We’re all well aware of the sequel stigma and have probably seen our fair share of films that feel like thoughtless attempts to milk a hit for all it’s worth, but Independence Day: Resurgence might be one of the worst of the worst, especially for hardcore fans of the original.
The movie takes place 20 years after the War of 1996 – the invasion featured in the first film. In an effort to protect the planet from future ET attacks, mankind has created advanced weaponry using the alien technology. We’ve got jets that hover like spacecrafts, cannons with firepower similar to the invaders’ primary weapon and a defense base on the moon, but it’s still no match for the XXL mothership that comes to consume the Earth’s core.
Sounds simple (and familiar) enough, right? Aliens arrive, the odds are against us, and we must come together and fight for our freedom – not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. For the most part, Independence Day: Resurgence is just that, but Roland Emmerich is completely consumed by the all too familiar sequel pitfalls of going bigger, adding more guns, more explosions, more chase sequences, more mythology, etc. and the overabundance of overcomplicated and completely hollow nonsense sucks the fun out of the film.
There are a number of very promising ideas, but they either go in absurd directions or completely (and often abruptly) fizzle out. For example, Vivica A. Fox is back as Jasmine Hiller – great! But then the character serves no purpose whatsoever. And the whole thing about Will Smith’s Captain Steve Hiller being a war hero? Barely referenced in the film. And the one moment he does “appear” is laughable. The movie does try to highlight Hiller’s impact on his step-son, an adult Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), but it really just boils down to Steve inspiring Dylan to become a fighter pilot and nothing more, which isn’t very interesting.
The adult Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) has a little more going on, but Emmerich merely scratches the surface of her situation. She’s working for the new president played by Sela Ward while her father (Bill Pullman) is still suffering the effects of his chat with the aliens in the first film. (Think the Randy Quaid version of President Whitmore.) Emmerich semi sets up the issue of Patricia wanting to step up, make a difference and help save the world, but she also feels obligated to care for her father. It’s a promising predicament that goes nowhere, one, because that portion of the story is extremely underdeveloped and, two, Pullman and Monroe don’t have chemistry.
She runs into a similar problem with Liam Hemsworth’s character, Jake Morrison. He’s her fighter pilot fiancé, but because of an incident with Dylan, Jake is demoted and sent to the moon base to operate a Moon Tug, which is basically a lunar forklift. Patricia and Jake love telling each other they miss one another, but it means nothing because the relationship is so generic, and because Hemsworth and Monroe don’t have that spark that, let’s say, Smith and Fox or Jeff Goldblum and Margaret Colin had in the first film. Hemsworth and Monroe’s performances aren’t bad by any means, but a movie like this needs more than serviceable characters. If the cast of the first Independence Day came across as though they were merely filling roles, that movie never would have worked as well. It’s special because folks like Smith and Goldblum nailed the characters in a way that made the roles their own, as if no one else could have played them the same way.
However, sadly Goldblum didn’t bring that same A-game to Resurgence. Again, he doesn’t do anything wrong per se and is clearly giving the project his all, but this David Levinson feels more like Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm than the character from the 1996 film. In the original, David’s quirkiness was connected to the fact that he was super smart and a step ahead, but no one understood him or wanted to give him a chance. Here, now that he’s a hero and the head of the Earth Space Defense program, that quality is gone so Emmerich attempts to fill the void by having Goldblum fish for one-liners. Doing a further disservice to the character, it often falls upon David to explain the alien plan and the way Resurgence expands the invader’s mythology and agenda is a ridiculous mess.
Clearly Resurgence needs to connect to the events of the original, but whereas Emmerich could (and probably should) have achieved that with broad strokes, he dishes out one big piece of connective tissue after the next, almost all of which is devastatingly underdeveloped or forgotten in minutes. For example, one ship from the 1996 invasion managed to land as planned. That’s really interesting. What did that look like? How did it affect the region? Did they salvage anything from that ship that they couldn’t from the wreckage in other cities? We don’t get any of that. The only element of the film that possibly stems from the fact that the ship landed in that location is that a warlord played by Deobia Oparei is connected to the aliens the same way President Whitmore and Dr. Okun are. But even that’s a stretch.
Dr. Okun’s involvement is yet another promising element of Resurgence that crashes and burns. For one, it feels like Brent Spiner is trying a little too hard to channel the character from the first film. (Or perhaps it’s the way he’s being directed by Emmerich.) Okun was a goofy character back in 1996, but here he’s cartoonish. There’s also a failed attempt to add a layer to the character by giving him a romantic relationship, something that is so poorly introduced that I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t even register with some viewers.
Continuing down the roster, we’ve also got Sela Ward as the new president who gets the same treatment as Vivica A. Fox. She’s there, you think she’ll be important and then she’s not. Judd Hirsch returns as Julius Levinson and winds up stuck in the middle of the most expendable portion of the film. He runs into a group of kids who are separated from their parents when the aliens attack, so he takes it upon himself to serve as their guardian and bring them along as he tries to find David. It seems as though the goal of that subplot might have been to ground the events of the film – which is necessary considering most of the action takes place in space or in the air – but it doesn’t work whatsoever.
A major problem with Resurgence is that nothing feels familiar. Part of the reason it was such a shock and thrill to see spaceships break through the Earth’s atmosphere and attack major cities in the first film was because it was all very recognizable – the cities, the monuments and even the people. Before Emmerich destroyed these iconic locations, he let you live in them a little and took the time to highlight faces in the crowd before blowing them away. Resurgence, on the other hand, gives you zero time to acclimate to the new Earth so the destruction winds up consisting of faceless mobs perishing in a foreign landscape that looks a lot like the digital wide shots of The Capitol in The Hunger Games.
Even if you’re committed to the idea of enjoying the film as a silly summer disaster flick and can look past all of these shortcomings, there’s one particular plot point in Independence Day: Resurgence that is so insultingly absurd that it kills the dumb fun and might even make you angry. No spoilers here of course, but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a big Independence Day fan. I didn’t go into Resurgence with sky-high expectations or ready for a masterpiece, but at the very least, I did expect Emmerich to respect the original, and some of the things he chooses to do to continue the story here are so awful, that it’s devastating to think that it’ll be impossible to watch the original knowing that this nonsense exists within the ID cinematic universe.