Starring: Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games), Jessie Usher (When The Game Stands Tall), Maika Monroe (It Follows), Bill Pullman (Spaceballs), Brent Spiner (Star Trek: First Contact), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac), Sela Ward (Gone Girl), William Fichtner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Judd Hirsch (Taxi)
Director: Roland Emmerich (2012)
Writers: Nicolas Wright & James A. Woods and Dean Devlin (Universal Soldier) & Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt (White House Down)
Runtime: 2 hours
Release Date: 23 June (UK), 24 June (US)
Independence Day came out twenty years ago. That should make you feel pretty old, especially if you grew up with the movie in the 90s. It brought the alien invasion picture into the modern cinema experience through groundbreaking special effects, and it transformed Will Smith from the Fresh Prince into a gigantic movie star. But even back then it was a pretty stupid movie, and Roland Emmerich’s career has only continued to get more ridiculous as his career has gone on. Bringing back old franchises is something Hollywood seems fixated on at the moment, so now is seemingly the perfect time for this dormant property to jump back into the limelight. Unfortunately, Independence Day: Resurgence does not compare to The Force Awakens in terms of franchise revival. It’s not even a Jurassic World. Nope, we’re in bona fide Terminator Genisys territory here.
Plotwise, Resurgence follows the structure of the original pretty damn closely: slow build-up as we discover the aliens, a bunch of landmarks get destroyed, and then humanity comes up with some convoluted plan to defeat them. There are some cosmetic changes given the alien-assisted advance in technology since the original, but the stakes haven’t been raised in a significant way and without the film’s MacGuffin plot dump they’d actually be even lower than the first. The film’s first half is way too slow as it takes its time getting to the aliens that we already know about, the second half is just a cluster of explosions and exposition, and the few interesting new ideas brought to the table are eclipsed by the same generic tropes all of Emmerich’s movies rely on. But what the film really lacks is a sense of heart and earnestness. The original propped itself up on cheesy American machismo and patriotism, sure, but it was honest in its convictions and that made it hard to resist. This sequel makes no attempt at that, instead taking the opposite route as both key characters and faceless civilians are killed with little time to dwell on it; even the film’s equivalent to the Randy Quaid sacrifice is blown over like it was nothing. Top it all off with a shameless hook for a sequel, and you’ve got yourself an experience that is as mindless as the first but also disappointingly heartless too.
Roland Emmerich movies almost always have a cast of thousands who mostly end up being kind of irrelevant, but Independence Day was mainly held together by the strength of its main cast. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman brought every ounce of personality they had to that picture, and their enthusiasm made it fun even in its direst moments. In this sequel, one is out of the picture and the other is wasted, but I’m glad to say at least Goldblum hasn’t lost his touch. Every moment he’s on screen brings back a little of that first film’s flavour, and without him this movie would have been even more of a hopeless effort. No one else fairs even nearly as well. Pullman spends most of the film ranting like a lunatic and the rest of it just sitting quietly in the background, only coming to prominence in the final act before being quickly overshadowed. Brent Spiner’s return is OK but his wackiness has been turned up to eleven no matter the situation, whilst Judd Hirsch gets his own absolutely pointless subplot thrown in that barely ties into the main story. The film mainly focuses on its new cast members, and that’s a big mistake because none of them have any charisma. Liam Hemsworth is his usual prettily bland self, taking an already generic character and somehow making him even more banal. Maika Monroe is usually a damn good actress but as Pullman’s daughter she does nothing to really stand out. She lacks chemistry with both her on-screen father and fiancé, and despite being this supposed ace pilot she gets barely two minutes of action time. But the real travesty here is Jessie Usher as the son of Will Smith’s character, who is so utterly uninteresting that he’ll have you begging for the bad comic relief characters to come cavorting back on screen. He’s a stoic slab of nothing for most of his screen time, and in the few moments he has to emote he’s as convincing as a reluctant actor in a high school play. His performance really highlights how Smith’s absence has left the film without a charismatic presence, and there’s not enough Jeff Goldblum in the world to balance out that lack of personality.
The special effects of the original film did feature a lot fantastic computer effects for the time, but they also still used model work and animatronics throughout and it made that universe seem more tangible. Here, there is barely a frame of film that doesn’t feature a visual effect, including things that would have been done practically last time around. The effects are impressive to behold, especially as cities are brought to ruins through the mere gravity of the massive alien ships, but it also causes everything to lose a sense of weight. There are a lot of dogfight sequences in the movie, but they’re so jam-packed with information that these scenes become nothing but blurs of white dots shooting minty lasers at each other; it truly is a dense experience in both meanings of the word. The world is at least an imaginative example of exploring an alternative future enhanced by alien technology, but the film barely takes advantage of its unique setting in favour of more dull military bases and alien motherships.
In one scene of this film, Liam Hemsworth drops his trousers and pisses in front of the aliens whilst giving them the finger. That’s pretty much this movie’s modus operandi in a nutshell: it just doesn’t care. Independence Day: Resurgence is an outdated product stuck in a decade that we’ve long since moved past, but equally it would have felt just as lacklustre if released within a few years of its predecessor. It doubles down on the stupid and ridiculous but totally abandons the heart and fun that makes that original film an enjoyable guilty pleasure to this day, and the total lack of charm from its cast of characters makes any moment where an explosion isn’t going off an absolute bore. Jeff Goldblum and a few vaguely interesting sci-fi concepts manage to keep the movie on life support, but if they really want to make another entry of this franchise soon then they’re really going to have to up their game.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/10