So, first things first to financially doom the imminent sequel of Independence Day – 20 years passed between its release and its sequel. Not only is 20 years enough for everyone to forget or dismiss the staple of any effects extravaganza (I like to hope most of the movie-watching world looked back and gave it a “OK, it’s junk food at best, but not a good movie” attitude), it’s also enough time for director/co-writer Roland Emmerich and producer/co-writer Dean Devlin – by then having broken up for a bit before returning in 2016 for the production of this sequel – to lose all the possible goodwill they’ve gained from their earlier hits. Emmerich did not have a single positive critical reception to his films since the mild admiration of The Patriot and not a commercial one either since 2012 (in particular, he was coming out of the huge battering of controversy Stonewall received). Devlin himself didn’t have an commercial hits since their break-up either and apparently the crash of Flyboys burned him enough to not produce movies for a whole decade. So, I can understand why Emmerich and Devlin wanted to go back to the good ol’ days of when they made the biggest movie of the year, but I can’t imagine how they didn’t figure themselves so forgotten as a household name that it would fall on its face. And this is while forgiving how utterly lackluster 2016 was a movie summer.
Although, to be fair to Independence Day: Resurgence, it puts that passage of time to almost ingenious use.
It IS 20 years later. 2016, it tries to claim with the term “War of 1996” to describe the events of the original and the mathematical disarray that causes irks the hell outta me, but I’ll allow it. And it teases, for a brief snippet of its runtime, to be a sort of speculative science fiction picture – 2016 in the world where we fought and beat the aliens is a utopia for the Western world (there’s clearly a fear towards Africa for the sudden warlord atmosphere post-invasion). We’ve harvested the alien technology from our invaders and applied to our own infrastructure and livelihood that it gives us flying ships and bigger damner buildings and stations on the moon and Saturn and WORLD PEACE (still ignoring the fact that Africa has had to literally fight off the aliens tooth and nail up to this point in the film). The potential social and scientific complexities of this premise are endless and would have been interesting to see if it were that kind of film.
Independence Day: Resurgence is not that kind of film*. It’s the kind of film where instead we watch Asia get literally scraped the fuck off the crust of the Earth and landed on Europe like a good ol’ ham sandwich. The complications come instead from trying to conflate the return of our invaders with a new race of species we hadn’t known and the global ramifications of it.
For it turns out, there are more of those violent invaders on their way with a much bigger ship, but the United Nations of the World used up all their good firepower on the most peaceful looking Heart of Gold-looking A.I. ever and so are helpless when the gigantic mothership shows up and causes heavy destruction to Earth (but not enough to destroy somehow, thanks be to their mercy!) while extinguishing both their Saturn station (off-screen) and their nice ol’ moon station. Unfortunately, even if you try to arbitrarily make it bigger than before, doing the same thing twice just knocks off the luster from your former work and makes it look embarrassing.
So, no, while it’s all fine CGI spectacle with no mind towards physics whatsoever, it’s not as awe-inspiring as it was back when Emmerich and Devlin were trying to show Spielberg how it was done back in ’96 and since that’s the only thing the original Independence Day had going for it, you can expect not that much more for Resurgence to offer. Though it tries, oh lord it tries.
It tries to promise once again more compelling human drama (even though the last film had none of that) in the form of its gigantic cast of stereotypes and non-entities, but of course there’s no Will Smith. Obviously, there’s no Will Smith. He and Mae Whitman (who was atrociously ignored) dodged a damn bullet with not coming back. Returning is Bill Pullman now letting his stunted delivery be a trait to his ex-President Whitmore’s trauma, Jeff Goldblum still around with whatever knowing irony he can add to his role (yet clearly tired at having to do this again), Judd Hirsch as his “needs to be anywhere else” father, Brent Spiner back from the dead in desperation for familiar faces. And then there’s the new guys, most of them deserving better (namely Maika Monroe, going from It Follows and The Guest to replacing Whitman as the First Daughter, and Charlotte “Daughter of One of the Greatest Songwriters Ever and I’m the Only Woman Willing to Work with Lars von Trier More Than Once” Gainsbourg) and Liam Hemsworth absolutely deserving everything he gets for playing our replacement for Smith’s Captain Hiller – Jake Morrison, a hotshot pilot who’s so hot shit he nearly kills Hiller’s pilot son Dylan (Jessie Usher) in a test flight but we’re supposed to like his entitled cockiness because he’s an orphan.
I will give Resurgence this, its action and destruction porn sequences are not at all broken. This is Michael Bay incoherence here, we clearly know the objective of each dogfight and each battle have no trouble following along the slightly entertaining climax (which feels like Emmerich trying to re-do his terrible Godzilla film and get something decent out of it), so thanks be to editor Adam Wolfe for bringing some kind of adequacy to the film. But it’s not enough when the second verse is less than the first and I’m not gonna pretend that even coming in with low expectations didn’t prevent this from being a disastrous disappointment.