March 2023

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

ID42DIRECTOR: Roland Emmerich

CAST: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe, Judd Hirsch, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sela Ward


It feels a little odd to complain about a movie being “big, dumb, brainless summer entertainment” when it’s a sequel to a movie, 1996’s blockbuster Independence Day, that could be described with that same quote, but not only does Independence Day: Resurgence join London Has Fallen among this spring/summer’s superfluous sequels, but this long-gestating follow-up also manages to fall short of a predecessor that wasn’t that great to begin with.  I admit to having a bit of a nostalgic soft spot for ID4; it’s not a “great” movie, but it’s a cheesily entertaining wannabe “epic” and nostalgia has won it a fond place—perhaps more than it deserves—in the hearts of a generation that grew up with it.  But while rumors of a follow-up were around virtually since the original’s release, twenty years is an awfully long time to wait.  It’s hard to imagine many ardent Independence Day fans salivating for more.  Its time has long-since come and gone. In fact, it doesn’t come across like the cast and crew cared that much either.  Will Smith demanded a massive paycheck to return, which 20th Century Fox eventually rejected (and conveniently killed his character off between movies), and the whole production has a lazy, uninspired, slapped-together feel.  The original may have been a hit in its day,  but Resurgence is likely to go the Jurassic Park III route of a superfluous sequel that no one really cares about and most may prefer to ignore the (unnecessary) existence of.

In one of its more mildly interesting (albeit underdeveloped) ideas, the movie picks up in real time, twenty years since the events of the first movie, now known as “The War of 1996”.  2016 in the movie’s universe looks a bit different than the real world, due to mankind harnessing and adapting the aliens’ technology to make leaps and bounds forward in our own progress (and to create advanced weaponry to face the always-looming possibility of a Round 2).  Some old friends are still around, such as brilliant scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), now a government adviser on the aliens, his crotchety dad Julius (Judd Hirsch), and former President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), now hobbling around with a cane and a crazy old man beard and having nightmares about the aliens due to some gobbledygook about “residual psychic link”.  Our new less-than-dynamic heroes are led by hotshot rival fighter pilots Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), manning a base on the moon, and Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), son of Captain Steven Hiller, who was killed in a training accident sometime in the intervening two decades (translation: Will Smith wanted too much money).  Oh, and Jake is engaged to Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe, who controversially replaced the original Mae Whitman, who is still an active actress, because apparently the powers-that-be didn’t think Whitman grew up conventionally attractive enough).  20th anniversary victory celebrations are interrupted when a new “mother ship”, bigger and seemingly more impervious than the last one, comes plowing into the Earth and sets to work mining for the plasma at the Earth’s molten core and seeking a cosmic cube that may belong to humanity’s ally against the “harvester” invaders.  Our intrepid (“”) band of old and new heroes must come up with a desperate plan against impossible odds, which may hinge on destroying the previously-unseen Alien Queen (not to be confused with the one in Aliens, although I’m sure any resemblance is purely coincidental….or not), who seems to be personally running the show herself this time.

I might be tempted to set aside the rushed pace and paper-thin “characters” if Resurgence at least delivered on the most basic expectation of spectacle, but even there, it’s a disappointment.  ID4, if nothing else, at least took the time for some build-up and tension and then delivered on it with some nice destruction porn.  It also relied heavily on model work, which Resurgence completely abandons here for a hollow CGI-fest.  It’s like the difference between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World; the effects were more convincing in the original twenty years ago because more time and care was put into them.  The dogfights are nothing special or exciting, and while the movie seems to want us to view the Queen as some devious mastermind, she actually comes across rather incompetent.  The aliens were more ominous when we saw less of them.  The pace is rushed and everything is underdeveloped.  We get skeletal backstories for the fighter pilots (Jake and Dylan have a rivalry stemming from a reckless maneuver by Jake nearly killing Dylan in a training accident), but this is too underdeveloped to mean anything, just like there’s no “dramatic tension” over whether they’ll put their differences behind them in the name of saving the planet (SPOILER WARNING: yes, they do).  As in the original, there are too many meandering subplots and pointless side characters wandering around with no purposes whatsoever.  Who really cares about the wimpy government guy (Nicolas Wright), who finally picks up a gun, or the African warlord (Dikembe Umbutu) who like Whitmore has a “psychic link” to the aliens, or the group of kids stuck driving around in the desert with Julius?

IDR09Having failed to get Will Smith back, the filmmakers seemingly try to fill the gaping void left by his mega-wattage charisma and star power by unloading a whole squadron of fighter pilots on us, but none of them have any distinguishing characteristics besides being young and generically good-looking.  It says something that the characters here feel thinner and shallower than the crowd scurrying around in the first movie, who weren’t exactly three-dimensional to begin with.  Liam Hemsworth (the closest we have to a “lead”, apart from maybe Jeff Goldblum) is likable enough in a cocky pretty boy sort of way, but he lacks his brother Chris’ charisma, and he’s no Will Smith either.  Speaking of Goldblum, while going from Jurassic Park‘s Ian Malcolm to ID4‘s David Levinson was never a big stretch, the line is now completely blurred.  His name here might as well be Dr. Malcolm.  Even so, Goldblum and Brent Spiner’s eccentric Dr. Brackish Okun, whose role is significantly bumped up from the first movie, are about the only cast members who show any enthusiasm.  In fact, Spiner if anything seems to be enjoying himself even more here than he was in 1996.  The other biggest returning series veteran, Bill Pullman, has either lost whatever mediocre acting abilities he once possessed, or is simply bored (an attempted 2.0 of his “rousing speech” from the first movie falls limp).  Judd Hirsch (as David’s cantankerous dad), Nicolas Wright (as aforementioned government nerd), and Travis Tope (as Hemsworth’s sidekick) seem to be in a three-way competition for most annoying supporting character.  William Fichtner replaces Robert Loggia as the generic token General (like Pullman, he also gets what is seemingly meant to be an inspiring speech, but like Pullman, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about it).  A thankless fate awaits Sela Ward’s President, and even shabbier treatment is dealt out to Vivica A. Fox, who returns for a couple fleeting scenes and than gets a truly laughably throwaway exit.  Apparently Margaret Colin decided to avoid such indignities, as her character neither appears nor is ever mentioned and David has a new sort-of love interest in Charlotte Gainsbourg’s fellow “alien expert”, who like most everyone else, is one-dimensional and rather superfluous.

One could argue that, like its predecessor, Resurgence is the kind of brainless summer diversion where you shouldn’t judge anything too harshly but just switch your brain off and enjoy some flashy special effects.  Even for those complaining about ID4‘s self-importantly padded-out runtime, I think most people were at least satisfied when it went into full-blown destruction porn territory.  But even by those undemanding standards, Resurgence is underwhelming and offers virtually nothing memorable.  Emmerich has publicly stated that he wishes to complete his “trilogy” with a third installment, but that’s unlikely to come to fruition.  Too bad we weren’t spared this uninspired sequel too.  This “franchise” should have been left with some dignity in the ’90s where it belonged.

* *