In 2006, former U.S. presidential candidate and climate change advocate Al Gore and director Davis Guggenheim released the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, a film where the ex-Vice President passionately spoke at great length about the state of the environment. The film was a huge success at the box office (by documentary standards) and picked up a pair of Oscars, including Best Documentary. Gore’s message about acting on climate change sooner rather than later seemed to be getting through to the general public, but his battle with those who hold the power to change the direction of our environment was only beginning.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power – directed this time by the tandem of Bonni Cohen (Audrey & Daisy) and Jon Shenk (The Island President) – is a much more personal and immediate film that says more about Gore’s gumption and drive than the currently dire state of environmental reform. Almost as soon as An Inconvenient Truth thrust Gore back into the geopolitical spotlight as the de facto face of global climate change legislation, he was attacked by critics as being hyperbolic and reactionary in his views. The first film was relentlessly criticized by the powerful fossil fuel lobby – not to mention the right wing politicians who rely on these lobbyists to fund their campaigns – but climate change caused natural disasters continued to pile up. Gore doubled down on his newfound career as an environmentalist and his resolve became strengthened rather than weakened in the face of renewed opposition.
More intimate than its predecessor, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power casts Gore as the Charlie Brown of politicians. He’s a truth teller who backs up his arguments with facts, but occasionally his calm, laid back demeanour slips, and he allows his frustrations to show through. He tries to engage with his backwards and profit driven critics, but he’s only human and there’s only so much he can do. Every time Gore mounts another major campaign to bring climate issues to the forefront, something happens that’s often beyond his control and sphere of influence. When the first film came out, it was attacked by climate change deniers as hypothesizing about events that could never happen, but Gore was proven right and without any pronounced acknowledgement. Just before The Paris Climate Accord was to bring together world leaders for an historic meeting, a major awareness raising event from Gore in the European city was scuttled midstream by nearby terrorist attacks. Even when the climate talks were taking place, Gore was taken to task by the Indian government who saw the accords as a way of keeping their impoverished, heavily populated country firmly rooted in the third world. The more Gore fought and the more he was proven right, the less he seemed to win.
Cohen and Shenk seize upon this thread throughout An Inconvenient Sequel to create an admittedly weaker, but arguably more engaging and entertaining follow-up. The filmmakers and Gore know that there’s not much else on a factual level that the politician can do to prove his point short of rehashing the first film. Instead of putting Gore on a stage for large swaths of the film so he can lecture to on and off screen audiences, An Inconvenient Sequel opts to follow Gore around on his field work for most of the running time. There are still plenty of moments where Gore lectures, but it’s mostly kept to sequences where he’s showing the next generation of advocates how to deliver their talking points instead of sermonizing to the unconverted. If the first film was about learning about something through listening, An Inconvenient Sequel is more about learning by doing. More importantly, it’s also a film about how the environment needs to be increasingly fought for, especially under a new presidential administration that doesn’t believe climate change is a real thing.
An Inconvenient Sequel isn’t as eye opening as its predecessor, especially to those already inclined to agree with Gore’s point of view, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less potent in its best moments. Watching Gore’s weariness and thinly veiled rage at his opposition is deeply humane and probably the most effective visual cue in a film that also includes looks at how downtown Miami Beach is slowly submerging thanks to changing tides, glaciers literally exploding thanks to warmer climates, and the mayor of a city in The Philippines trying to break through the roof of his office to escape flood waters. If he was attacked for being hyperbolic before, Gore runs the risk of getting attacked for having his heart firmly pinned to his sleeve with this sequel.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is firmly built on good intentions and the fervent need to continue the climate change discussion before it’s too late. In 2006, Gore was onto something, and while many took notice, not everyone kept up with the conversation or need to act. Since then, probably hundreds of big and small screen documentaries have popped up to help enhance Gore’s cause, both explicitly and implicitly. I’m sure Gore wouldn’t like to hear this, but factually An Inconvenient Sequel is virtually interchangeable with any number of documentaries that have come along since An Inconvenient Truth. The difference is that despite losing one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in history, Gore still carries a certain amount of star power that can’t be denied, and he’s probably the only high profile climate change advocate with the ability to talk a major Hollywood studio into giving his documentary a wide theatrical release. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power contains a lot of recognizable and verifiable facts that have been trotted out before, but the impact of those truths aren’t dampened. It’s not original in the presentation of its facts, but for daring to give the material just a touch of personality this time out, Gore and his team deserve some small amount of special recognition.
Is An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power essential viewing?
In terms of the facts being presented, it’s absolutely essential to an understanding of climate change and how legacy fossil fuel companies seek to keep their positions of power, but I wonder if this isn’t something the audience for the film hasn’t seen and heard before and better. Like most sequels, it’s somewhat inessential, but that doesn’t mean the content itself isn’t essential.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power opens Friday, August 4, 2017 at Cineplex locations. Check their website for more information.