Ten years ago, Al Gore went theatrical with his case for climate change, releasing An Inconvenient Truth in theaters. The film was Gore’s passionate plea for action to be taken to stop the effects of climate change before it’s too late. Unfortunately, in the 10 years since, not near enough action has been taken. The fossil fuel industry and those it benefits continue to funnel millions of dollars into the industry of denial, seeding enough doubt into the public consciousness to make climate change—a real thing that is absolutely happening—seem “debatable.”
So now Al Gore is back with An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, but it’s not the same Al Gore we saw charismatically sharing his slideshow in that first film. Gore still has a slide show mind you, but it’s been updated with copious examples of the devastating effects of climate change over the last decade, and Gore’s demeanor has shifted from genial to absolutely fired up. He’s angry, and justifiably so. Unique weather patterns have grown in frequency in the years since An Inconvenient Truth was released, and the film takes the time to zero in some of the worst.
Going into An Inconvenient Sequel, I was curious to see if the film would tread similar territory to the excellent Fisher Stevens/Leonardo DiCaprio climate change doc Before the Flood, which was released last year. The first half of Gore’s film covers similar territory, even visiting some of the same places and talking to some of the same people. But that’s not inherently bad. Just because another documentary highlights the fact that Miami is literally raising its roads due to increasing flooding doesn’t mean it’s off limits. But, if you’ve seen Before the Flood, the first half of An Inconvenient Sequel will feel familiar.
It’s the second half of the film that really shines, as directors Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk, taking over from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim, take a much more personal approach to telling this particular story. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that Al Gore is a unique public figure whose life story was upended in a very public way. He lost his presidential run in a Supreme Court decision after winning the nation’s popular vote, and that loss looms large over the film. It’s not that the movie rehashes the events and dwells on what could have been, but that election forever changed the trajectory of Gore’s life—it’s part of who he is and what has led him here.
So it’s fascinating to see Al Gore, U.S. Citizen, so passionately and adeptly trying to fix the single greatest threat to mankind. The film climaxes with the Paris Climate Agreement, and we see that Gore was an integral part of getting India—a developing nation that has just started expanding its coal output—to agree to the landmark accords. We see Gore interacting with Secretary of State John Kerry and other heads of state, but the juxtaposition of someone who came thisclose to the White House wheeling and dealing with others who do hold positions of power is striking. Again, the 2000 election is the elephant in the room of a lot of the film’s scenes, and while Gore has become an expert at deflecting any awkwardness with good humor, in some of the film’s more intimate moments he admits that his life has taken a very different path than originally planned.
At heart the film isn’t about Gore, it’s about the urgent need for action on climate change. And it makes a strong case! Instead of simply relaying power point slides, Gore actually visits areas affected by climate change weather patterns, putting a face to catastrophic events in the Philippines, India, and yes, the state of Florida. And it also focuses on the good that’s being done around the world, highlighting areas that have moved significantly towards a renewable energy model—including an extremely conservative Texas town. But there’s a vigor to Gore’s rhetoric that is unmistakably fed up. The film features footage from a number of talks Gore gives as part of his “Climate Leadership Training” seminars, but in the midst of his presentation there are multiple times where he’s straight-up yelling he’s so angry. He stops himself, acknowledging he’s gotten a little “fired up”, but these are human moments that transcend all the jokes that are volleyed Gore’s way. He may be an easy target, but Gore’s genuine passion is impossible to deny.
But if the 2000 election looms large over portions of the film, the other ghost in the room is Donald Trump. Most of An Inconvenient Sequel was shot in 2016, and we catch glimpses on the TV screen of Trump’s rise through the primaries as Gore is going about his work. It’s clear the film was meant to end on a high note, with the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, but a coda was necessary when Trump won the election due to his disparaging statements about the Paris agreement and climate change as a whole. Gore remains ever-hopeful, as we see him enter Trump Tower to discuss climate change with our new Commander in Chief, but it’s hard not to see this as yet another setback in Gore’s decades-long fight for action.
The film does take a little bit to find its way, and is at times unfocused, but ultimately it’s a more personal—and in that way superior—follow-up to its predecessor. An Inconvenient Truth had a pertinent message, but was delivered in the driest of manners. An Inconvenient Sequel has an even more pertinent message—climate change is literally killing people now—but is thankfully packaged in a more effective, fascinating film. Moreover, the peek behind the curtain at Gore’s psyche allows his passion to shine even brighter. He mentions early in the film that he can’t help but take whatever failures in U.S. climate change policy personally. An Inconvenient Truth should have been a deciding factor in finally shifting U.S. policy in a massive way. It wasn’t. You can’t help but think that, while Gore certainly loves giving these talks and spreading this information far and wide, there’s a part of him in this film that’s screaming “I told you 10 years ago!” An Inconvenient Sequel is a film we shouldn’t have needed, but we do. And Al Gore’s gonna keep on stumping for as long as it takes. But that doesn’t mean he’s gonna be happy about it.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power opens in theaters on July 28th. To catch up on all of Collider’s Sundance 2017 coverage, click here, and peruse our reviews below.