Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Seeing Independence Day on the big screen for the first time as a child was an awe-inspiring experience that has stuck with me for the better part of two decades now. While I hold franchises such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future in higher esteem, the 1996 alien invasion epic has managed to maintain its standing as my all-time favourite standalone film. This meant that I was sceptical when a sequel was announced.
The original was wrapped up well enough that I thought any continuation was bound to feel forced. Then I saw the trailers and decided that a movie featuring Jeff Goldblum delivering lines as on the nose as “They like to get the landmarks” as the Petronas Towers rain down on Tower Bridge has to be so ridiculous that it can’t not be fun. But it wasn’t until I read Independence Day: Crucible that I was actually convinced that not only could Resurgence be enjoyable, it might even be necessary.
Author Greg Keyes succeeds in extending the story of the first film in a way that feels surprisingly natural, while also offering up a novel that’s extremely engrossing in its own right. Setting aside the source material to which it’s tied, this book is a true page turner that really gets you invested in all of the new characters it introduces.
I started Crucible curious to discover what happened to the likes of Steve Hiller, David Levinson and Tom Whitmore after they saved the world from annihilation and ended up being more enamoured by younger heroes Dylan Hiller, Patricia Whitmore and Jake Morrison. Readers will no doubt remember the former two as infants in Independence Day, while the latter is set to make his theatrical debut in the upcoming sequel.
Keyes does an exceptional job of fleshing out all three of these individuals. Their evolution from confused kids in the wake of the war of ‘96 into adults determined to do whatever it takes to defend the planet is remarkably well-handled. It’s fascinating to follow how they develop as the plot progresses, so much so that at times it can be easy to forget that this story is supposed to set up a movie and isn’t its own unique entity.
Before Crucible came along, I was hoping for Goldblum and Pullman to be front and centre in Resurgence, especially with Will Smith being out of the picture. But as I got deeper into the narrative, I began to believe that it’s a better idea for the film to focus on Dylan, Jake and Patricia instead. If actors Jessie Usher, Liam Hemsworth and Maika Monroe can bring as much likability to their characters on screen as the author does on paper, then audiences could be in for something very special indeed.
Keyes also captures the personalities of the original protagonists perfectly. Almost everyone of significance from the first film makes an appearance, with the notable exceptions of Major Mitchell and the Casse kids. I don’t think it’s any secret that Steve Hiller is supposed to have died in the interim between the movies and I have to praise Crucible for the way in which it depicts his death.
There’s plenty of build-up to the fateful moment so that it doesn’t come across as contrived or sudden. Levinson is deeply entrenched in the events leading up to the tragedy and his decision to turn down an opportunity offered to him by Whitmore turns out to be unexpectedly poignant when Hiller meets his untimely end.
There’s a strong sense of inevitably to the whole affair beyond the fact that he had to die because Smith isn’t in Resurgence. Considering the circumstances presented in the book, the death feels like a logical result of Hiller’s selflessness and the genius decision to have Steve and David exchange a fond farewell that harkens back to their “checkmate” moment on the mothership makes it all the more hard-hitting.
Big Will isn’t the only familiar face missing from Resurgence though. Margaret Colin is also conspicuous in her absence as Constance Spano and while I won’t spoil it by discussing the specifics, Crucible does explain why she won’t be returning. It’s just a shame that it’s not handled nearly as smoothly as Hiller’s send-off. The fault for this may lie with the filmmakers rather than with the author, but it’s definitely the weakest aspect of the story.
Other characters who manage to make a positive impact are Chinese pilot Rain Lao, who proves to be another interesting newcomer, and Congolese art student Dikembe Umbutu, whose enthralling subplot could have sustained a novel of its own. The latter’s tale starts as he returns home in the aftermath of the initial invasion to find his country still infested with aliens and his father driven to insanity in his attempts to eradicate them. It also ties into the landed city destroyer we see Levinson investigating in the trailers and sets the scene nicely for what’s to come.
The issue of leftover aliens is addressed extensively early on in the novel and allows for some well-written action. It’s revealed that the war raged on for quite a while after the destruction of the mothership, but this doesn’t turn out to be the crux of the story. The first half of Crucible handles the mopping up while the second half deals with preparations for the invaders’ return.
The narrative flows very fluidly from one phase to the next and it’s all intricately intertwined with the development of the key characters. The need to jump forward in time between certain chapters could have resulted in a story that felt disjointed and jarring, but thankfully that’s not the case. Instead, it forges a fast-paced and compelling tale that simultaneously sets the bar high for Resurgence and adds validity to the film’s existence.
By being more concerned with characters and consequences than explosions and set-pieces, Greg Keyes has injected an astonishing amount of depth and detail into the Independence Day universe. If you’re a fan of the franchise, then I highly recommend reading Crucible before seeing the next instalment.
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