As a critic, this is where I am suppose to tell you that Independence Day: Resurgence is just another needless sequel propped up for the summer box office. Most critics have already jumped on that overcrowded train, but I’ll just stay here at the station and report that it would be impossible for this to be a needless sequel since we knew this was in the pipeline even before the original debuted back in the summer of ’96. In this regard I wish my fellow critics well but grant them no points for originality.
Whatever you think of the original Independence Day it is hard, 20 years later, not to marvel at its initial impact. It was a curious concept gone mad: What would happen if you took a cheap 1950s-style alien-invasion plot and gave it $75,000,000 budget and an all-star cast? Add to that a breathtakingly ambitious ad campaign that still hasn’t been surpassed and you have a gorgeously junky $800,000,000 worldwide hit that has the good fortune to catch a multi-talented former TV star on his rise to the top. Was I on board? Sort of. While I didn’t fall in love with it, I spent a great deal of time trying to divert my fellow moviegoers to the much better Charlie Sheen sci-fi sleeper The Arrival which dropped three months earlier. I still think that’s a better film.
I wasn’t necessarily dismissive of Independence Day back in ’96 nor was I permissive of its faults. It has a brilliantly threatening tone in the first half building up to the alien invasion, but then after the initial assault, the movie kind of deflates and the second half felt a little flat. With a much less potent ad campaign, Independence Day: Resurgence didn’t quite get my hopes up. I went in knowing what I was in for, and not surprisingly that’s what I got.
The relief with Independence Day: Resurgence is that it is a true sequel. It isn’t trying to recreate the first film but to build up where the original left off. A generation after space aliens whomped the tar out of the human race, and subsequently got whomped back, the human race has built on what it has learned. The planet has become a global community that has utilized the alien technology to better itself. There are flying cars (FINALLY!!) and we humans have been smart enough to establish a self-defense plan just in case the Octopus Empire strikes back. The problem is that when they strike back, our defense system turns out to be woefully unsuited for what the aliens have brought with them.
I’ll remain mum on the spoilers but let us just say that on the return trip, the grudge-bearing aliens this time have a reason for declaring war on our planet that is slightly better laid out than in the first movie. The first time around, their purpose was for us to “Die!” Here the plan is a little more complicated, and involves issues that are not-so-subtly being held over for the third movie (oh BOY does this one leave an open door). Their attack on Earth has been supersized. What they wrought in the first movie has been ballooned up so much that their technology is threatening to break this planet in half. That means we get a lot of montobulous special effects sequences with giant things crashing into smaller things like cities and stuff.
Running from those special effects is a cast of at least two dozen characters, some of which are returning and some of which are new. The first hour of the movie is a long, and exhausting game of catch-up in which we are brought up to speed on the fate of the world, everyone’s individual problems, and the question of where the heck is Will Smith.
We meet new characters and catch up with old ones. The surprise is that the new characters are mostly boring and forgettable. They are played by young actors that I haven’t seen before and generally forgot about when they weren’t on screen. The only saving grace is Liam Hemsworth as a hotshot pilot whose job is to throw out all the one-liners in a role that is obviously meant to fill the absence of Will Smith. His absence is explained away in a disposable subplot that I don’t think is going to make anyone very happy.
The best roles are occupied by Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsh and Brent Spiner whose role as Dr. Okun has been vastly expanded and so has his crazy-man schtick. Goldblum knows the ropes here and gives us exactly what we expect – doing that thing where he stares into the middle distance while uttering technological portents of doom.
Doom is everywhere in this movie and the job of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin is to take everything about the first movie and make it bigger, louder and more spectacular. In that spirit they succeed, at least in terms of chaos, but the original had a sense of cold doom that this movie is missing. I give it points for plot (in that it actually has one) but I felt let down that the movie was missing those great moments that made the original memorable. There are cities destroyed here but nothing can match the tickling joy of the White House going up in flames in the original.
The special effects are the highlights in a movie that tries to be all highlights. While reviews and general consensus are determined to sink the movie like a stone, I have to say that I enjoyed the fact that I felt I was watching the same world as the first movie without feeling like I was watching a remake. It had surprises, especially in what the aliens are trying to do. I liked that about it. I liked that there was some thought put into this movie and that it doesn’t feel like an empty cash-grab. It hovers, it rattles, it shakes, it thunders and it booms. It does what I expected it to do and much to my surprise, I liked it even though I still think you should check out The Arrival instead. I’m still on that bandwagon.