20 years ago, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day set the template for the blockbuster of the CGI era. It was a film that leaned heavily on the past, coasted by some excellent casting and a sense of humor, and packed theaters worldwide with an excellent marketing campaign. ID4 had one thing that stood out: special effects that we had never seen before. The mixture of practical and digital effects were revolutionary, and ID4 offered a new form of spectacle that overshadowed the lack of substance. The movie laid the foundation for Will Smith the movie star and was the highest grossing movie of 1996. Of course the studio would want a sequel, but Smith moved on to become one of the last big movie stars and bombastic inanity of Roland Emmerich’s movies would lose their allure with each subsequent movie. It seemed that a sequel would never happen – and rightfully so.
20 years later, Roland Emmerich has delivered his sequel with Independence Day: Resurgence, a wholly unnecessary film that is obviously edited down for time as well as being an overwhelming exercise of hoping some digital effects will suffice for story and character. Even if you believe (as I do) that ID4 isn’t a good movie, it had something new within its frames. ID:R has something you’ve seen over and over and over to varying degrees of failure (though sometimes box office success) – an unnecessary continuation that hopes a bit of nostalgia can make up for the lack of imagination.
Independence Day: Resurgence has to open with a voiceover from President Lanford (Sela Ward) explaining a parallel universe spending the past two decades rebuilding and preparing. 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and every other major international conflict since 1996 hasn’t happened in this world. It’s odd how this is a movie that’s about how humanity had 20 years to prepare and were still ill-prepared. Yet there are no political squabbles in this brave new post-alien invasion world. Humanity has united and a base on the moon is the first line of defense against any potential alien resurgence. Stationed on the moon base is the pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), a renegade, a maverick, a cliché.
Jake’s Earth-bound fiancé is Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the daughter of President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) from the last movie and currently works as an aide to the current president. Patricia was a pilot until she shunned aviation to take care of her tormented father who is suffering from a horrible case of bearded eccentricity. Meanwhile, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is a key figure in studying the patterns of the aliens and is in Africa researching the remains of a crashed ship with his colleague and former lover Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Then a mysterious alien ship arrives out of nowhere and humanity’s first instinct is to blow it to smithereens. Jake hijacks a ship from the moon base, travels down to Africa to pick up David and company, takes them back to the moon to investigate the wreckage when a massive alien ship presents itself. It destroys the moon base and is slowly heading towards Earth. Even the great fighter pilots led by Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Will Smith’s character who is killed off with a line of dialogue, can stop this second invasion which destroys all these rebuilt cities.
The indiscriminate destruction caused by these aliens doesn’t offer even the slightest originality with its mayhem. We’ve seen objects randomly lifted from the ground and dropped upon Earth as major cities are laid waste in countless other blockbusters since ID4, and Emmerich fills his unnecessary sequel with these incredibly derivative displays of destruction. Even the very nature of this destruction is poorly presented as the audience is never given any form of geographical bearing as to the breadth of this catastrophic event. It’s just big – Asia to England big or something like that.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Independence Day: Resurgence is that it took five credited writers (Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, James Vanderbilt, and Emmerich) to craft a story as dopey and ineffectual as this. Whereas the original film used the disaster movie trope of an expansive cast of characters that will be sacrificed to raise the dramatic stakes of the story, ID:R introduces a bunch of characters but only dares to kill off a few. All of this CGI mayhem feels weightless and boring with bland characters engaged in a story with suspense. With two decades to create something that feels as equally new and exciting as its predecessor, ID:R is indistinguishable from countless other narratively dopey exercise of computer generated masturbation.
Jeff Goldblum tries to inject a bit of charm into ID:R with a typically reliable Goldblum performance, but everything that surrounds him lacks personality that he’s lost in this incomprehensible mess. Also returning is Bill Pullman who basically falls into the role of Randy Quaid – not Quaid’s character from the previous film, but the mentally ill actor fearful of the murderous illuminati. Brent Spiner also returns as Dr. Brakish Okun, who apparently was only placed into a coma after the events of the last film, and shares a conversation with the film’s true hero – a magical talking space orb. Even Judd Hirsch reprises his role as David’s father from the first film, and the veteran actor is tasked with driving a school bus of children to Area 51 where he happens to arrive during the film’s climactic battle.
Of the new cast, nobody avails themselves of the dreck before them. Once again, Liam Hemsworth give a wholly unremarkable performance as does Jessie T. Usher. Each of these young actors brings nothing to screen: no wit, no energy, and the fact that they talk is the only thing that makes them stand apart from the film’s sets. Sadly, the same could be said of the talented Maika Monroe; the young actress is presented with a role that requires her to look teary-eyed as the men in her life put themselves in danger. Whether new or old, the characters of ID:R don’t really have challenges or story arcs, just a series of inane events that conclude with a tease for another sequel that’ll likely never happen.
20 years later, you may be wondering “Why even make a sequel to Independence Day at all?” It’s a question that Independence Day: Resurgence is incapable of answering. There’s not a moment of innovation or excitement in the film. ID:R isn’t even entertainingly bad, it’s just boring. Whatever moments that were excised in editing to get the film to two hours was an act of mercy as the film feels ridiculously long as it is. This feels like a blockbuster that entered and finished production without a finished script, where everyone involved hoped a few moments of spectacle would suffice. Nothing suffices in this unnecessary attempt to coast on nostalgia.
Independence Day: Resurgence
- Overall Score
Unbearable and unnecessary, Independence Day: Resurgence is dopey, boring sequel to the 1996 alien invasion hit.