The biggest surprise of Sundance so far has nothing to do with a new addition or a healthy food eatery being added near the Yarrow theater. It’s that Al Gore is not actually running for president, despite the intense campaign vibes of his ego-driven effort, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a follow-up to his Oscar-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth." The documentary follow-up proves to be less about global warming than propping up a hero awkwardly desperate to captivate audiences again like he did eleven years ago. It's like the "Zoolander 2" of global warming documentaries.
The filmmaking by directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk ("Audrie & Daisy") is solid, and they work with these very clear standards: follow Gore on his international speaking engagements, both during his meetings and maybe with a humanizing moment of him walking through a back hallway; share the slide shows that he prepares for said speaking moments and make sure we can see it; use an instructive score that could fit in with a political thriller. Adding a bit of cynicism to that title, "An Inconvenient Sequel" just wants to recreate the hits of the first time. But this return seems driven by even more vanity, with Gore unaware of how much he's talking about himself and not global warming.
From the very beginning, the cause is framed as being personal. Sobering footage of ruined glaciers and landscapes are accompanied by soundbites where people criticize Gore and his passion. Questions of whether this movie is actually about Gore or his cause nag the entire movie, even though you know the project thinks it’s doing a noble job with the latter. It takes far too long for this movie to situate into its actual causes, and to do so it’s back to the dull Al-Gore-gives-a-slideshow set-up. The movie only insulates itself more from there.
As with global warming, there are tidbits of information that do come across, as Gore uses vivid footage of entire communities being destroyed by forces of nature. We see the different areas that are affected by the apocalyptic weather changes, and further recognize the scope of it. And we see how the global warming effort has quite the ally in solar power, as shown with India and the like. The second half focuses on Gore interacting with world leaders as a type of person behind the scenes, not as high-profile as a president.
In the scheme of global warming, what does this offer? A reminder, yes, particularly if you haven’t seen “Before the Flood,” which played in 180+ countries via National Geographic. The two share many similarities: scenes with Miami floods, John Kerry, footage of Kiribati and India, and an Oscar-winner in the center who thinks he alone can get people to listen (in the case of “Before the Flood,” that was Leonardo DiCaprio).
But those are small nuggets to take from sifting through Gore’s self-centric version of the cause. There are plenty of scenes that have nothing to do with global warming, like him walking us through his childhood home, talking about how he had planned to be president. The flaw of this moment is like others, in that its intent is purely adoration or pity. It has nothing to do with the issues at hand.
If any movie were to create the global warming idea as a type of cult, this is it. Gore’s many speaking scenes are to people in his climate change group, which has the air of watching an evangelist preaching to the choir—a tactic that doesn't work for us as viewers, who need something to connect to. And that’s the huge problem with this messy movie, that it never gives us a chance to connect. Gore is always in the way, or putting his foot deep in his mouth like when he compares global warming to the civil rights movement or abolitionist movement. In some scenes he is miscast as the everyman, and in others he's miscast as a savior. In both roles, Gore has a grave lack of focus or self-awareness.