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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
A sequel to Independence Day, the gargantuanly epic 1996 Fox summer blockbuster, was never a good idea, particularly some odd twenty years after the release of the original. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, as we’ve recounted time and time again on this blog. Independence Day was a huge movie. It ruled the summer box office with an iron fist, becoming the number one film of 1996 far and away. It gave Jeff Goldblum another distinctive summer blockbuster movie role after Jurassic Park to put on his resume. It introduced America to the movie star version of Will Smith. It made Bill Pullman the president of the United States of America, thus putting him front and center in the great Pullman/Paxton war of the 1990s. It was, simply put, a great summer movie. And everything great about it doesn’t exist in its crappy sequel.
To put things bluntly, Independence Day: Resurgence is a terrible film all around. From its title (Resurgence? Ok…) to its cast to its script to its direction, nothing about the film works at all. There’s almost nothing epic about Emmerich’s filmmaking this time around, with the movie feeling instead like the pilot for a bad science fiction television series. Memorable characters from the first film (with one big exception in Brent Spiner) are about as forgettable as can be. I have no idea what happened to the real Jeff Goldblum, but I hope he escapes from the clutches of his apparent evil clone and goes back to having a personality (and a serious movie career) sometime soon. And I’m not sure what happened to Roland Emmerich either, as at least his bad films are usually entertaining. There’s nothing entertaining about ID:R whatsoever.
The biggest offender in all this mess are the awful new main characters, including an aged Will Smith’s kind-of son from the first movie, an aged Bill Pullman’s daughter (no longer played by Ann from Arrested Development unfortunately), a Hemsworth brother (those Hemsworth guys have really outstayed their welcome), a Chinese girl, and a dorky, smart guy. None of these characters are interesting or worth exploring on a deeper level in any meaningful way whatsoever. They all used to be in the air force together or something, but who cares? The journey they take is not compelling, and every time they show up on screen I found myself wanting the film to get back to what characters like Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner were up to. Yes, Goldblum is underwritten and thus underwhelming, but what he’s doing is light years more interesting than most of the other characters in this film.
Anyway, all the younger characters in this movie kind of suck. Hemsworth number 3 (I think) is in love with Bill Pullman’s daughter, but he’s also a smarmy, “charming” would-be rogue who doesn’t cotton to his military leaders’ orders. Yet, he’s still allowed to gallivant around the military free from consequence. Oh, and Hemsworth also has a rivalry with Will Smith’s not-son for reasons that aren’t really important and seem kind of dumb. The aforementioned smart guy is Thor’s kid brother’s sidekick who is always on the lookout for a hot piece of ‘tang. The Chinese girl is unfortunately said ‘tang, serving no other purpose in this film than to be won as a prize by the end (and to apparently appeal to Chinese audiences, which is shamefully becoming more and more common place). Not Mae Whitman is close with her dad, played once again by Bill Pullman, who acts like a mental patient and is treated with all the dignity of an Alzheimer’s patient in a third rate old folks home despite being the heroic ex-president who saved the entire planet. There is literally nothing else interesting about Not Mae Whitman’s character, just as there is nothing else interesting about anyone else in this intrepid group of nobodies.
The plot of the film is ridiculous and nonsensical. Twenty years after the events of the first film (by the way the war continued in Africa for a further ten years, so great job there, United Nations), earth is once again visited by a mysterious spacecraft. Instead of waiting to see what it could be, the Americans decide to shoot first and ask questions later. This is a bad idea because the ship is carrying an intergalactic friendly robot traveller who has the keys to defeating the bad aliens. Keep in mind the bad aliens haven’t show up in twenty years. However, because the script demands it, just after the kindly robot traveller is nearly murdered by the United States, the old aliens show up once again, only this time in a spaceship that is 3,000 miles long and covers like half the earth at once, which makes no sense because the earth is round and the spaceship presumably is not.
Thus, it’s up to Jeff Goldblum, an African Warlord played by a guy who kind of looks like Delroy Lindo but probably isn’t, some presumably British or Australian lady psychologist that Goldblum used to plow, and a tax accountant (seriously) to save the earth. Also, Brent Spiner is still alive only in a coma. He wakes up once the friendly traveller makes an appearance and nearly saves the movie all on his own. He’s brings an energetic and fun presence to the movie which is sorely lacking elsewhere. So Spiner figures out how to operate the friendly traveller, only this attracts the alien queen, who is not at all a rip-off of the alien queen from the Alien movies, no sireebob. Our rather lackluster group of heroes, young and old, must band together and take out the alien queen or all of humanity (and the friendly traveller) will be doomed perhaps.
There’s a reason why none of this sounds epic – it’s because it fucking isn’t. Remember how awesome it was in Independence Day when the spaceships first showed up? People were either legit terrified or acting crazy sauce banana pants over them. Remember how fucking hopeless humanity felt after the first few big cities fell? Remember when Bill Pullman nuked fucking Houston in a last-ditch attempt to destroy the alien ships? There’s nothing like that in this movie at all. This movie follows the most video game logic of any film script I’ve ever seen. There’s a requisite action scene about every ten to fifteen minutes, but none of it matters at all. There’s no sense of scale, no sense of urgency, no sense that our main characters are in any kind of abject terror or danger whatsoever. Again, compare this to the first film. Remember how legit terrifying it was when the alien that Will Smith captured finally woke up and terrorized Brent Spiner? Remember how hopeless and scared people were? This is not the same kind of movie at all.
It almost feels like this is Independence Day: Lite rather than Resurgence. The stakes feel incredibly low, the movie is bafflingly short at just two hours (the first film ran two and a half), characters are barely fleshed out and spoiler alert the film ends on a fucking cliffhanger. Are you kidding me? I want my money back for sure. It’s hard to believe that this was made by the same people that brought us Independence Day. And look, I’m not saying the original film was a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. But it was an important 1990s blockbuster just a tier below Jurassic Park in terms of how it changed the summer movie and how it dominated the landscape for an entire summer. It came out at just the right time before computers and the internet exploded, allowing us to see just how dumb its plot was. Back in 1996 I surely thought a computer virus was a terrible thing that absolutely could bring down a spaceship. Of course now we know better, but at the time that shit made sense. The first film also allowed its characters plenty of time to move and breath, becoming fleshed out in the process. This film gives us absolutely no reason to give a shit about Mr. and Mrs. Hemsworth’s youngest and most special boy.
It is difficult to understate just how much I didn’t enjoy this film. I felt excited and titillated during absolutely no point in it whatsoever. This film was made with the express purpose of giving us more installments in the Independence Day franchise. I would totally be on board with that if this movie were any good. Problem is, it’s fucking terrible. Devlin, Emmerich, and 20th Century Fox should be ashamed of themselves for this mediocre garbage. It is a nostalgia grab that has absolutely blown up in their faces. When adjusted for inflation, the first film would have grossed $594 million dollars, putting it in rarified air, nearly that of films like Avatar, The Avengers, and Jurassic World. Independence Day: Resurgence will barely gross over $100 million, making it a massive disappointment. I’m not surprised audiences have rejected it; it’s a fucking terrible movie. What an embarrassment all around.