Independence Day: Resurgence and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Roland Emmerich
With this movie, the Scream TV series, and the Power Puff Girls reboot, the late nineties are coming back in full force which I guess is gonna make some people happy. Sure enough, we’ll end up beating that decade to death like we did the eighties, but for now the idea of bringing some of this stuff back is still somewhat novel, though if ANYTHING is gonna kill any love we have for that period of time, it might just be this movie. Well that’s not fair. The first one had a long list of talented actors, and at least half of them have returned to this one! Not only that, but it’s been a REALLY good year for sequels so far, so maybe this one has a shot! Can this at least be as good as the original which is hardly the highest bar to set in the first place? Let’s find out!!
The movie picks up twenty years after the events of the first movie where the Earth has apparently advanced AT LEAST a hundred years in their technology due to the remnants of the alien invasion of 1996, and the world has also come together in peace so they can focus all that aggression towards outer space. Speaking of aggression, a day does come when another spaceship comes close to the planet and the humans end up shooting it down immediately despite David Levison (Jeff Goldblum) thinking it’s a mistake. He manages to enlist the help of bad boy space pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) to take him and whoever happened to be nearby when the spaceship landed up into space. Said people include a scientist (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a UN accountant (Nicolas Wright), and an African warlord (Deobia Oparel). Just roll with it. Anyway, they manage to find the spaceship they shout out of the sky somewhere on the moon and are ready to transport it back to Earth when the REAL alien invasion happens and instead of bringing a dozen big ships, they bring one HUMONGOUS ship to kick humanities ass! Will David Levison manage to stop the alien threat once again, though probably not with a Macbook this time? Just how many landmarks will the aliens target this time?
This is not a movie. Not really. It reminds me more of Sonic Generations, or Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, or whenever an old wrestler twenty years past their prime comes back to WWE. It’s a celebration of its own existence; only here to remind you how much fun the original was and to give you nostalgic recreations of scenes you liked in the original. I guess that if you look at it from that perspective it does manage to be a serviceable experience as there is fun to be had with how absolutely aware Roland Emmerich is about how cynical the whole enterprise is, but it’s still a huge slog to sit through as the guy has either not learned or is intentionally ignoring the fact that giant CGI explosion-fests don’t have the same impact that they did back when these kind of effects weren’t in every summer blockbuster.
What’s kinda disappointing about all this is that I actually liked a lot of the new stuff they were introducing in here which ends up being background noise for the parts where they’re trying SO hard to remind you that Independence Day was an awesome movie. I’m actually surprised at how much I liked the new Sci-fi aesthetic considering how stupid I thought it was to change the setting so drastically between films. It’s refreshingly unconcerned about making the setting any more believable than a Star Trek episode and yet it still manages to be easy to grasp without much exposition. Instead of the soldiers being in locker rooms and getting debriefed at Army base, they’re in locker rooms and getting debriefed on a moon base. People still have cell phones, but now you can get a signal anywhere on the planet and you can connect to people in outer space. It’s kind of refreshing to see something so unabashedly Gee Whiz fun sci-fi rather than the washed out TOTALLY realistic look we get in other modern day sci-fi films like The Martian or Interstellar.
On top of that, the characters across the board are rather entertaining to see onscreen, though the people returning are the definite highlights. Jeff Goldblum is a natural star and carries every scene he’s in which makes it all the more shameful that he’s been relegated to a TV notable rather than a Hollywood Super Star in the last decade or so. I mean sure, he’s playing Jeff GoldblumTM, but always playing yourself never stopped Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, Robert De Niro, or even Morgan Freeman from being some of the most well-known actors of all time! He also does a lot to ground this movie as his matter of fact delivery and reactions to concepts like spaceships, walking on the moon, and even gigantic alien monsters with laser beams, makes it easier for us to adjust to the new setting. Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, Judd Hirsch, and everyone else do just fine in roles that only exist to remind us why we liked their characters in the first place, though Pullman does stand out a bit by having some bad ass moments in here. Brent Spiner is the odd one out though as his role got SUPER beefed up in this movie (which is an achievement considering he was presumed dead in the last one), and his character goes from the out of touch nerd to the biggest source of heart in this movie; especially when he’s interacting with John Storey. I didn’t know this going in, but these two are supposed to be a gay couple and it’s VERY clear in the movie that that was the direction they were heading in, but what’s strange is that it comes off as overt subtext more than a genuine relationship which is a baffling choice considering director Roland Emmerich was PROUD to tout the fact that there was in a fact a gay couple in this movie. Now what I mean by overt subtext is that the two have very unsubtle scenes of gay coding, but they never actually express their feelings for each other beyond a strong friendship. There’s no subtlety to their interactions, but there’s also no confirmation of their relationship within the movie itself, which is usually what happens when creators want a little bit of wiggle room as far as pissing off the less than accepting masses out there (*cough* Legend of Korra *cough*). That would be standard Hollywood cowardice if it was left at that, but what makes it weird is that, as I said, Roland Emmerich was not mincing words about there being a gay couple in this movie. So what was the point on holding back on their relationship like this? Why does the big dramatic moment where John Storey is about to confess his love for Brent Spiner turn into a joke!?
The new people are just fine with Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, Maika Monroe, Travis Tope, and Angelababy (no seriously, that’s the stage name for the actress playing the Chinese pilot) playing typical Aw Shucks Youngster roles and they end up having to carry the majority of this movie’s action scenes. Also, William Fichtner is in this, which automatically brings this movie up a couple of notches, and he does well as basically the new Robert Loggia. I guess Sela Ward does fine as the President of the United States, but she’s clearly a placeholder character as the only President this movie seems to care about is Bill Pullman. It’s a shame considering how good of an actress she is and yet she feels completely wasted here in a rather thankless role.
Unfortunately, the mostly strong cast and the decently realizes sci-fi aesthetic is kind of where the good stuff ends. We’ve got some great returning characters, solid new ones (I didn’t even mention the African Warlord or the nebbishy UN dude), and some nice sci-fi elements. Where the movie falls to pieces is when it’s ACTUALLY trying to be a movie and fails spectacularly at that. The first thirty minutes of this is nothing but exposition as they desperately to try to catch us up on all the characters the ways the world has changed since the first movie, and introduce all the new people. It’s a disservice to the actors here who don’t get to play characters and instead are reading off Wikipedia pages, and is especially rough on the new people who don’t have the benefit of the audience already liking them and knowing them from the first movie. Not only that, but the exposition is STILL not enough to explain what the fuck is going on! Did you know there was a freaking land war in Africa against the aliens? Yeah, they just gloss over THAT very important detail as the African Warlord has been fighting these fuckers since the first invasion and apparently NO ONE ELSE ON EARTH was interested enough in these aliens and their resources to do anything about it and instead let the locals take care of it! This guy also brings up another really dumb plot point which is that HE has managed to decipher the alien’s language, but no one else on Earth has; not even those who are researching them! For some reason we still don’t know shit about these aliens despite using their technology to advance our own and despite the massive ships that are collecting dust all over the planet. Fox has released a bunch of promotional videos leading up to the release of this movie that are documentaries set in the Independence Day universe, so maybe some of this is answered there. The movie’s not gonna get any points from me though if they are, but it honestly feels like we needed some sort of mini-series to lead up to this as it would be the perfect way to catch us up on what happened in the last twenties and would mean we didn’t have to waste so much time in this movie trying to do just that.
Then again, even when the plot gets going it’s a REALLY stupid plot which I guess is par for the course in this series, but it’s been twenty freaking years. It’s mostly just a remake of Independence Day anyway considering they recreate several scenes from the first movie in here which is odd because this is NOT a remake, but I guess that’s how you get people to check out your nostalgic throwback to what they liked when they were younger. Also, someone should have told them by now that having the ENTIRE alien fleet be controlled by is a played out concept and completely undermines any threat the invading force has. There’s really no tension in this movie which is not what you want from an alien invasion movie, but it’s sadly the case here. There’s no weight to any of the big special effects sequences, especially one in the middle that I think blows up about two thirds of the planet, but considering this is one of the early ones we know that it’s not going to have THAT much impact on the story (lest the movie couldn’t have a happy ending) and then we also know that this level of destruction is ultimately meaningless because of that. I mean if taking out a whole bunch of world powers in one fell swoop isn’t enough to stop the humans, why would the smaller skirmishes later on be any more threatening? One of the key things that made Independence Day memorable was its special effects and action sequences, but so much has changed since that movie came out and now the best it can hope to do is be a lesser imitator of bigger and better films.
So what can we learn from all this? Well I guess the first thing is that, at least for me, Independence Day’s charm was not in its special effects but in its earnestness and its likable characters which is why those elements tend to be the ones that work in this movie. The special effects of Independence Day were revolutionary at the time and are still cool to this day, but it’s just not enough to lean an entire movie on now that everyone and their cousin has already copied what they did back in 1996. I’m reminded somewhat of the John Carter movie which had a myriad of problems, but also suffered from trying to tell a story that many other successful films had already borrowed elements from already, so by the time THAT movie came out, what had made it special back in 1912 was what made it feel unoriginal in 2012. It’s even worse here considering that special effects have a WAY shorter lifespan and so returning to the well without a really solid hook was probably destined to end this way. I’ll give them credit for trying (especially in regards to the new sci-fi setting), but’s it’s just not enough. I wouldn’t recommend seeing this in the theaters, but it’s definitely worth checking out once it’s made its home release; especially considering the best part is the stuff that’ll hardly require the theater going experience. Trust me, the love between Brent Spiner and John Storey is just as magical whether you’re watching it at your local multiplex or watching it on your couch.
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