'Independence Day Resurgence'
Twenty years ago, Roland Emmerich became an open wound on the side of Hollywood that still refuses to heal. His “Aliens make monuments go boom” disaster movie ‘Independence Day’ served up some of the finest practical effects footage ever produced before CGI took over the industry, along with a garbage dump worth of soap opera drama. Now, two decades later, he’s back with a desperate follow-up that’s every bit as bad as you think it is, except for when it’s somehow worse.
The original ‘Independence Day’ was a massive hit, enough that Emmerich has been able to finance any crappy idea he’s had so long as it involved worldwide catastrophe. That series of unfortunate events ensured that his brand of tediously brain dead entertainment would last for decades. Even when he finally strung together enough box office disappointments to struggle in his career, he could always get an ‘Independence Day’ sequel made.
You might think that with twenty years to come up with a sequel, Emmerich might have thought of a clever idea or at least something that made a little bit of sense. Nope. He and a team of four other writers have delivered a movie that feels like it was written the night before production began.
Here’s the big twist: Aliens show up in a massive ship that lands on the Earth to destroy a bunch of cities. (Thankfully, the world reconstructed a few major landmarks from last time so they could get blown up again.) In the ensuing decades, Jeff Goldblum has helped facilitate a worldwide adoption of alien technology that has given Earth’s armies laser guns and hover planes. Pretty sweet, huh? You might wonder how a satellite technician could instantly understand alien technology, but don’t forget – this is the guy who hacked into an alien mothership with an Apple laptop. So, the logic totally checks out.
Once again, everyone goes into a panic when the aliens show up, but this time those baddies start blowin’ things up right away. After that, former President Bill Bullman rises from retirement with a massive beard and resumes his natural talent of giving speeches that inspire everyone in his general vicinity. His daughter (Maika Monroe) is a fighter pilot standing by his side. Her fiancé is Liam Hemsworth, a wildman pilot himself who’s needed to lead Earth’s flying forces into battle. He’s also frenemies with a departed Will Smith’s son (Jessie T. Usher) in a role that was clearly hastily rewritten to be an offspring when the big star wouldn’t return.
Judd Hirsh runs around helping children and making silly jokes for some reason, and Brent Spiner rises from a coma with all sorts of alien symbols stuck in his head. Why are these subplots there? ‘Cuz those characters were in the last movie, dummy. It doesn’t matter if they fit into this one or not. Contracts were signed and they needed to get crammed in somehow. Other people bumble around this mess too (including Charlotte Gainsbourg, of all people), but there’s no point describing who they are or what they’re doing. The screenwriters barely cared about these characters, so why should you?
As you may have gathered, this is an overstuffed script even though it’s essentially about nothing. Characters disappear and return seemingly at random in a hodgepodge narrative that’s somehow convoluted despite being easily summed up as follows: Aliens kill humans, humans kill them back, repeat.
Granted, the last movie wasn’t exactly a model of clear and concise writing either, but at least it could follow a basic alien invasion/disaster movie template. ‘Resurgence’ constantly struggles to justify its own existence and the return of a vast cast of characters without ever settling into a story of its own that’s remotely worth telling. By the time all the pieces are finally in place and the humans need to fight back, so much time has been wasted that the screenwriters are reduced to introducing a magical space ball that instantly solves all of the characters’ problems. Why? I find it impossible to believe any of the five writers involved in this screenplay have any idea, but they excuse themselves from having to explain things by leaving that mystery open for a sequel… Yes, this sucker sets up a sequel rather than concluding. God willing, not enough people will show up for that to happen.
To say that the sequel to ‘Independence Day’ is poorly written and awkwardly acted is hardly a surprise. Even those viewers somehow excited to see this silly waste of Hollywood resources will surely assume as much. The real question is whether or not all the intergalactic boom-boom is worth seeing on a big screen. That’s all anyone remembers from the original anyway. Unfortunately, not so much. Pretty much all the city-destroying money shots were in the trailer and aren’t all that exciting. As for the big human vs. alien battles? Well, it’s just some dull shots of ships flying around and shooting each other cut together almost incomprehensibly with the occasional shot of a semi-famous actor wincing in a cockpit. In an age when destructive blockbusters are a dime a dozen, Emmerich’s old tricks just aren’t very interesting anymore, and the CGI sheen makes them all feel the same.
Worst of all, since 95% of the human element of the movie was shot on a soundstage, this theoretical epic feels oddly small. It’s a series of tight interiors and clearly phony CGI landscapes. The whole movie feels like it was made in offices and closets. None of the shock and awe scale that made the last flick special makes a return.
More than anything else, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ feels like a movie out of date and out of place. It was supposed to play as ’90s nostalgia, but given that the original movie was dripping in 1950s disaster/sci-fi nostalgia, this sequel seems to be hitting screens a few extra decades too late. Every climatic moment is either ripped off from a previous blockbuster or feels like the setup to the real climax in a current blockbuster. Then, beyond all those empty spectacle disappointments, the movie serves up a gobbledygook plot, laugh-out-loud groaner dialogue, and a series of characters who are either irritatingly clichéd or offensively stereotypical. (I didn’t even get into the machete-chopping warlord character who would have seemed racist even in a 1930s studio product.)
The whole mess is an insult to paying audiences, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone involved is proud of the work they did, even if they’re all rather pleased with the money they made. With a little luck, this won’t just kill off the ‘Independence Day’ franchise for good, it’ll also make Roland Emmerich go away for a while. Chances are that’s all just wishful thinking on my part and the next crap sequel to this crap franchise will be greenlit within a few weeks. But hey, I’m an optimist and I can dream.