Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe
Compared to the 20 years that has elapsed between the original Independence Day and this year’s sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, the hour and a half wait I had to endure after my original screening was cancelled didn’t seem that long. But the wait gave me time to truly consider the film, and the context in which it arrives after a significant period of time.
Like most viewers, I went into Resurgence as a fan of the original. It certainly wasn’t a ‘good movie’ – it had a flimsy script and every trope in the book – but it was as enjoyable as they come, with a kind of plucky tone that somehow made it all click. The whole US-orientated shtick was patently ridiculous, offensively so perhaps, but looking back, it stands out above the bland tedium which has become the norm in the movies that followed it. I doubt many people outside of the States consciously appreciated hearing Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore declare July 4th to ‘no longer be known as an American holiday’, but nevertheless, it’s unwaveringly stirred each and every time I watch it. Yet in the time since the original, that spirit, however pompous, seems to have disappeared. I could sit here for hours listing spiritual successors, but here are just a few: Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Battleship, Knowing.
And therein lies the problem with Independence Day: Resurgence, because it’s not like Roland Emmerich started a phenomenon, and has only just now returned to inspect his creation. Rather, he’s continued to fan the flames with 2012, probably the prime example of a film with a gigantic scope and pretty much nothing else. So the question I found myself returning to was quite simple. Would Resurgence take after its predecessor, or the movies that followed?Sadly, that would be the latter. The same issues that plagued 2012 and its ilk still remain. There’s just too much to gain any meaningful enjoyment or tension from. Maika Monroe of It Follows is the pick of a bland bunch of newcomers, alongside Liam Hemsworth and others, but they’re all just such one-note characters. The motivations boil down to stuff like ‘I miss you because I love you’ or ‘I hate you because you nearly got me killed’. You get the idea. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner all return, among others, but development is at a minimum. Will Smith’s Steven Hiller was killed off in between the two films, but frankly even here he’s not missed, seeing what’s been done with the rest of the original cast.
There is some intrigue to be gained from the mildly unique context the sequel finds itself in. On the back of the “war of ‘96”, the usual tropes have unsurprisingly kicked in – humanity as a utopian, war-less species co-existing for the greater good. But the advances in weaponry mean that for the first half of the film, things seem ever so slightly fresh. There’s a fancy moon base, ‘cold fusion’ rockets, and it seems like they’ve given up on keeping Area 51 a secret and made it into weapons central. However, as the films progresses, that veneer of newness peels away, and it’s hard to tell the new technology from the old, running as it all does on very familiar stereotypes.
None of this is to say the film doesn’t try to replicate the tone of the original. It tries really hard to. But instead of taking that model and using it in a new way, Resurgence literally replicates the original. Half the film feels like a filmic sightseeing tour – lines, jokes, shots, tactics, feelings, are all lifted and given a new paint job. If the movie were better, I’d call it an homage. Given the quality though, it’s just exploitation.Really, there’s nothing much separating this film from the next blockbuster. Is it enjoyable in a ‘Friday night popcorn’ sense? Perhaps, but then even that is put in jeopardy by the bizarrely blasé approach to death. It was the oddest part of the original, but here it’s even worse. Given the sort of film this is, it’s no spoiler to imagine just how much destruction takes place. Yet maybe it’s the result of already coming close to annihilation once, but no one seems to care. There’s clearly a need to pander to the target demographic, and consequently the film can’t be too downbeat, but when an alien ship has its own gravity and is literally pulling up cities and countries, the jokes just don’t work.
And, of course, it’s all set up quite explicitly for another one. The original tied off nicely, and while this wasn’t the worst sequel I can think of, that achievement is mostly due to the nostalgia and influence of the horribly scattergun usage of the superior original. But it’s hard to see things not getting even worse for a third film, especially one constrained by a pre-established premise. The further down the Independence Day rabbit hole we go, the more it looks like yet another big budget franchise that leaves its senses at the door.