Roland Emmerich, just give it up. You’re done. D-O-N-E. You’ve strip-mined disaster movies of everything they’ve got. You literally have nowhere else to go unless you blow up a whole galaxy. Then again, that might have been a better idea for a film than what we ultimately ended up with.
It’s Independence Day all over again. Another alien ship shows up, lots of cities go boom, we fight back but our military is no match for them, we go to Area 51, we hatch a plan to get through the aliens’ defenses, an important character sacrifices himself to help beat the aliens, we win, main characters gather in the desert to celebrate the victory, roll credits. Now imagine all that done half-assed, and you have Independence Day: Resurgence.
Okay, snark aside, there are some good ideas in this movie. The film’s first act reveals that the war against the aliens started in the first film actually continued for a while in certain areas such as Africa, with a warlord who waged a guerilla war against some of them for a long time. We also learn that David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) has been working with the world’s governments to use alien technology captured from the first invasion to help strengthen the planet’s defenses to the point where they can build a functioning moonbase and fighter planes that can fly in space. Meanwhile, former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), long bearded and apparently ailing, senses a new ship of aliens is approaching as a side effect of having telepathically linked to them in the first movie. The telepathic warning also reaches a comatose Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner), who wakes up from twenty years after his encounter with the alien in the Area 51 lab and starts writing weird alien symbols all over the wall.
Unfortunately, Emmerich doesn’t develop these ideas into anything compelling, mostly because the movie gets swallowed up in rehashing the first movie, only Resurgence doesn’t even do that well. In the first film, we got treated to big city-sized flying saucers shooting down beams that blow away whole cities. Here, we just get another mothership that only wrecks havoc because it’s surrounded by a gravity field that lifts up whole cities as it descends to the planet and then drops them back across the planet. I couldn’t tell whether the aliens were doing this on purpose or if it was just a byproduct of their ship’s arrival. And humanity’s air counterattack against the aliens? Boring and a mess. It’s like Emmerich forgot how to shoot an aerial dogfight scene. I could follow the air battles in the first movie much better.
The movie does introduce some new characters plus new actors that play grown-up roles of two kids from the first movie, but with the exception of Whitmore’s daughter, they’re all bores. Most of the original cast does return, even an ailing Robert Loggia (R.I.P.) who gets a quick cameo at a presidential ceremony in his old role as General Grey, and they pretty much outshine the newbies. There’s a female president played by Sela Ward who makes one big dumb mistake in the course of the film and is later killed by the aliens. That’s pretty much her contribution. Jeff Goldblum is still Jeff Goldblum, just a little older and grayer. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen all the “Goldblumisms” that are worth seeing. Meanwhile, Judd Hirsch as Goldblum’s dad is back and he ends up with a subplot so irrelevant it’s shocking that it got past Emmerich. After he survives a tidal wave brought on by the alien ship’s arrival, he dusts himself off, escorts a bus of children through the aftermath of the alien invasion to Area 51…and that’s it! On the other hand, this movie loves Brent Spiner’s Dr. Okun, so if you liked his short role in the first flick, be prepared to have lots more Okun served up in the sequel!
As an aside, the movie dumped Margaret Colin’s Constance Spano (David Levinson’s ex) even though the actress is still very much active and seemed from what I can tell ready to reprise the role. Why? Let’s see. Colin is currently 58 years old, while the actress that plays the new female character that partners with David is 45. Yeah, I think we can draw the expected conclusion here and move on.
I have to reserve some special scorn for how the human race fights the aliens in this movie. In the first, Goldblum and Smith fly up to the mothership and upload a virus that shuts down the deflector shields on the alien craft and allow the military to take them down. Simple, easy to follow, even if the fact that Goldblum’s laptop can successfully interface with an alien computer left more than a few moviegoers rolling their eyes.
In Resurgence, the strategy is to lure the aliens’ queen out of the mothership so they can kill it, and without the queen, the mothership will stop its attack on Earth and just leave. That’s it. The climax is basically a battle between a giant alien queen who’s the size of a Transformer plus some of her escort fighters. Once she’s dead, the aliens suddenly stop as if they get a mental blue screen of death, pick up, and go. Never mind that their mothership is still fully functional, they just can’t do the job any more. Queen dead, they go bye-bye. I don’t know if I have the words to communicate how both stupid and underwhelming this is.
Whatever filmmaking talent Roland Emmerich still possesses ought to go to other kinds of films, because this movie shows he’s completely out of gas when it comes to disaster and mayhem. Actually, I’d say this movie’s failure is a greater symptom of audience fatigue for these kinds of movies as a whole.
When the first Independence Day came out, movie audiences of the time had not seen special effects movies that depicted mass destruction of landmarks and cities, certainly not so realistically. You’d have to go back decades to flicks like War of the Worlds and Earth Versus the Flying Saucers. Usually, mass destruction was a threat that movie heroes could stop in the nick of the time. So when Independence Day depicted an epic war between humanity and an invading alien race, it wasn’t a shock that people flocked to see it.
Now Emmerich has essentially given us the same movie twenty years later and it’s a snoozer. Why? Because mass destruction has been done to death. The Transformers movies have done it. The Marvel movies have done it. The DC movies have done it. Emmerich himself has done it twice, in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. There’s only so many ways you blow up city streets, buildings and skyscrapers. I’d be shocked if by now Industrial Light and Magic doesn’t have a “blow up a city” computer program to click on demand.
The first Independence Day was lightning in a bottle. It was a huge success because of its basic alien invasion plot, effects that (largely) still hold up, and a cast that included a few ab-libbers to add some chuckles to the film (notably Hirsch, Smith and Goldblum). But it’s clear all the inspiration was used up for the first film. It’s like in that 20 year gap between films, Emmerich forgot how to put together a cohesive story, so he just rehashed the first one but made it less fun, less understandable and much more underwhelming. If Emmerich truly wanted to make a sequel, he should have done it years ago, and if the sequel hook from this film suggests the kind of film he wanted to build up to, a “let’s go into space and take the fight to the aliens,” thing, there was no reason he couldn’t have done that story then or even now.
Celebrate your Independence Day from this film!