Independence Day: Resurgence, 2016
Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, William Fichtner, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Brent Spiner, Sela Ward, Joey King, Judd Hirsch and Deobia Oparei.
Twenty years after their initial invasion of Earth, the aliens have returned.
Make no mistake, the first Independence Day was a big ‘ol hunk of American cheese – but it was good cheese, dammit! It had likeable characters whose fate you actually cared about, it was made at a time when CGI hadn’t yet evolved to the point where you could use it as a crutch when designing action sequences, and Roland Emmerich hadn’t yet forgotten the importance of structure and (relative) subtlety when crafting a film on an enormous scale. Rather than “We had twenty years to prepare … so did they”, a more accurate tag-line for Independence Day: Resurgence would have been: “They had twenty years to write a decent script … they didn’t”.
In the two decades since aliens first attacked Earth, mankind has utilised the technology they left behind to build a stronger world, united in peace. In fact, everyone in this world is so peaceful and trusting that even warlords are hospitable, and there’s barely any security to prevent a mentally-disturbed man with a cane limping onto the stage during a massive televised political event. The man is question is ex-president Whitmore (played by a bearded Bill Pullman), who is trying to warn everyone about visions he’s been having of the alien menace’s imminent return. Meanwhile, in space, David Levinson (Jeff Goldlbum) is now working as a White House advisor. When a spherical spaceship appears beside the moon, he believes it doesn’t belong to the same race that almost destroyed the Earth last time. However, Sela Ward’s female president ignores him and promptly orders it to be shot down, and in doing so she almost destroys an intergalactic ally, whose knowledge and power might be the only thing that can save mankind when the bad aliens arrive soon afterwards.
The first half hour of the film is filled with expositionary dialogue so ridiculously on-the-nose, the characters might as well have faced the audience and delivered it to us in bullet-point form. Even Jeff Goldblum is given precious little opportunity to inject some of his trademark charm into the proceedings – he tries his best, but even he can’t develop an interesting rapport with Charlotte Gainsborough, who delivers every single one of her lines in the most awkward-sounding way possible. Once the big bad aliens actually do arrive, things just get worse and worse. Clearly in this alternate 2016, the idea of proportional responses is dead – people look confused when they ought to be blinded by terror, people who endanger the lives of others are greeted with sneers rather than reprimands, and people casually make jokes about destroyed countries mere minutes after its happened. That’s to say nothing about the blatant disregard for the laws of physics this film displays – I can accept a lot when it comes to popcorn movies, but I’m sorry – if a spaceship roughly a quarter the size of Earth landed on Earth, the planet would be thrown off its axis (I found it depressingly ironic that the teaser trailer for Ice Age: Collison Course, which played before this film and featured planets being used as billiard balls, was arguably more scientifically accurate).
As nearly every review of this film so far has said, Will Smith’s presence is sorely missed (having just done several sci-fi films in a row, he was unwilling to sign on for another). Liam Hemsworth is decent enough in his generic role as main hero Jake, but all the other new characters in this film are bland at best (It Follows‘ Maika Monroe fails to make much of an impression as the president’s daughter), and relentlessly irritating at worst (after spending 30 seconds with Travis Trope’s fighter pilot character Charlie, you’ll be praying for him to go the same way as Harry Connick Jnr in the first film.) In fact, for a film where a large portion of the world gets destroyed, the only character given an actual death scene is the guy who watered Brent Spiner’s plants while he was in a coma. Seriously. No such courtesy is granted for Vivica A Fox – her character’s demise is over so fast the audience barely has time to register it, let alone for them to ask how or why she went from being a stripper in the original film to running a hospital in this one. I half expected her to return anyway, since Judd Hirsh somehow survives an Everest-sized tsunami without so much as a scratch or a headache, and goes on to have a thoroughly uninteresting side-plot with a group of personality-free orphans.
For the past decade at least, we’ve been inundated with blockbusters that have tried to out-do each other in terms of destruction porn, and I know I’m not the only one who is bored to death by it. Yes, you can create almost any image imaginable with CGI, but it still takes film-makers with serious skill to instil an audience with a sense of awe, and to make them care about the characters on screen. The first Independence Day achieved this by casting actors with humour and charisma, and by giving the big dramatic moments sufficient build-up. These elements earned enough goodwill from the audience to make us over-look the more ridiculous aspects of the plot, such as computer viruses that were somehow compatible with alien technology. At no point does this sequel earn any goodwill – it breezes through half-hearted call-backs (going back for a dog in moment of peril, a “close encounter” gag), and I would argue that its ridiculousness easily dwarfs that of the original. Let me put it this way – the Fast and the Furious franchise went from being about street-racing to featuring parachuting tanks and endless runway chases, but it had five or six installments to make that transition. Watching Resurgence, you can’t help but think that you’ve somehow missed out on several sequels worth of escalating silliness. And speaking of which, this film ends with a sequel-baiting sting so garish and cartoony, it surely ranks as one of the worst final minutes of a film in recent memory – “What are we waiting for? Let’s go kick some alien ass!”. Shudder.
I love the first Independence Day, and my biggest worry with this pitiful sequel is that people will watch it and go “it’s pretty much the same as the original”, forgetting that the original was in fact an infinitely better-crafted film. I urge you re-watch that and give Resurgence a miss, because if it does badly enough then maybe we’ll be spared an equally-terrible third instalment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★