Roland Emmerich likes to blow shit up. The stock and trade of the director of Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and 2012 (2009), has been city-leveling destruction. When Emmerich blew up the white house in the first Independence Day, it was a novel experience. Now, with that film’s 20-years-belated sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence the whole schtick seems tired; even the director himself doesn’t seem that into it.
A problem facing disaster movies now that did not face the first Independence Day is the fact that, in the intervening years, we have seen very real disasters involving toppled skyscrapers and survivors trying to navigate the wreckage of devastated cities. The large scale destruction of major cities does not function as entertaining spectacle as it once did; a film in which thousands die but only the deaths of a few characters, those to whom the main characters have ties, are given any weight. This is not to say that the disaster movie must cease to exist, but it certainly has to evolve away from the model created in the 90s.
Aside from the aforementioned queasy moral equation of the disaster movie, Resurgence basically sucks. The old adage of screenwriting is “show, don’t tell” and that rule is thrown right out the window as just about every expository element, plot development, action, character, and relationship is explained via the dialogue with characters constantly explaining to one another exactly what is going on. This may have been seen as the easiest solution to the incoherence of the story but it does not make for compelling viewing.
A major reason for the success of the first Independence Day was the magnetism of its lead characters, notably the incredibly charismatic duo of Jeff Goldblum at the height of this stardom and Will Smith on his way to becoming the biggest star in the world along with the reliably good Bill Pullman. Goldblum and Pullman are back in the mix this time and, despite what you may have heard, a big star from the first movie does show up (SPOILER: it’s Robert Loggia). Goldblum and Pullman are both fine, the former’s schtick is basically material-proof and the latter is mostly around to remind us of the good stuff from the first movie. Also back is Brent Spiner as Dr. Brakish Okun, a character who you probably thought was killed in the previous film and whose name you almost certainly didn’t remember. Spiner’s unhinged performance is welcome at first but quickly begins to grate as he is allotted quite a bit more screen-time in this one than he was in the first. Also getting more attention than necessary are Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, and Jessie Usher, as the bland next generation of alien fighters. Usher is simply dull as the grownup version of Dylan, the adorable cherub played by Ross Bagley in the first film who was stepson to Will Smith’s Steven Hiller and son to Vivica A. Fox’s (she’s back too) Jasmine. Monroe’s considerable talent, on display in It Follows (2014 and The Guest (2014), are mostly wasted as the daughter of Pullman’s former President. Hemsworth’s character is, like the film itself, an unneeded blast from the past, a military pilot (Usher and Monroe’s characters are also military pilots) who plays by his own rules of the type that was common twenty or thirty years ago but has since given way to cinematic military men more likely to follow orders. The returning Judd Hirsch is given a plotline that seems to exist only to get as many of the first film’s cast back as possible, it almost comes as a surprise that Harvey Fierstein’s character from ID4 has not been resurrected. Rounding out the cast are a number of characters who seem cool but are not given sufficient time or material to make much of an impact, like Deobia Oparei as a machete-wielding good guy warlord, and an entirely wasted Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s a big cast given nothing interesting to do.
As one might expect, Independence Day: Resurgence leaves the door open for a sequel or several sequels. In fact, the movie goes so far as to have one character essentially pitch the other characters, and the audience by proxy, on further sequels. It comes across pretty desperate. This is an incoherent, un-fun movie, we can wait another twenty years for the third Independence Day.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt
Cinematographer: Markus Förderer
Editor: Adam Wolfe
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Travis Tope, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Judd Hirsch Jessie Usher, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox
English/ 120 min./ PG-13