With uncharacteristic fire and brimstone — but also steely resolve and a concrete plan — the former vice president opened the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night with An Inconvenient Sequel, a daring, urgent and exhilarating follow-up to his 2007 film An Inconvenient Truth.
And what a decade it’s been since that groundbreaking, Oscar-winning documentary. “Climate-related events have gotten so much worse in the 10 years since,” Gore argues at the top of Sequel — and the evidence is splattered all over the screen.
Where Truth was a wonky if ultimately startling slideshow on the bigscreen, Sequel plays more like a taut political thriller with an apocalyptic streak, interlacing heart-stopping cinematography, adrenalized music cues and a dashing main character — Al Gore 3.0 — that you’ll wish had been president for oh, about eight years or so.
On top of it all, Sequel has genuine stakes that are pointedly of the moment: A crucial climate deal is coming together in its final moments, a real-life event that went down just months ago. What’s more, filmmakers Bonni Chen and Jon Shenk clearly took great pains to stick the landing firmly on events that go down, well … today, technically.
Gore, for his part, is a joy to watch. Yes, he stands on stages and stiffly clicks through PowerPoint presentations here and there — but at this point in his third act as a climate-change superhero, he’s also jet-setting around the world, observing atrocious evidence that the planet has long since teetered toward catastrophe.
Greenland’s fast-collapsing Jakobshavn Glacier, where raging rivers of melted snow carve explosive rifts in the ancient ice sheet. Miami Beach, where that same water sends city officials on the fool’s errand of building taller streets. Silicon Valley, where Solar City leads a stunning corporate charge for renewables. India, where energy ministers are desperately erecting “dirty coal” plants to support the population explosion. The Philippines, where Super Typhoon Yolanda killed more than 6,000 people.
And one very ominous, if fleeting, elevator ride up Trump Tower.
By the end, Gore and his stalwart staff finally descend on Paris, where in April a watershed international climate deal was forged — but stands to be swiftly dismantled by the incoming administration.
The former VP is a central figure in each of these scenes, tirelessly flying around in helicopters, boats, planes, cars (in one case ditching traffic for a subway to make a meeting on time) because this is what he does now.
And these are no empty gestures. He’s a climate change James Bond, using his wits and gadgets and sheer will to save the day at every turn.
This, despite the fact that there’s much to be discouraged about. Gore wistfully visits and re-visits his personal despair about fighting a battle that any reasonable human might declare long lost. After all, things really have gotten measurably worse since An Inconvenient Truth.
But while Gore pays his despair its due, he never gives in to it.
Standing on various stages before his armies of global acolytes, he passionately tears through the facts: 2016 continued the trend of hottest years on record, giving strength to cataclysmic storms, devastating droughts and raging fires. Desperate conditions give rise to desperate acts of violence and atrocity. It’s a lot.
“Future generations will look back,” Gore growls, “and say ‘What were you thinking?’ Couldn’t you hear what the scientists were saying? Couldn’t you hear Mother Nature screaming at you?”
It’s a whole new, more forceful side of Gore — one that, frankly, might’ve been handy in the 2000 election. Gone is the professorial, aw-shucks Senator from Tennessee, and before us instead is a highly motivated, focused, and sometimes-Hulk-smash-mad John Brown of the climate movement.
It’s scary at times. But ultimately, it is hopeful. There are reasons to lift your head during Sequel.
Solar and wind power, in particular, play the film’s strongest grace notes; despite mighty opposition from the oil/coal/gas industries, these renewable energy resources have seen staggering, exponential growth since Truth, and by the sound of it, they’ve done so largely on their own merit. They’re just good business, and good business seems to prevail.
What also prevails about Sequel: it’s simply a better movie than Truth, in terms of entertainment value, urgency and shock value. A half-dozen belly-laugh moments — and Gore’s boyish buoyancy — keep things light, the footage from around the world is as good as anything National Geographic could ever hope to produce, and the villain (no spoilers here, sorry) barely has to show his face to make an impact.
So much climate-change filmmaking descended on Park City this year that Sundance organizers gave it a section all to itself. If An Inconvenient Sequel is the foundation, then they’re off to a raging storm of a start.