At the end of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence, I came to the conclusion that, in some cases, twenty years just isn’t long enough to wait for a sequel. Or thirty years. Or forty. Or fifty. This movie, much like the destruction it depicts, is an unmitigated disaster – flimsy of plot, unmotivated of character, devoid of imagination, deprived of substance. It’s a hollow, manufactured product, constructed not of narrative devices but of techniques to make it bigger, flashier, and louder than its predecessor. Were fifteen-mile-diameter flying saucers not big enough for you? Now you have one that’s 3,000-miles in diameter. Was the cataclysmic obliteration of cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C. somehow lacking? Wait until you see the scene where the 3,000-mile-wide ship lands; its gravitational pull yanks up entire buildings and highways like weeds from a lawn.
1996’s Independence Day, also directed by Emmerich, was no great work of art. It was, in fact, rife with the kinds of technicalities that make suspension of disbelief very difficult. Still, it was fun – an homage to not just the alien invasion films of the 1950s, but also the sci-fi spectacles of the ‘80s and the disaster films of the ‘70s, in which an ensemble cast scrambles around while we in the audience stare agape at scenes of glorious destruction and mayhem. I know it’s said that sequels are never as good as their predecessors, but even then, there’s typically the sense that an effort is being made. No visible effort is seen in Resurgence. It plays every bit like a marketing ploy, made cynically with the belief that spawning a series action figures and playsets are more important than telling a story.
Several cast members from the original film are brought back, including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, and Judd Hirsch. There’s even one shot with the late Robert Loggia. Noticeably absent from the film is Will Smith, who was said by Emmerich in 2013 to be “too expensive.” If he really did hold out for more money and wasn’t cast because of it, then it was a blessing in disguise; he avoided an appearance in what will surely be regarded as one of the year’s worst films. The absence of his character, fighter pilot and aspiring astronaut Steven Hiller, is conveniently explained; he was killed several years ago when testing a new fighter plane that incorporated technology from the destroyed alien spaceships.
New to this film are: Jessie Usher as Hiller’s now-grown stepson Dylan, also a fighter pilot; Liam Hemsworth as Jake Morrison, a hotshot pilot who refuses to play by the rules and often gets in trouble for it; Maika Monroe as Patricia Whitmore, the daughter of the former President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman) and the fiancée of Morrison; Deobia Oparei as an African warlord who can effortlessly kill aliens with machetes; William Fichtner as a U.S. General, whose only real purpose is to bark orders; Charlotte Gainsbourg as a psychologist and scientist specializing in the alien’s written language, who’s also a new love interest for Goldblum’s character; Travis Hope as Jake’s best friend, who falls in love with the niece (Angelababy) of the Commander (Chin Han) that hates Jake; and Sela Ward as the President of the United States.
To say that the characters, both old and new, contribute nothing of value to the film would be an understatement. It’s as if they were inserted into the screenplay as afterthoughts. The best the filmmakers can muster is making Spiner’s character, Dr. Brakish Okun, a buffoonish nut after being in a coma for twenty years – although it seemed to me he was flat-out killed in the previous movie. The filmmakers treat Pullman’s character as haphazardly, giving him a beard and a cane, having him go mental every time he gets a vision from the alien creatures. Why a species so technologically advanced would return to our planet and resort to petty revenge is beyond me.
Other plot details – including the addition of a gigantic alien queen, the fact that alien and earth technology have been combined and implemented to the point that it seems more like 2216 than 2016, the aliens’ mission to drill into the Earth’s molten core, and the discovery of an benevolent intergalactic orb device – seem more like ways to distract audiences from the fact that nothing much is going on, apart from setting the stage for another sequel. With any luck, there won’t be one. Independence Day: Resurgence has been released in bright, clear, immersive IMAX 3D, but that doesn’t mean it gives you anything worth looking at. It’s a big, dumb, vacant excuse of a movie. The folks running the Golden Raspberry Awards should start making up their ballots.