitless they’ll all seem in a few years’ time. It’s amazing how little is actually reported about those flooded Miami streets and how unavoidably worse they will get. Then again, if the movie shows nothing else, it’s how difficult it was for Gore to get anyone to discuss climate change in the first place, even when he was shooting at the end of the Obama administration. Appearances on national news see him begging producers for more time to discuss the issue. You can see the unflappable Southern gentleman finally start to lose his cool from time to time. His frustration mirrors that of his audience and it’s hard to find or offer any comfort.
The scattershot documentary jumps around a variety of loosely connected scenes and moments in Gore’s ongoing climate change campaign. There are hopeful montages of his growing army of trained activists, discussions of a satellite designed to study climate that he fought to see developed during his time in office, only to see the Bush administration dismiss it before Obama’s team finally got it into orbit right before leaving office. You get the impression that the film was initially supposed to be a hopeful sequel that showed that as bad as things have gotten, good work is being done. In particular, almost the entire final third of the film is dedicated to the Paris Agreement and the panicked phone calls and meetings Gore held to help make it happen. Of course, that sequence all comes clouded in dread and irony now. Some text at the end attempts to turn the movie into an attack on the Trump administration and a plea for hope. Gore’s campaign seems to be an endless series of steps forward followed by half steps back.
All of this makes ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ as much a frustrating watch as an inspiring one. An angry climate change movie is something the culture needs right now, but this isn’t quite it despite some last minute editorial tweaks in that direction. For all the frustration Gore has toward fossil fuel lobbyists who refuse to acknowledge facts, he can’t help but deliver a message of hope. The trouble is that hope feels muddied right now. When the movie was being made, that hope may have been justified. Steps were being made. Now, almost all of the progress Gore shows feels somewhat fruitless. It makes the movie tough to watch and not always in the best ways.
Also problematic is the icky hero worship baked into the project. This is a film made by people who clearly idolize Al Gore. While that’s a perfectly reasonable attitude to take, it gets a little grating and distracts from the issue at hand. ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ hits screens with impeccable timing for the message that it hopes to impart, but was made a little too early to cover the subject from the angle the world needs right now. That leads to a clunky final product, a movie filled with images and facts that need to be shared in a package that never quite presents them in the most appropriate manner. It’s still very much worth seeing and studying, but will likely only ever speak to the converted.
This documentary won’t shock climate change skeptics or move the apathetic into action like ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ did. It’ll just confirm the darkened beliefs of those already on board with the cause. That’s still relevant and even important, but this isn’t quite the movie we need right now. We need a more dramatic, even angry and forceful examination of the issue. Sadly, Al Gore isn’t the man to deliver the message in that tone and his awkwardly timed and structured documentary isn’t quite the movie to impart it either. Still, it’s admirable that the man is still fighting and that he willed this documentary into existence. Maybe next time the anger that we see flicker across Gore’s face occasionally here will finally come to the surface. It’s hard to imagine this series won’t turn into ‘An Inconvenient Trilogy’ given the current state of our ever-warming world.