Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
“I spent twenty years trying to get us ready. We used their technology to strengthen our planet. But it won’t be enough.”
The above assertion by Earth Space Defence director David Levinson actually acts as a fitting metaphor for the efforts of filmmakers Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. They had two decades to forge a follow-up to their 1996 alien invasion epic, but even with the advantage of significant advancements in CGI, they still weren’t able to spawn a satisfying sequel.
While it’s not utterly unwatchable, Independence Day: Resurgence is an incredibly lacklustre special effects fest that fails to live up to its spectacular predecessor in any meaningful way whatsoever. Its story is simple; another extraterrestrial mothership shows up to finish what the last one started and the world must rally its defences to destroy it. The initial build up isn’t bad as we’re teased about the aliens’ impending return through an ominous opening involving former president Thomas Whitmore. However, the atmosphere of terror that defined the first film is very much absent.
Despite the enemy occupying a craft several times larger than before, it somehow seems a lot less imposing. There’s no sense of scale to the ship, nor is there any tension or suspense surrounding its arrival. It doesn’t help that the story is extremely America-centric again, negating the notion of a united Earth and confining the conflict to a very specific part of the planet.
All of the set-pieces feel flat and formulaic. The action is so unoriginal and devoid of urgency and emotion that it’s rarely more than mildly rousing at best. The final act is particularly uninspired, playing out like the boss level in a video game to the point that they might as well have had a health bar displayed on the screen.
An over-reliance on CGI also makes the movie’s big battles appear a lot less realistic than those of the first film. The use of practical effects and miniatures gave Independence Day an authentic look that still holds up to this day, but Resurgence’s onslaught of artificial imagery affords it a sterile aesthetic that’s lacking in innovation and inventiveness.
This issue extends to the aliens themselves as well. The autopsy scene in which the scientists were assaulted in the vault during the last movie was disturbing because the alien was seen sparsely and its abilities were left to the imagination by using a combination of quick cuts and close-up shots. This time though, the invaders are shown jumping around performing inhuman acrobatics through the use of obvious CGI that eliminates their once menacing demeanour.
Physicality aside, one of the few positives of the plot is that it does make an attempt to expand upon the specifics of the aliens’ civilisation by alluding to their ecosystem and social structure. Although, even this ends up coming across as contrived and unimaginative, with vague references being made to a wider war by way of a dull deus ex machina device that’s considerably more convenient than a computer virus.
Maybe the shortcomings of the story would have been forgivable had the filmmakers provided us with some compelling protagonists to get behind, but they couldn’t even accomplish that much. By far the greatest missed opportunity here is the undeveloped dynamic between newcomers Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher and Maika Monroe.
Having read the official prequel novel, Crucible, I had high hopes for Jake Morrison, Dylan Hiller and Patricia Whitmore. Author Greg Keyes did an outstanding job of fleshing these three out as individuals and exploring the relationships between them. If done right on screen, they had the potential to be the Han, Luke and Leia of the Independence Day franchise. Unfortunately that most certainly does not turn out to be the case. Instead, they share very few scenes together, so that their interactions and backstories seem entirely irrelevant.
Hemsworth does his best to inject charisma into the role of Jake and ends up faring better than the other two. It’s a shame then that he’s ultimately hindered by remarkably poor writing. His romance with Patricia is especially pointless. All it does is force an unnecessary character connection that’s of no consequence to the story.
Monroe is wasted as the former first daughter, who should have had a powerful presence considering her parentage and pilot training. Emmerich even manages to mess up the father/daughter dynamic between Patricia and Tom, which holds no weight whatsoever despite being pivotal to the plot.
Jessie Usher definitely gets the worst deal of the three. It’d be unfair to say he lacks the likability that Will Smith effortlessly exuded as his character’s stepfather because he barely gets a chance to showcase his skills. Dylan is rendered more or less inconsequential by the inclusion of Jake. The latter could easily have done everything the former did, and vice versa, without it making any difference to the story. It would have been better to incorporate Jake’s personality into Dylan’s character to create one well-rounded hero rather than opting for two that are left underdeveloped.
They’re not the only participants who don’t live up to their potential though. DeObia Oparei and Angelababy rarely get to shine as Dikembe Umbutu and Rain Lao, both of whom were also built up brilliantly in Crucible.
William Fichtner and Sela Ward are largely sidelined as General Adams and President Lanford, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Catherine Marceaux serves as nothing but a needlessly substitute for Constance Spano, and the less said about Nicolas Wright’s cringe-inducing attempts at comedy as inept accountant Floyd Rosenberg, the better.
The most winsome fresh face is perhaps the most overlooked and that’s Travis Tope’s Charlie Ritter. Serving as an unassuming sidekick to Jake, the young pilot’s innocuous nature is actually quite charming.
The returning cast don’t all escape being rendered ineffective either. Judd Hirsch’s Julius Levinson is shoehorned into a subplot that stops the movie dead in its tracks whenever it receives attention, while Vivica A. Fox makes little more than a cursory cameo as Jasmine Hiller. It’s as if Emmerich wanted to bring back as many characters as he could but didn’t have a clue what to do with any of them other than Levinson and Whitmore.
Speaking of which, Jeff Goldblum’s idiosyncratic performance is undoubtedly the best thing about Resurgence. The eccentric actor seemed to be genuinely enjoying being front and centre again as David. It’s entertaining to watch, even if he does occasionally come close to descending into self-parody. The only real down-side of his return is that he gets roped into his father’s ridiculous subplot in the final act, which takes away from the supposed seriousness of the situation.
Bill Pullman successfully conveys Tom Whitmore’s declining mental health by playing him as if he’s suffering from severe post-traumatic stress, which works well whenever he’s in the spotlight. That being said, the most disreputable part of the movie is that what should have been a huge hero moment for the retired politician is so poorly handled that it has no impact at all.
Brent Spiner’s Brakish Okun makes a comeback too, despite his apparent death in Independence Day. Much like Whitmore, he’s haunted by the telepathic attack he endured in the previous film, meaning his “resurrection” revolves around the insights he can offer as a result of his connection to the invaders. But given the fact that Whitmore is able to fulfil the exact same function, Okun really didn’t need to be brought back. It’s just one of many redundant decisions that show this movie wasn’t as carefully conceived as its predecessor.
Twenty years ago Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin crafted a warm and well-intentioned sci-fi thriller that was crammed with captivating characters, game-changing special effects and pulse-pounding action. It may have been superfluous and silly, but it was also emotional, exciting and stuffed with iconic imagery. In essence, it was the quintessential summer blockbuster.
Its sequel, on the other hand, exhibits none of these attributes. It doesn’t ruin the original by any means, it just adds absolutely nothing to it. It may sound as if I found this film disappointing, but truth be told, it’s far too forgettable to even deserve that distinction. If you haven’t seen Resurgence and want to, then you certainly should. Hell, you might even find a few things fascinating at face value. Just don’t expect to discover any notable new characters, unique ideas, or anything that really resonates.
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