Somehow – despite Roland Emmerich’s obsessive focus on Earth’s destruction – Independence Day found a way to bottle raw human fortitude in a way that its sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, clumsily fumbles. In the most generic, fan-servicing, sequelitis-stricken way, this sci-fi doomsday franchise charges back into theaters like a bull in an intergalactic China shop. The entire films is basically one big “Here we go again!” moment on repeat, as Emmerich prays that nostalgia is enough to distract from the nothingness that’s occurring on screen. Look! There’s a heroic portrait of Will Smith! Or over there! It’s that crazy doctor who totally should be dead! And Jeff Goldblum! You guys still love him, right?!
Yes, Mr. Emmerich, we do still love Jeff Goldblum – but not when he’s reduced to making silly faces like a rejected Tim & Eric sketch. Granted, I’d pay good money for a supercut of Golblum’s silliest noises from Independence Day: Resurgence – but that’s neither here nor there.
Back again are the old veterans of ’96’s great alien war, joined by a new generation of fighters. Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) watched her son (Dylan, played by Jessie T. Usher) grow up to be an ace pilot, ex-President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) still has a connection to the White House through his employed daughter (Patricia, played by Maika Monroe), and Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) – well, he’s just dating Patricia. Everyone thinks any threat has subsided, but the alien forces Earth once defeated were simply regrouping for a bigger attack. With the help of specialist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a tribal warlord (Dikembe, played by Deobia Oparei), and a pencil-pusher named Floyd (Nicolas Wright), warriors young and old must defend our universal home once more. Don’t worry, planet Earth – America’s got your back!
Of course, that’s after we decide to be the assholes who shoot an unidentified alien spaceship without asking questions first (are we really getting political IN SPACE WARFARE?). While other nations vote to approach a large, orb-like spaceship, America gives the definitive order to blow it away just for being foreign. You’re an extraterrestrial? You get capped, bro! President Lanford (Sela Ward) issues the order, a giant space cannon sends the circular craft hurdling backwards, and a host of stereotypical, chiseled-chin generals applaud with vigor. Typical, gun-slinging America, ready to start WWIII without just-cause.
Even worse than horrid regional clichés are the most contrived, coincidental plot devices imaginable – and that’s coming from a writing collective of five scribes (Emmerich, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin and James Vanderbilt). In the twenty years since Will Smith punched that alien in the face, Earth harnessed alien technology to redefine the way we live, fight and travel. Aircrafts can fly to the moon in a matter of hours (minutes maybe?), weaponry runs on fusion (or lasers or whatever), and our understanding of extraterrestrial technology means we know everything about them.
In other words, heroes can escape any scenario by flying enemy vehicles, and immediately understand their foes. Oh, but it gets better! The aliens have mentally linked themselves to any humans who made previous contact in some way (Dr. Okun/President Whitmore/Dikembe), and project signals into their minds. These humans suffer from cryptic visions, scribble equations and draw pictures from memory – aka, everything humans DON’T know, they do now. There’s no exploration or discovery, only the most straight-forward, no-frills bout of false patriotism.
Most distracting of all is Emmerich’s hackneyed attempt at mainstream comedy, because what’s funnier than the mindless slaughter of innocent civilians?! Independence Day entertainingly charms because of two factors – Will Smith and the 90s. Emmerich surely didn’t write Smith’s character as a laugh-seeking joker, yet because of The Fresh Prince’s natural charisma, we find ourselves giggling at his cocky, alien-bashing pilot. Plus, 90s cinema boasts this cheekily self-aware, I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing kind of swagger, which made for some awesomely cheesy (but lovable) action epics.
Basically, Independence Day is everything Independence Day: Resurgence isn’t.
Not one single actor has the presence of Will Smith’s pinky toe, nor can they pull off such death-defying quips to cut dire tension. Emmerich squeezes in “jokes” about peeing your pants, random sidekick characters are inserted for dull laughs, and Dr. Okun is turned into a straight-up buffoon. Not a wack-job scientist – more a jarring byproduct of tonal confusion. Certain destruction is marred by characters who don’t seem phased by human annihilation in the least bit, as they’re more concerned with trying to bed their exotic co-pilot and bro-bonding on the most groan-worthy level. Again, Will Smith could pull off such a dynamic, but not this collection of hard-bodied, blank-faced, absolutely characterless group of zeroes.
At the very least, there’s about 10 minutes of on-planet sky-fighting that’s worth a bag of popcorn, but the other hour-and-fifty-minutes is skyscraper-leveling, mind-numbing, monotone noisiness. Grey metals mix with black darkness against a fiery canvas, creating this loud, obnoxious depiction of Hollywood chaos that’s overly-animated without artistic value. Mad Max: Fury Road proved that chaotic action can be doubly beautiful, but this rushed affair launches into world-crushing defeat with the grace of a leotard-wearing Hulk. Smash, destroy, repeat – with the fury of a thousand Michael Bays.
Frankly, I just don’t have the time to get into every ounce of ridiculousness here – but here’s a taste.
A ritualistic, machete-waving warlord is permitted entrance into the deepest secured locations of US government. Maika Monroe looks like she’s been sedated before each take. More emotional weight is invested into Dr. Okun and Dr. Isaac’s (John Storey) weirdly hinted romance than Dylan and his mother’s (Vivica A. Fox) survival story. Judd Hirsch returns only to adopt four children who lost their parents, rather than play out the dynamic between him and his own son. Liam Hemsworth and his gabby little runt of a best friend (Travis Tope) make a more convincing couple than he and Ms. Monroe – hell, even Floyd and Dikembe are more believable lovers. Everything is just tremendously underdeveloped story-wise, and simply rockets through necessary exposition until people can start shooting lasers again. And even that’s a whirring mess of intergalactic headaches…
So, in short, there’s a reason why Independence Day: Resurgence was never screened for critics. Honestly, it might have more fun seeing this with general audiences who weren’t buying into scene after scene of cheering government officials – my faith in modern moviegoers has been restored a bit. But my faith in Roland Emmerich’s ability to elevate generic, CG-heavy extraterrestrial take-overs? That’s been completely, helplessly eviscerated beyond recognition.
It's Independence Day, but without any of the charisma, tension and danger of the original - in other words, just another generic sci-fi blockbuster at best.