Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Nicholas Wright & James A. Woods and Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt
Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsh, Brent Spiner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Deobia Oparei
Amidst the rash of sequels made over ten years after their original or previous chapter, we get Independence Day: Resurgence, the long awaited sequel to the 1996 blockbuster hit Independence Day. It’s kind of interesting revisiting this world, now given the time to realize the original is kind of ham-handed when you have to watch it on TV instead of on a massive screen (at 15, I saw the original twice in the theaters and declared Roland Emmerich’s career to be ‘made’…how naïve I was). The original isn’t really a bad film, but it’s not a particularly good one either, but its legend looms large because it’s really our only disaster film but this one tries a little too hard to capitalize on nostalgia for the first film instead of trying to tell its own story.
That story is that 20 years after we defeated the alien invasion of 1996, the aliens are back. Some know this is going to happen, such as David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum, reprising his roll), the scientist who had developed the virus that disabled the mother ship in 1996. Others that are foreseeing it due to a telepathic connection to the remaining aliens (all locked away in Area 51) are former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman, also reprising his roll), who is seen more as a kook than anything now and the new dictator of an African nation Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei). He has finally let the UN into his country to study the only ship that landed in ’96, along with French psychologist Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg). They all get whisked away when an alien craft is spotted over the moon and is shot down by new defenses based on the recovered alien tech. They’re picked up by Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) (who is engaged to former President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia, played by Maika Monroe and also trained with Dylan Hiller, played by Jessie T. Usher, the son of Will Smith’s character from the first film, who has been killed off due to Smith likely thinking he was too big a star for the film…or scheduling conflicts…) and taken to the moon to recover a sphere that is not tech from the aliens that attacked us before…
Okay, so this is all somewhat convoluted, but that is to be expected from a film of this kind. The script by five writers, each credited for their passes on the screenplay are Nicholas Wright & James A. Woods, Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich (the screenwriters and the latter the director of the original) and James Vanderbilt (the & means they worked together, while the and means they contributed other drafts or augmented existing drafts enough to warrant WGA credits). With that many screenwriters taking passes at the script, it’s going to get convoluted, it’s just a shame that it didn’t get any tighter or have and real character development. Still, this is an epic disaster film, so character is often pushed to the sidelines in favor of seeing something new blow up and that’s exactly what happened here. There’s so much packed into this two-hour film that Jeff Goldblum doesn’t even have enough time to stutter much (though he, Brent Spiner and Judd Hirsh are the most enjoyable characters in the film). What this does is it removes a lot of the personal stories that rooted us in these original characters in the first place and tries to implore us on a global scale with no one to feel for. There are some sentimental moments, but they’re rushed over and dealt with so quickly that they don’t have the impact that they should. One character’s death could have been extremely heroic, but his attempt ultimately failed and his death was almost in vain (though it did give an opening to victory). There are also attempts to recreate the President Whitmore speech from ID4, but to no avail. That speech (which still makes me tear up) was the linchpin for the first film and there is an echo of it in Dylan’s speech to the pilots, even an attempt at one from Whitmore himself (delivered in a voice about half an octave above his normal speaking voice, which was odd to say the least), but nothing like the rousing, blood pumping “Today, we celebrate…our Independence Day!”. If you can’t do something to match it, don’t try it at all. The ending is also a bit hollow because it basically leads into the already announced ID4 3, giving the film no real conclusion but also without leaving it with a cliffhanger, a la Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Emmerich is back in the director’s seat after 20 years of lackluster films like Godzilla, The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, 2012 and White House Down. This time, it feels like he’s trying to recapture the techniques of Independence Day by using obvious process shots (that could easily be cleaned up given today’s technology) while fully embracing some of the newer capabilities of digital effects, making the ship much larger (it takes up about 1/3 of the planet) and some really good-looking and exciting aerial dog fights. He makes the creatures look more realistic this time around too, instead of rubbery like the time dictated for the first one. His actual direction doesn’t account for much, though. Aside from the visual effects, the film looks kind of flat and boring. He doesn’t get any rousing performances out of his actors either, instead servicing the entirety of the film to the plot, like he was under the control of some old Studio System producers that cut anything artistic that didn’t serve the advancement of the plot.
Independence Day: Resurgence ends up being a lot of second-verse-same-as-the-first, utilizing much of the same plot devices from the first film (which is noted by David as he formulates a plan to defeat them again), which is kind of disappointing. If this film had come out closer to the original, perhaps they would have worked harder to be original instead of making it echo the original so much. Sometimes this echoing of a beloved film works fantastically, as in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but that is because they use the originals yet still tell a largely original story (despite some major plot points). That’s not what they did for Resurgence. They didn’t do it badly; they just didn’t put as much effort into making this one stand out from the original. It’s a reasonably good time, and evokes what is loved about Independence Day, but does little to distinguish itself against it.