An Inconvenient Sequel review – Al Gore's new climate change film lacks heat

The former vice president’s latest documentary on the threat to the planet, which opened the Sundance festival, is desultory and surprisingly vainglorious

Al Gore knows everybody. He can whip out his cell phone and dial the treasury secretary or the head of a giant solar panel manufacturer and say things such as “I’ll check with President Hollande” or “Elon suggested I call.” It’s amazing, then, that nowhere in his contacts is the number of a documentary film-maker that knows a thing or two about keeping audiences awake.

It’s shocking, really, as the latest entry in the Gore Cinematic Universe couldn’t possibly have more inherent drama. The glaciers are melting, the oceans are boiling, soil is cracked and dry. The planet is facing imminent extinction and only one man has the knowledge, media savvy and political influence to do something. For the love of Gaia, somebody call Michael Bay!

An Inconvenient Sequel, however, is not that type of movie. It’s different from An Inconvenient Truth, the celebrated slideshow-as-cinema documentary that won an Oscar and had a striking impact on education and awareness. The 2006 film was notably dry, consisting mainly of graphs and the former vice president’s meagre attempts at cracking a few dad jokes. But its specificity gave it focus, tightly covering the audience with facts and visual reinforcements, like an atmospheric layer around our potentially doomed planet. Eleven years later, the follow-up – which has many of the same producers but different directors in Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk – is uncomfortably desultory and surprisingly vainglorious. As shocking as it may seem, you may yearn for more of those dreary lectures.

The first half is spent checking in on what Gore has been up to since the last movie. While George W Bush has taken up painting, Gore has been evangelising against climate change with an increased determination. He hosts group teach-ins so others around the world can present their own version of the Inconvenient Truth slideshow. He’s sitting with John Kerry one day, checking out ice on a glacier the next, then watching YouTube clips of floods while traveling to meet Indian industrialists. It is undeniable that Gore, saggy jeans, Tennessee drawl and all, is a righteous man.

Where’s the drama? Gore in An Inconvenient Sequel
Where’s the drama? Gore in An Inconvenient Sequel Photograph: PR Company Handout

These Keeping Up With Al sequences are peppered with more scientific examples of just how bad things are getting thanks to CO2 emissions and overall industrial nastiness. Something resembling a narrative arc comes into focus in the second half, as Gore prepares for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. While the movie never quite gets into the specifics of the agreement, it positions India’s prime minister Narendra Modi as a villain whose economic impulses stand in direct threat to the progress the summit represents. (This film suggests that Gore’s back channel networking saves the day, and maybe the world.)

Much of An Inconvenient Sequel was shot during the US election campaign, when few rational people were predicting that Donald Trump would become president. A few soundbites from the former reality TV star and developer of wretched Atlantic City casinos are sprinkled in, usually in counterpoint to one of the more trenchant or terrifying scientific facts. There is, therefore, a coda, in which Gore describes the 2016 election as a punch in the face. The next image is of Gore taking the elevator at Trump Tower, determined to make his plea for governmental change, no matter how quixotic that attempt may be.

An Inconvenient Sequel is more a portrait of Gore than a call to arms. It ends with a sort of forced positivity, much of which is recycled directly from the first movie: political change is hard, but we can do it, morality demands it. Gore’s passion and anger come out in his speeches, but it begins to feel like a campaign for a non-existent election. Indeed, the most memorable moment is when a Paris-based television interview is interrupted by the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan theatre. This sequence has nothing to do with the climate crisis but everything to do with being human.

I kept wishing that the clearly capable Gore would go for the kill against a climate change denier. Since we are living in an era of fake news, and a new president who revels in it, perhaps that more aggressive side of Gore will come out in the last part of the trilogy. It may not be Gore’s preferred style, but it may be what’s necessary.


Jordan Hoffman

The GuardianTramp

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