Never underestimate the selling power of a charismatic cast and crew at the top of the their game. To truly understand the preceding sentence you need to admit a hard truth: Independence Day was a bad movie. On paper – both of the metaphorical and physical script kind – director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin’s 1996 blockbuster hit was filled with a slew of groan-inducing tropes, stereotypical characterizations, generous helpings of cheese and forehead-slapping narrative fumbles.
But – and you just knew there was a “but” coming – none of that seems to dim my unending enjoyment of it over the years thanks to a breakout star-making turn from Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum at his most lovable Jeff Goldblummiest, an iconic Presidential speech for the ages, Oscar-winning visual effects giving us unprecedented cinematic destruction for the time, and Emmerich and Devlin firing on all cylinders.
Independence Day: Resurgence has almost none of those elements to physically yank it up by the bootstraps out of its B-grade trappings and so just like that, we’re left wallowing in actual “bad movie” territory. At least it’s a bad movie that had some original thought put into it instead of just completely rehashing its predecessor, and looks good enough to be worth every cent of its $200 million budget. But is that enough?
Set 20 years after the devastating alien invasion of the first film, Resurgence finds humanity in a golden era. The global unity and camaraderie needed to beat back the invaders two decades ago has not only lasted but actually strengthened, resulting in unprecedented world peace. The advanced technology found in the downed alien ships has also allowed humanity’s scientific engineering to leap forward to the point where space travel is now an almost pedestrian occurrence, with Earth even sporting bases across the solar system, complete with shiny laser weapons and orbital defense platforms. That last point is of special attention as these advanced defenses were expressly built in case the alien invaders ever came back to finish what they started.
Well, they have. And this time they’ve brought a fleet/mothership so exponentially larger and meaner as to make the previous look like a collection of Happy Meal toys in comparison. And it isn’t long after showing up in a cataclysmic landing of fiery skies that these aliens get back to their favourite hobby of destroying global landmarks. Standing in their way this time is a plucky young cast with convenient franchise-building ties to the previous generation of heroes: Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), White House aide and daughter of ex-President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who now suffers from the debilitating mental after-effects of his alien contact; Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher), the hotshot pilot son of Will Smith’s now deceased war hero Captain Steven Hiller, desperate to live up to his father’s legacy; and Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Patricia’s pilot fiance and Dylan’s estranged friend who was drummed out of US military service after his reckless flying nearly killed them both.
They’re also assisted by US President Elizabath Lanford (Sela Ward), General Joshua Adams (William Fichtner) and of course Goldblum’s David Levinson. After saving the world once before, David has now become the head of the Earth Space Defense program, and has recently stumbled across some intriguing clues in Africa among the research of fellow ESD alum Dr Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) hinting that there’s more going on besides just the impending round two with these alien heavyweights. A hypothesis supported by glum African warlord/alien hunter Dikembe (DeObia Oparei) and scatterbrained Area 51 scientist Dr Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner), the latter of which miraculously recovers from his 20 year long coma right as the aliens show up. Dun dun duuuuuuunnn.
Then there’s also… well, a lot of characters actually. And practically all of them are completely superfluous. In fact, even some of the lead cast I just mentioned serve no real narrative purpose other than to pad out the film’s casting credits, as Emmerich and Devlin mistake character numeracy with character development. Even the so-called designated comic relief in the group offer no real comedy and the only relief is when they’re finally off-screen.
And while the original Independence Day springboarded Will Smith into a marquee headlining box office king status for years, I think it’s safe to say there’s no risk of that happening with Jessie Usher. Even in a film where most characters have the painful habit of speaking in movie poster taglines, the newcomers’ performance is an especially grimacing dud as he tries and fails to capture his progenitor’s charismatic spark. Even the usually dependable Goldblum seems to be off a step here, while the rapidly rising Monroe just offers fleeting distraction. At least Hemsworth can get into some kind of a groove in default action hero mode, even if his actions and that of his co-stars are often drenched in enough melted heapings of the most potent movie cheese that you can practically taste the gorgonzola.
But generally, people don’t go to disaster movies for the in-depth character studies or realistic human drama. No, you mostly turn up for these things to see shit get blown up good. And there’s definitely more blown up shit here than you can shake an alien dreadlock tentacle at. The problem is just that in the years since the original film oh so famously destroyed the Presidents’ house in that iconic conflagration of visual effects, the advent of CGI has made this fairly commonplace. This is a marked as case of de ja boom as we’ve simply seen these explosions before. And yes, there is an undeniable high definition prettiness to it as yet another noisy wave of pixels is violently smashed up against even more pixels, but there’s not much in the way of actual visual inventiveness happening here.
The script does boast a monstrously enjoyable development in its third act though, and some intriguingly big sci-fi world-building ideas that could propel this franchise into very ripe territory, but it gets there via some terribly clunky narrative leaps. I have to give Emmerich and co credit though for actually even stepping into that potentially exciting direction – actually kindling a measure of hope inside me for a third movie – but with no quote-worthy star presence to sell all the hokey dialogue and half-baked scenes, or forget about all the smothering lactic fumbles, this long awaited sequel is not so much resurgent as it is disappointing.
Last Updated: June 21, 2016