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An Inconvenient Sequel is a superhero movie about a sad Al Gore

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"Al Gore will save us from global warming even if he alone has to fistfight the sun."

The New York Times 2015 DealBook Conference Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief breakdown-style reviews of festival films, VR previews, and other special-event releases. A version of this review originally ran on January 20, 2017, in conjunction with the film’s premiere at Sundance.

Al Gore didn't invent the internet, but going solely off his latest film, viewers might assume he singlehandedly launched the modern fight against climate change. An Inconvenient Sequel, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, and starting a limited American theatrical run on July 28th, is a follow-up to the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The original film mobilized a generation of climate activists, won an Oscar, and sent the former vice president on a decade-long-and-counting PowerPoint tour. The newer, brisker, and unexpectedly more optimistic follow-up doc seeks, in large part, to calcify Gore’s legacy, resulting in a split-minded film that’s more fascinated with the former politician’s daily life than the melting polar ice sheets.

What’s the genre?

Superhero tragedy disguised as end-times environmental doc.

What's it about?

A decade after An Inconvenient Truth spotlighted the grave threat of climate change, former Vice President Al Gore returns with a new PowerPoint presentation that will recruit an army of environmentalist lieutenants, who themselves will assemble enviro-militias across the globe. Their weapon: the truth!

What's it really about?

The life of Al Gore, a button-up-wearing superhero (supported by a crack team of smartphone-wielding millennials) who will save us from global warming even if he alone has to fistfight the sun.

is it good?

As a call to recruit and energize a new generation of environmentalists, no, it's not good. Al Gore travels across the globe, educating trainees, who we barely get to know. And what exactly Gore trains these men and women to do, beyond monologue in public spaces, is unclear.

The film doesn't offer any surprising updates on global warming for a pseudo-woke teen with a social-media stream. Nor does it lay out actionable strategies for viewers who could be persuaded to change their habits, but don't know how. In that way, it's a missed opportunity for Gore and his multi-decade agenda. An Inconvenient Truth formed the choir, and it’s inexplicable that this sequel makes no effort to teach that choir to sing.

However, as a documentary about the loneliness of would-be-President Gore, An Inconvenient Sequel is awkwardly engrossing. Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 election, in particular, is grist for the film's few jokes. At one point, Gore invites the cameras into his home, and they capture a man alone in an empty house, musing over photographs and notes from a different life. Gore seems peerless in his battle against global warming, for better and also for worse. In his personal and professional life, he appears deeply and tragically alone — often literally stranded in the film’s composition.

An Inconvenient Sequel often plays out like a tragic superhero film. Gore is depicted as a one-man army, fighting the good fight against impossible odds. Other politicians, from Obama to John Kerry to Justin Trudeau, drift into the film, lending their support. But Gore, as the film shows it, is the one with the ideas, the gumption, and the connections to grease the wheels of change.

But what happens when Superman saves the day? One shot resonates far beyond the movie. After helping secure 2015’s historic Paris Climate Conference agreement with some last-minute behind-the-scenes horse-trading, we see Gore among the crowd of celebrating world leaders. And then we see him alone again, wandering down a fluorescent-lit hallway. He moves away from the camera like an old cowboy riding into the sunset, his legs heavy, his back achy. In the moment of international achievement, we see him by himself.

As with any good superhero, we have reason to believe Gore will return. A gloomy coda on the election of Donald Trump threatens to undermine the hero’s work and throw the world into disarray. The film takes an Marvel-esque approach to Gore’s latest adversary, smattering skeptical quotes from Trump throughout the film, culminating with an uncomfortable shot of Gore visiting Trump Tower for an un-filmed meeting.

Perhaps we’ll see Gore put the cape back on for An Inconvenient Threequel: The Rise of the Donald.

What should it be rated?

The film doesn’t have an official rating, but I would suggest PG for dad jokes, dated political humor, and PowerPoint slides that belong in a junior-high science class.

How can I actually watch it?

The film comes to theaters on July 28th. This is a surprise, as the personal doc structure feels more like a Netflix or HBO special than something that demands the big-screen experience.