‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ Review: Payback’s a Bitch

'Independence Day Resurgence'

Movie Rating:


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.

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  1. Rotten Tomatoes has it tracking at 56% so more than half the reviewers say it’s “Fresh.”
    And polls indicate 98% of movie goers want to see it.
    So bottom line Philip – actual technical analysis aside and just your popcorn and soda, you still give it a 1/5?

  2. ONE star? Now I HAVE to see this, just to see if I agree. But I loved the first movie for all it’s faults. It was made during a time when there wasn’t very much in terms of ‘popcorn’ sci-fi on movie screens, and I remember it reminding me very much of the ‘Star Wars’ movies in terms of fun.

    • Phil

      I’ll never forget the joy I experienced watching Independence Day as a child…this is not that. I wish it was.

        • Phil

          Yep. Have the bluray. Cheesy to the point of accidental hilarity and fantastic practical effects. It’s a good time. This is not.

          • I have a good friend who loved the first movie (maybe more than I did) and he said this sequel was “boring”, which is enough for me to stay away until it hits home video. He said Brent Spiner was the only enjoyable thing in the movie.

          • William Henley

            Your friend has it right. Brett Spiner was the only thing that saved this movie from being a 0 star

  3. Were it even possible for aliens to live on another planet outside the one they evolved on, which is very unlikely for the reasons pointed out in War of the Worlds, they would not try to remove the current inhabitants through brute force combat. They would simply release a deadly virus that wipes them all out. No muss, no fuss, come back later and move in.

  4. Scott

    I wouldn’t go see this if someone gave me free tickets. Emmerich is the biggest hack in all of Hollywood. His movies are all crap (I have seen a few of them), and it’s amazing people are dumb enough to pay money to see them. God I hope this movie bombs so these pathetically written disaster porn movies can go the way of the dinosaurs.

      • How is he the biggest Hack? he’s barely done anything, he did the awesome Equilibrium and then got all kinds of studio crap with Ultraviolet, didnt think he did much after that, and I’m amazed that anyone would mention Emmerich over Bay 😉

        Both do horribly cheesy movies with zero plot, but I like Emmerich’s films for what they are, visuals and disaster, Bay blows stuff up better than anyone and I also enjoy his visuals and how he films his action, other than that the movies are summer dumb crap, but thats why I like them 🙂

  5. Personally, I rather enjoyed Resurgence. Is it a good movie? No. No it isn’t. It certainly has a lot of problems, the lack of Will Smith, being one of the biggest. I didn’t hate it as much as some people have, but they should have called the movie Independence Day: Cliche, because holy shit it’s riddled with them, and not all in a good way. I loved the way the aliens looked and how they moved, that huge ship was pretty spectacular. The action isn’t particularly terrible. The first movie embraced its heritage and it’s inspirations, this one doesn’t, and it shows. I’m honestly a fan of Roland Emmerich’s movies….mostly. When it comes to destroying the world, few people do it as well as he does. But that’s MY opinion.

    • I totally agree, seeing this next weekend, my wife and I love the original and most of Emmerich’s cheesy movies (yes even 2012), so I’m still excited to check this out 🙂

  6. William Henley

    I went into this movie completely blind – I hadn’t seen a single trailer, commercial, or read a single review – I actually didn’t realize it was opening this weekend – I assumed it would be next weekend, until my buddy called me up and reminded me.

    First let me say, BIG fan of the first movie. Saw it multiple times at the theater, owned it on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray. My family watches it religiously every Fourth of July.

    (Slight spoilers ahead)

    This movie was AWFUL! The begining of the movie feels like it was stolen from the Lost In Space movie (yeah, that is the impression we want to give people, we ripped a scene off of an awful 90s movie) followed by a first contact with The Borg Sphere, lousy science (that ship is still smaller than the planet, its gravitational pull should not be greater than the Earth’s), the size of the alien at the end is inconsistant with the images they were showing earlier in the film, travel time is stupid (we can get from the Earth to the moon in seconds, but takes an alien ship a good, what was it, 30 minutes, an hour, to travel from the East coast to Nevada, because, story convienance). Characters from the first movie are brought back together through awful explanations that are completely unbelievable, and no one bothers to pack a cell phone to call their loved ones to see if they are okay (yet, 2016 with future technology). Cliche alien robot, reminds me of Flight of the Navigator and Deep Thought from the HGTTG movie rolled into one. No explanation given about how people survive events. 10-12 year old girl given dialogue of a 5 year old, Half of the characters, you forget who is who. Tons of subplots that go no where (alien language, Jeff Goldblum’s girlfriend, why Data is in a coma, the story behind a 22 year old laser and why it can suddenly cut through alien metal, and why wasn’t it used before, other than that it overheats), the subplot as to why that one ship actually landed in 1996, or why the warlord didn’t share his knowledge with the rest of the world.

    Even for a popcorn flick, this movie is BAD – we are talking Transformers 2 and 3 bad.

    Thanks Phil for having the balls to give this movie one star

  7. Thulsadoom

    My girlfriend and I really enjoyed it. 🙂 It was pretty much exactly what I expected. Silly, Alien Invasion fun! It’s pretty much exactly what the first film was. I’m not going to defend its flaws, but I’ll say they’re no worse than the first film. Less plot holes, more visual splender and excitement and more fun characters than the new Star Wars! 😀 (Yes, yes… I know… I just couldn’t resist taking a dig at that awful film)

  8. Chapz Kilud

    The only reason this movie might break even is because of the popular Chinese actress Angelababy in the movie. I think it’s going to be very lame if Hollywood starts hiring Chinese actress to boost revenue on movies they know will tank in U.S.. Li Bing Bing did for Transformers Age of Extinction. X-Men Day of Future Past was a very good movie, but having Fan Bing Bing also helped box office in China, even though all she said in the movie was “They are here”.

  9. Chapz Kilud

    Will Smith would have helped a lot, at least from nostalgia effect. But he wanted a big paycheck (reportedly 50 mil for two sequels). Fox should have told Will Smith “This movie sucks. We’ll give you 20 mil for this and 30 mil for ID3”. Even with Will Smith there won’t be another Independence Day movie, at least I hope they won’t make another one attacking the aliens.

  10. Saw it yesterday, I enjoyed myself and its exactly what I expected it to be. Cheesy story, cheesy dialog and FX and explosions. What I’m more interested in though is the thought of where this franchise could possibly go, who knows if it will get there but that idea has me quite interested.

    Overall though it was fine, nothing great and nothing terrible, which seems to be the consensus for quite a lot of movies lately, but I got my money’s worth and so did my wife 🙂

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