2016 - 120 minutes
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, Judd Hirsch, Charlotte Gainsbourg, William Fichtner, Brent Spiner, Sela Ward
Though it depicts an extinction level event, Independence Day: Resurgence feels completely inconsequential. Many things are bigger (the spaceship and the aliens, for example) than the 1996 original film, and everything is stupider. The budget is at blockbuster level, but many of the filmmaking decisions are on par with a Syfy Channel movie. I was waiting for the 3,000-mile in diameter alien craft to suck up a snarknado in its gravitational pull as it docks atop the Atlantic Ocean. (ALL of the Atlantic Ocean, we’re told).
In the 20 years since the first attack, the world has used alien technology to better the planet and fortify its space defense systems. There’s no Earthbound conflict since the multinational effort is all focused on extra-terrestrials. Really, all we see is cooperation between the US and China, presumably because the Chinese box office is huge right now. The alien ship arrives, uprooting cities along the way, and it’s up to some returning and some new cast members to stop the hostile takeover plans.
Jeff Goldblum returns as David Levinson, a scientist and expert in everything, who has a fancy new government title. Former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is haunted by alien visions. He also as a crazy-man beard. Wacky Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) wakes from a 20-year coma just as the spaceship arrives. Will Smith wisely didn’t return. After saving the world from destruction his character was killed in a training exercise. Bummer, but at least he has a portrait hanging in The White House, which looks like an enlarged screenshot from the first movie.
Newbies include the son of Smith’s character, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher), Jake (Liam Hemsworth), and Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), daughter of the ex-president. All are pilots, Patricia and Jake are engaged, and Jake and Dylan have a heated rivalry. The aerial battles they have with the space invaders are just as uninteresting as their interpersonal issues. The game Space Invaders is more riveting than watching squadrons of CGI ships shoot green lasers at each other.
The story elements, as laborious as they are, match the low bar set by the non-descript special effects. Editing is choppy as we ping-pong back and forth between disjointed, meaningless character moments and lame attempts at drama and humor. It’s as if the five credited screenwriters never compared notes.
After they witness the complete decimation of London, here’s the entirety of an exchange between Goldblum and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is another super-smart person:
“My mother lived in London.”
“Maybe she got out.”
Cut to next scene and never mention London again. There’s also weird incongruity with the jokes and the destruction. At one point the US President (Sela Ward) and several high-ranking officials are attacked (off-screen and bloodless, as is most of the violence) by aliens. Cut to Dr. Okun doing something weird and humorous at Area 51.
One character witnesses the death of a loved one (which would be an especially big deal to this specific person), shouts, “NOOOOOO!,” and then moves on seemingly unaffected. Much of the dialogue is exclamatory in nature and completely inane.
The actions of characters serve only the vacuous moment in which the exist, such as Hemsworth urinating inside the alien mothership and flipping the bird. I guess just because this is ‘Merica 2016 and, “Don’t tread on me!”
The plot does a lot retrofitting to make current events sync up with, and rewrite, some of what happened in Independence Day, while also attempting to add a whole mythology to help set up more sequels. There’s a whole thing with an ethereal white space orb/alien that is completely ridiculous and out of place in a Roland Emmerich disaster film. The way that thing is used to propel the plot and set up the threatened next chapter of the story is completely laughable.
There are kernels of good ideas – the use of alien tech could be neat (but is not), and an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) engaged in a ground war with aliens for 10 years after the first invasion sounds interesting. I’d much rather see that movie than anything offered in Independence Day: Resurgence.