Release Date: June 23rd, 2016 (UK); June 24th, 2016 (US)
Genre: Action; Adventure; Science fiction
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher
When you make as many disaster movies as Roland Emmerich, a few things are bound to happen. One, the law of averages suggests you’ll eventually churn out something a bit rubbish that’ll be branded a “disaster” by a publication whose wordplay skills aren’t quite up to scratch. And two, it is likely customers will start to encounter genre fatigue. Independence Day: Resurgence is Emmerich’s sixth out-and-out catastrophe appraisal, having averaged around one every two years since 1996. And while it certainly isn’t a poor effort, it is a tired one.
We’re 20 years removed from the events of Independence Day and humanity has taken significant steps towards protecting itself against future attacks. The Earth Space Defence programme operates from locations like the Moon, made habitable via good old militant colonisation. Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) is one of those orbiting the Earth, a fighter pilot with skill and a cocky demeanour. He’s no Han Solo, but then Resurgence is no Empire Strikes Back. What the film is, though, is familiar, hitting many of the same notes as its predecessor only this time with crisper technical tendencies — the Moon base purveys that futuristic grey-silver Prometheus sheen. Hemsworth’s Morrison is a reflection of that sameness: a marketable replacement for Will Smith’s Steven Hiller, Smith either too expensive to rehire or personally fed up with sci-fi roles.
Some of the familiar is good though. Jeff Goldblum, for instance, recaptures plenty of that self-aware wit he displayed as scientist David Levinson (now a lead Area 51 researcher) in the original. Whenever he appears the film lights up, freely recognising its silliness and gleefully bathing in it. “I heard his son is much more of a moderate,” Levinson says in reference to warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) before meeting with the commander’s militia, each fighter sporting high impact weaponry and a no-nonsense facial expression. It is the sort of snappy levity popularised for better or worse by Marvel cinema, but perfected by Goldblum whose poise and timing are, arguably, unmatched.
However, just because the film is generally aware of its wackiness doesn’t mean it should skimp on an engaging story. Aside from its predecessor, Resurgence has more in common with White House Down than anything else in Emmerich’s portfolio, especially tonally. Both movies take would-be serious predicaments — an attack on the President there and an attack on the world here — and imbue them with carefree notes. There is no narrative weight, which is fine, but Resurgence doesn’t offer any alternative means through which stakes can conjugate. We have already witnessed a failed alien attack on this world and it’s not enough simply that the scale is larger this time around. The characters, though generally likeable, are as expendable as the other billion civilians squished by an enormous spacecraft docked atop half the globe.
The manoeuvring of pieces often feels forced. Former President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), whom we meet in a state of mental anguish, evades his high-level bodyguard and appears on stage alongside the current President (Sela Ward). You can only fathom such a thing happening because the story needs it to. It needs to have a panicked Whitmore warn the world about incoming aliens and the only way to get there is through an unrealistic turn of events. While it is true these calamity blockbusters rely little on sturdy plot dynamics, the successful ones often find a way around that issue. San Andreas managed to distract from any story inefficiencies by dabbling in simplicity: hosting a handful of straightforward characters led by a charismatic force of nature in Dwayne Johnson. Goldblum could be that force of nature here but there are so many other players in the game, therefore everyone’s arc suffers and the overarching narrative is rendered a bit baseless. This issue comes to a head right before the third act: as Goldblum spews out waves of exposition, he might as well be reading from the Instruction Manual for Ending Disaster Flicks.
Maika Monroe, breakout star of The Guest and It Follows, is someone who should have more to do. At one point you think she’s going be lumped into a love triangle opposite Hemsworth and Jessie T. Usher (he plays Steven Hiller’s son Dylan, another accomplished flyer). But the complexity of their three-way relationship soon makes itself known, born not out of love but Jake’s cockiness gone wrong (he almost killed Dylan in training). When it becomes clear Patricia’s only romantic ties are with Jake, the focus then shifts to her productivity elsewhere. She is Whitmore’s daughter and an adviser to the current President but Patricia can also handily navigate a fighter jet — not that the film wants to show it. She could be assisting the resistance from the air but instead splits her time between house-buying conversations with Jake and controlling her erratic father. There is a moment of reprieve as the film reaches its finale but by then it has already wasted the fiery talents of Monroe. She even says it herself: “You should’ve let me [fly].”
Emmerich and his squad of writers do try to reflect the catastrophic reverberations of the Independence Day attack in their characterisation of various individuals. Whitmore, as discussed, and also the returning Dr. Brackish Okun (Bret Spiner), fleetingly humorous as he ambles around excitedly looking for the next thing to shoot with a giant ray gun. It’s because these characters are played for laughs that the piece is unable to really delve into the emotional scarring they might be privy to. There is also an instance where you think the film might explore how said scarring has had an impact on the moral endurance of humankind: it involves military decision-makers and government officials debating whether to destroy a seemingly neutral ship. Alas, popcorny action stuff gets in the way.
The brooding hum that plays in tandem with the alien mother ship’s arrival is an example of what could have been had the outing further tapped into its natural sci-fi/horror instincts. Another such flirting occurs later, when military men and extraterrestrials play a game of cat and mouse in a dark bunker. It’s essentially a scene from Alien or Aliens, only without the benefit of a creepily construed atmosphere. Clearly Emmerich had one eye on Ridley Scott’s work when making Resurgence given the alien mother looks like a cross between H. R. Giger’s Xenomorph and Smaug from The Hobbit trilogy.
In 1996, Emmerich used scale models to achieve the level of bombast required to compel the cinemagoing public. While I can’t see too much that sets this sequel apart from its parent, there is something about the practicality of blowing up a mini White House that endears more than the admittedly impressive visual palette on display here. Maybe that sums up Resurgence: a film made with so much technical proficiency that it seems to forget about intuition, be it something akin to the scale model intuition that once charmed viewers, or the sort of narrative intuition that plants us in a recognisable world with new, engaging possibilities. It all feels too easily earned.
Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider
Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox
20 thoughts on “Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)”
And this review is the fairest of them all! Nice work. I uh, I didn’t……like…..this one very much. My whole thing is, we had this pretty great original (becoming greater in retrospect) and now forever on we will have to actively avoid getting into heated discussions of this franchise, because it has become a franchise. What was wrong with the other? I know blockbuster sequels are as inevitable as the next zombie flick, but this was just a total mess to me a really poor excuse to extend a story that didn’t need it. Oh well. I guess I have to see the third installment now to see how it all works out. Grr……
I get why they made another — it’s the ‘in’ thing to do these days, and sometimes it works out (Jurassic World) — but this didn’t replicate any of whatever magic the original had. I don’t even think the original is a great movie, but it is a lot of fun and this is only fun momentarily. Do you think this will make enough money to merit a sequel?
I think it’s made enough already. I don’t know the numbers top of my head but in the States I think it’s doing decently. I’d expect a pretty big drop-off this coming weekend however. Plus they leave the story unfinished at the end so I kinda assume they need to wrap it up. But I guess there are plenty of examples also where stories have been left unfinished….. We will just have to see….
Yeah, you’d expect them to wrap it up in some form regardless. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
Nice review, very generous on your part. All I have to say is no thank you. The only summer blockbuster I’m looking forward to is Star Trek: Beyond. I hope the script can match the special effects. Franchise reprisals are so hard to master.
Thanks Cindy. They are, and when it goes wrong it’s a permanent black mark. I’m looking forward to Star Trek Beyond too, though it’ll be a bittersweet watch following the tragic passing of Anton Yelchin.
No kidding. He was perfect for the role, but more importantly, a fine young man with a future ahead of him.
I really love ID4, it’s such a fun disaster movie whilst this one seems well, the movie itself is disastrous. I still might rent it later for Jeff Goldblum, but that’s about it.
Yup. It’ll always be worth renting for Goldblum! 😉
He’s still far more interesting than that boring Liam Hemsworth! Hollywood seems to love the big hunks who can’t act their way out of a paper bag.
Haha, take it you’re not much of a fan Ruth? I think it’s partly to do with the samey roles he keeps taking.
Good read mate! Thought it was a load of old tosh, but wasn’t expecting much more. I like your point about Goldblum trotting out the exposition…that was shocking and he looked so very, very tired during that scene, didn’t he? I half expected him to wink to the audience at the end. Considered walking out when it went a bit busload-of-kids-and-dog-in-distress, but it was near the end by that point so I stayed.
A wink at the audience would’ve been ideal, haha. The bus thing was odd, really odd. That whole story stand was weird, felt sloppy. Almost as if they put it together at the last minute to appease a returning Judd Hirsch.
Great review! I don’t think I will be checking this out, it just seems so unnecessary.
Thanks! If you’re not a fan of the first, this probably won’t be your cup of tea.
The fact it’s not terrible is in and of itself an achievement I guess? Still looking forward to seeing it on the big screen!
Yeah, I guess. I think I expected a bit more though. It’s still fun-ish.
Fine read! I just can’t bring myself to go see this one. I remember the how excited we were for the first film. It was the definition of a fun, escapist summertime movie. This one has looked bad from the start. Didn’t care for any of the trailers. But nostalgia may pull me to the theater this week. Just to say I saw it.
Thanks. The first film definitely has that authentic popcorn blockbuster aura, whereas this doesn’t really.