“An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) was the ultimate PowerPoint presentation. That’s not a backhanded compliment. The documentary was dynamic and highly informative, deeply felt and expertly paced. The film’s winning an Oscar for best documentary wasn’t just the academy patting itself on the political back. It was a recognition of genuine filmmaking merit.
On screen, as in life, few things are so compelling as genuine passion — and Al Gore’s advocacy for the environment and spreading the word on climate change was (and is) nothing if not passionate. The man we see in “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” may have gotten grayer and heavier — Gore turns 70 in March — but he hasn’t slowed down.
The new film isn’t really a sequel. For starters, it has different directors: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, instead of Davis Guggenheim. Yes, it has bits of Gore’s updated PowerPoint scattered throughout, but the documentary is more of a travelogue. That’s one way Cohen and Shenk keep things as lively as they do. If anything, “Sequel” comes across as slightly slick.
The former vice president is the evangelist as Flying Dutchman. We follow him over much of the globe: Manila, Houston, Nashville, Beijing, Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., New York, Paris (for the 2015 climate-accords conference), and not forgetting his home, in Carthage, Tenn.
The movie’s opening sets the tone. We see the drip-drip-drip of glaciers melting in Greenland and hear in voice-over various climate skeptics lambasting “An Inconvenient Truth.” Lambasting is an understatement. One critic compares Gore to the Nazis’ Josef Goebbels. Go ahead, roll your eyes: Oh, those wild-and-crazy deniers. But these are the people Gore and the planet are up against. And thanks to last November, they’re a lot closer to the seats of power than Gore is. “In order to fix the environmental crisis,” he says at one point, “we have to fix the election crisis.”
Opening with those opposition voices is canny. Unlike so many advocacy documentaries, this one lets the other side speak its piece. It also reminds viewers of the single biggest change since “Truth”: how much better organized and entrenched climate deniers have become.
“Sequel” also has the intellectual honestly to acknowledge the most troubling argument against changing global energy policies. At a meeting in India, a government minister says to Gore, “I’m only asking for that carbon space you’ve used very skillfully for 150 years.” That blandly delivered adverb is devastating. Or as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says in a speech at the Paris conference, “Energy is a basic human need.”
So’s survival, and the documentary makes plain that this is what’s at stake for tens of millions. The number of hurricanes is increasing, as is their severity. The incidence of drought is rising, as are crop shortages (as temperatures go up, moisture evaporates from the soil more quickly). “Climate refugees” are becoming increasingly common. With the shrinkage of polar ice caps, rising sea levels are inevitable. We see Gore wade through some oceanside flooding in Miami Beach. “Kind of hard to pump the ocean,” he mutters.
“Sequel” has a number of such memorable moments. The mayor of Georgetown, Texas — a Republican, mind you — gives Gore a tour of his small city near Austin; it now gets all its energy from renewable sources. Stuck in traffic in Paris, Gore and his aides leave the car and hop on the Metro (why didn’t they take public transit in the first place?). Also in Paris, he’s happily startled as he’s walking along and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets him. They shake hands. Trudeau thanks Gore for all he’s done on climate awareness. Gore congratulates Trudeau on his recent electoral victory.
It’s another, later electoral victory that hangs over the documentary. Maybe “Truth to Trump” would be a better subtitle. The documentary ends with the president’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris accords.
That’s not the ending Gore and filmmakers would have expected prior to last November. In fact, the movie reaches its emotional climax with the signing of the accords. But even under the best of circumstances, climate change offers no quick solutions. “This is a mission I have dedicated myself to,” Gore says, a mission that remains “a constant struggle between hope and despair.”
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER
Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. At Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway. 100 minutes, PG.Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.