Ten years ago, "An Inconvenient Truth," the groundbreaking, Oscar-winning film about Al Gore and his passionate climate change activism, ended with a simple challenge: "Are you ready to change the way you live? The climate crisis can be solved."
A decade later, the former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner is the first to concede that not enough of the world has met that challenge — and that what IS being done, isn't being done fast enough. "Wow, we could lose this struggle," he recalls thinking at one point.
But that moment of doubt, recounted in "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," was apparently just that: a moment. The overriding sentiment in this sequel is one of optimism.
Now, that may come as a surprise to many, especially given what we journalists would call one heck of a news peg: The decision by President Donald Trump, in June, to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord — a landmark pact that Gore worked tirelessly to help achieve. (Indeed, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk went back to the editing room to update their movie with this momentous news.)
But, as this sequel makes clear, Gore's not looking to the White House — or the presidential Twitter feed — to fuel his optimism.
He's looking instead to countries like Chile, rapidly increasing its use of renewable energy. In the U.S., he's looking to individual governors, business leaders, mayors — like Dale Ross of Georgetown, Texas, who with one small scene pretty much becomes the breakout star of this film. The jovial Ross is a conservative Republican, and mayor of, in his words, "the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas." But he tells Gore that his city went green because it made economic sense for his constituents.
Plus, he adds, it's only common sense: "The less stuff you put in the air, the better it is." Gore replies happily: "Can I use that line?"
Yes, humor has its place, even in a film that's intended as a warning about, um, the potential death of the planet and all its life forms. Gore's a lot grayer, and still dead serious about his work, but he's also the guy who likes to introduce himself as "Al Gore — I used to be the next president of the United States." People laugh, and then he says he doesn't think it's very funny, and they laugh again. And then he teaches, cajoles, explains — part pastor, part science teacher, part tour guide.
The film begins with a sampling of naysayers — and to be sure, Trump isn't the only one. At a 2007 hearing, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe asks Gore: "How come you guys never seem to notice when it gets cold?"
The filmmakers track Gore across the globe, to climate leadership training sessions from Tennessee to Asia, or to the glaciers of Greenland, where he treads on melting ice. We watch him negotiate with officials in India, who listen, but also note that the United States should live up to its own commitments before making demands of developing nations. In one of many effective bits of footage, we see pedestrians in India try to navigate streets literally melting in 120-plus degree heat.
Gore gets a chance to silence critics of a scene in the first film, who said he was exaggerating when he projected that ground zero in lower Manhattan could be flooded by rising waters. News footage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 shows the flooding of the 9/11 Memorial Museum site, then under construction.
In Paris, at the climate conference, Gore's energetic dealmaking includes convincing a U.S. solar energy company to make an offer that convinces India to sign the pact.
The Paris trip is not without humor as well: When Gore and aides are stuck in traffic, they switch to the Metro, where they encounter a student delegation from China that seems convinced he actually won the presidency. "Is he still the president?" they ask.
The message of this sequel is twofold: Urgency and hope. Things are bad, Gore is saying, but here's what's happening that's really exciting. And he has no doubt that mankind will save the planet. He may have wanted to be president, but Gore has surely found his calling, and his own energy seems more renewable than ever.
"An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America "for thematic elements and some troubling images." Running time: 98 minutes. Three stars out of four.