Synopsis – Two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extra-Solar threat. But will mankind’s new space defenses be enough?
My Take – In a time, when sequels to older films like Mad Max and Jurassic Park make sense, a sequel to an 1996 alien invasion popcorn blockbuster seems like a good idea. As a kid growing up in the 90s, the original Roland Emmerich film was one of the best films out there. Sure, it was undeniably cheesy and overly jingoistic, but for its time, was done suitably very well. The tale of human perseverance in the face of an overwhelming alien invasion became one of the highest grossing films of the 1990s thanks to a combination of memorable characters and iconic special effect sequences. Despite the film being more of a standalone, the executives at Fox, writer Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (who scripted it as well as respectively directed and produced it) came back for more. Moving forward two decades in time, the film promised to build on the first by showing a rebuilt world taking on the threat of renewed invasion. Many of the lead actors, from the original film, reprise their roles in this installment; including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, and Brent Spiner. Will Smith did not return, due to budget restraints (and Smith‘s self absorbed ego), but Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, Nicolas Wright, Deobia Oparei, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sela Ward, Angelababy and William Fichtner joined the cast.
Needless to say, expectations were high. Did it live up to them? Well not exactly! If this sequel had appeared in 1997 or 98, it would have been widely interesting. But in the past twenty years hence, we as an audience has had the delight to savor so many other much more superior movies of its genre (which were ironically spawned by the first film’s success) – something which the direction of this movie did not bother to account for, hence we are in for a very badly dated why-bother sci-fi flick. The original was passably good for its time, and this sequel is but almost a poor spoof of itself. Don’t get me wrong, considering director Roland Emmerich‘s filmography I didn’t go in expecting this film to be thought provoking, but unfortunately the film lacks the impactful moments the first one had. Even though, I did end up enjoying this film more than the others, mainly due to the widely improved CGI and nostalgia left over from the original. The story follows the human race twenty years after the invasion, the world is at peace (well, sort of, since there are still pockets where the inhabitants are ferociously independent), and the United Nations has created a global defense system, called Earth Space Defense; which uses technology left behind by the defeated aliens. However, when the mother-ship was destroyed a signal was sent out into space to alert the queen of a clear and present danger – Earth. If they had managed to defeat the initial wave then no doubt they were going to be a threat. However Earth knew that such a threat was there so they went about building a defense system to could effectively deal with the alien’s return. The aliens, of course, return to Earth, with an even bigger army of reinforcements; and an obsessive intent to take over the planet, and harvest it for their own. The central characters include David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and former U.S. president Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), once again, as well as Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), her boyfriend, ESD pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), and Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie T. Usher); the step son of Steven Hiller (Will Smith), who’s now deceased. The catch is that things never happen the same the second time around as the aliens get medieval on us with an even bigger mother-ship. This film often feels like it’s simply re- treading over old ground, only on a much bigger scale. Many of the iconic moments of the first film are done here from shots of the lunar surface, aerial battles, infiltrating an alien space ship, the destruction of landmarks and much more. Even the film’s big threat is really just a much larger version of the ships from the first film (this time an even more improbable 3,000 miles in diameter). Though the film finds the occasions where it subverts those moments (such as with the original film’s most iconic scene), Emmerich and Devlin don’t seem to have brought much new to the table here. The movie almost feels like a remake, rather than a sequel, but I do admit it is (somewhat) nostalgic seeing all of the characters again. Yet, this is one of those movies where the grown up audience knows five minutes into the film, that the target group is teenagers. Even in the middle of the movie’s major crisis, the whole world pauses, as two young characters have to talk intimately, because it is just so important, for she’s hot and he’s so cute, so the less important end of our civilization will just have to wait. There’s a lot of heroics here by many a character who do their equal part to stop this new alien menace, having already made a stuffed calzone of the Earth’s crust comprising from London all the way to Singapore. There’s also a refreshingly silly undertone which sets it apart from the grim and serious blockbusters of today, and with added Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch who return as the Levinsons, and “Star Trek” alumnus Brent Spiner as the eccentric Dr. Okun, Emmerich and his co-writers, including returning scribe Dean Devlin, certainly did not skimp out on the comic silliness. Everything from the plot to the mundane cheesy dialogue, un-laughable jokes, and empty characters, all cookie-cutter mishmash from other passé movies. The situations even make no sense, neither do the illogical reaction of the characters, including our supposedly ‘super-intelligent’ big mother-monster chasing after a school bus for no real reason apart from the fact its there, like a playful kitten after a spot of light on the floor. And of course the ‘savior’ alien ship with all its bombastic intellect and scientific advance comes right up face-on to be blown to smithereens without doing the obvious thing of announcing the altruistic reason for its presence when apparently it does speak English at that too! With so many nonsensical senseless situations here, don’t even bother to care two hoots after a while. The 1996 film wasn’t very original, but it found a way to surpass it’s generic approach with entertaining acting and storytelling. However, the sequel loses some of that charm, and ends up being even more generic.
The story takes a radical departure from the realistic approach of the first one, and puts the audience in a super technologically advanced earth. The film is also hurt by the lack of charismatic leads, who have been replaced by young more dull actors. The problem is partially that the actors aren’t all that good, whether that’s a lack of direction or a lack of ability is up for debate. That being said the actors are only part of the problem, as even if they were great the characters are one dimensional. Another major problem is that the original film was a perfect example of dumb fun, where it was funny and frankly dumb, the sequel is just as dumb, if not more and half as funny. The end result is when a major character dies or anything happens in this film it’s hard to care. The main issue though is the script. Although the general premise works pretty well (“we always knew they’d come back”), the dialogue is really poor. When the screenplay is written by five people, and you still end up with such clunky, unnatural speech, you’ve really got a problem. It never gels, and makes you wish they’d just shut up and get back to blowing stuff up. However what I thought was cool was how more of the aliens appeared, especially the Queen (though the aliens still look as if they had been borrowed from the Alien franchise). In fact the grand finale is basically one huge battle with the queen. Mind you, the film did take a bit to pick up, and it seemed to drag a bit at the beginning. The visuals are breathtaking, and the alien battles are cool. Spectacle wise, the film is as good as the original, even sometimes better, but in terms of emotional investment though, there is a big problem. In spite of Goldblum being awesome as himself, Judd Hirsch still ranting, Brent Spencer doing his crazy stuff and Bill Pullman‘s rabble-rousing speech, most of the new characters just don’t work. Liam Hemsworth just comes across as an annoying, arrogant teenager, while Maika Monroe is wasted. Nicolas Wright, Deobia Oparei and Angelababy are likable. But the real catch here is the Will Smith replacement Jessie T. Usher. His character has a few key lines that are supposed to hearken back to those emotional one liners from Will Smith in 1996, such as: “Welcome to Earth!” and “This is close encounters”. Yet Usher delivered those lines in such a deadpan, soulless way that made me wonder if he thought he was supposed to be playing an emotionless android. Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s Catherine Marceaux, Sela Ward‘s President Lanford and William Fichtner‘s General Adams’s characters are written so bland that no actor in the world could have found a way to make them more memorable. On the whole ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ is a visual treat bogged down by a poor script, weak characters and lack of expected iconic moments. Despite the general negative reception, if you do still plan on watching this, I do recommend watching this on the big screen only.
Directed – Roland Emmerich
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 120 minutes