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, Judd Hirsch and Deobia Oparei.
Twenty years after launching a devastating attack on Earth, alien invaders return to destroy the planet and only survivors from the War of 1996, and the Earth Space Defense, can stop them…
Twenty years. Twenty years since Independence Day. You can scarcely believe it’s been that long since Roland Emmerich, alongside writing/producing partner Dean Devlin, delivered one of the defining movies of the 1990’s – a big, bold blockbuster filled with cheesy punch the air bombast, pro-American sentiment, and a blend of huge Hollywood stars with great character actors. Over the last two decades, many rumours have come and gone about a sequel to such a beloved behemoth, and it reached a point when nobody thought Independence Day: Resurgence would ever happen… yet here we are.
After all this time, Emmerich & Devlin deliver a follow up which attempts to bring back the alien invaders to a slightly alternate modern day Earth, enhanced by recovered alien technology following the attack in 1996, where all nations have united in global peace to prepare for the day they came back, and with twenty years of advanced CGI at their disposal seek to wow us once again as they did in the mid-90’s. Unfortunately, it’s a trick you swiftly realise they can’t pull off twice.
It starts in fairly breezy fashion though, giving you some hope we may get a worthy follow up; an ominous opening credits beat establishes how the aliens are returning, the first act steadily reintroduces returning beloved characters from the first film – a now mentally ailing Bill Pullman as ex-President Whitmore, leading scientist Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson out in deepest Africa hunting for alien secrets alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Euro-totty Catherine, and the grown up versions of the engaging kids from the original film – Jessie Usher as Dillon Hiller, now an Army Captain like his off-screen deceased father (when Will Smith elected not to return), and Maika Monroe as plucky White House officer/pilot Patricia Whitmore.
Emmerich & Devlin establish new characters, principally Liam Hemsworth’s cocky moon base pilot Jake, around him an assortment of fairly annoying co-pilots, and they layer in a plot which beyond the aliens returning actually has an element of deeper mystery. Then, ironically, it’s when the aliens actually arrive everything begins to plunge to the ground, much like the skyscrapers & planes that the alien ships’ gravity collapses onto London with explosive effect. It’s the point when the film crashes and burns into nothing more than a blatant xerox of everything the original film did to make you smile and cheer, only without the smiling and cheering. Rarely has a sequel cribbed so ashamedly from its previous film.
One can’t overestimate enough, either, how much this film needed some Big Willie style. His absence is a powerful vacuum that sucks away at the picture, much like the absent charisma of Usher who attempts to play a slightly more conflicted, morose version of his father, making you wince when he regurgitates lines Smith slam dunked the first time around; Hemsworth is just bland male action fodder, involved in a lifeless and charisma-less romance with Monroe, who deserved better; Patricia basically spends the whole film looking anguished, and even when she does get into a fighter jet she cocks it up.
What about the elder statesmen? Pullman’s arc is almost identical to Randy Quaid’s in the original. Goldblum acquits himself well but by the climax gets almost nothing of importance to do. Judd Hirsch, a delight in the original, is relegated to a truly pointless, screen-time eating sub-plot. Brent Spiner probably comes out the best, when the script isn’t making fun of him; he gets a lot more as Dr. Okun this time around, ending up relatively pivotal, but it’s left to smaller characters such as Deobia Oparei as a badass African warlord to steal what scenes they do have. The back half of the film ends up so desperately protracted, with some painful moments of exposition (blatantly setting up film three) and a climax that drags and drags and drags to the point it’s a relief when it’s finally over.
Make no mistake – Independence Day: Resurgence is not a bad movie. It’s not even the worst blockbuster this year. To an extent it’s technically proficient, it has some decent world building that deserves greater focus, and it does attempt to frame what is essentially the same story in a slightly different, modern, semi-futuristic context. The problem is that the second half especially is frequently very very boring; a litany of dull or irritating new characters, alongside underused original ones who often deserved better, plodding through a loud, explosive plot which almost literally in places regurgitates narrative beats and lines from the original film, without even a whiff of their comic timing, originality or sense of fun. That’s what’s missing more than anything. Fun.
Where the first film was a joyously over the top event blockbuster, this is just like any other big budget Hollywood picture these days – loud, occasionally diverting, but with nothing to say. Only bother if you’re an ID4 completist, or like the idea of a plane falling on London Bridge.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.
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