‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ Review: When the Planet Is Reality Television

This is the age of the cliffhanger. It is the age of the plot twist. It is the age that has taught people to make sense of the world not merely with that time-honored aid—the story—but also with stories that self-consciously mimic the serial workings of television. So the recent Congressional debates over the future of Obamacare resolved not just with a vote, but with “the most dramatic night in the United States Senate in recent history.” The recent increase in the bellicosity of the threats exchanged between the United States and North Korea have been understood not merely as escalation, but as “Game of Thrones rhetoric.” The presidency of Donald Trump, a man who was catapulted to national fame with the help of a reality TV show, is itself often interpreted as such a show, complete with heavy edits (“alternative facts”), victims, villains, and an assortment of cast members who are obsessed with winning and decidedly Not Here to Make Friends.

Into that environment—reality, as understood by “reality”—comes An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, the follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary about climate change. The logic of dramatic serialization is in one way built into the sequel’s title: The 2017 version of Gore’s Oscar-winning film is, the new one promises, simply the next installment in the show—just another entry in the franchise. (Earth 2: Judgment Day? 2 Hot 2 Incurious?) But serialization infuses the movie in other ways, too: This version of Gore’s original PowerPointapalooza now features, true to its 2017 premiere date, distinct heroes, distinct villains, surprising plot twists, and, yes, a final, tantalizing cliffhanger. An Inconvenient Sequel has a narrative arc. It emphasizes action. It is, like its predecessor, technically a documentary; it is a documentary, however, that has internalized the idea that the world makes its best sense—that the world is, indeed, made most relatable and most recognizably human—as a TV show.

Here are some of the similarities between the original Inconvenient Truth and its sequel: Each film is extremely earnest in its message and extremely TED Talk in its aesthetic. Each stars—and, in a much deeper way, revolves around—Al Gore. And each frames Gore as a kind of Cassandra figure, enlightened…

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