Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

We had twenty years to prepare. So did they.

Twenty years ago, director Roland Emmerich redefined the term ‘blockbuster’ with Independence Day or ID4, a (then) one-of-a-kind event flick that reminded audiences why they loved going to the movies, the space invasion film going on to become one of the biggest box-office smashes of all time. Filled with old-fashioned thrills and spills, ID4 also changed the face of contemporary effects, its Oscar-winning team showcasing an array of spectacular awe-inspiring set pieces — back then, seeing the White House blow up was actually kind of a big deal. Furthermore, the said adventure-sci-fi made a mega-star out of Will Smith — the once king of summer stealing the show as the wisecracking, cigar chomping pilot Colonel Steven Hiller — and kick-started the career of its German-born director Emmerich, who later made a truck load of cash by spewing out similar disaster epics — a sub-genre he pretty much pioneered. Be that as it may, two decades have passed since Independence Day crashed onto our screens, the cinematic landscape being a vastly different terrain, one where corny dialogue and world destruction feel somewhat old hat.

Guess who's back, back again.
Guess who’s back, back again.

The latest Independence Day chapter, Resurgence, takes place twenty years after the alien attack that almost decimated the globe, Emmerich (in his first ever sequel) presenting an alternate reality to the one that we live in today. Seeing as a lot of time has passed since Bill Pullman blurted out his fist-pumping speech as President Whitmore, we’re quickly brought up to speed and informed that mankind has since been living in peace, nations putting aside their petty differences for a more unified land. But, in the anticipation of yet another extra-terrestrial takeover, the Earth Space Defense (ESD) program was born — a global unit where researchers and scientists craft next-gen alien-human hybrid vehicles and weapons (using recovered tech), and engineers and pilots are stationed up on the moon to act as an early warning system for the planet, providing an extra barrier of protection if the threat were ever to return — the said organization headed by none other than Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson. However, when the same tentacled fiends who were defeated back in ’96 ‘resurge,’ ready for a re-match, mankind once again discovers that their attackers are much more advanced than the primitive human race.

Let’s face it, patrons don’t buy tickets to movies like Independence Day: Resurgence (IDR) for their nuanced storylines yet IDR still struggles on a narrative level. Written by no less than five writers, Resurgence feels awfully rushed (there’s way too much going on, even for a flick with a 120-minute run time), Emmerich and co. reverting to tired, worn-out sci-fi tropes — you know, alien queens, hives and convenient weak points (think the Death Star) — whilst stuffing too many characters (old and new) and cocksure twists and turns into the equation. There are some interesting, even promising, story threads introduced but these inspired moments wane rather quickly, this over-the-top slice of cheddar never fusing together quite as nicely as an oozy-melty cheese and nachos combo.

'At least the White House made it this time.'
‘At least the White House made it this time.’

When it comes to the razzle-dazzle factor, Emmerich (at least) gives viewers bang for their buck, IDR boasting an array of impressive images and ideas, particularly those of an alien spaceship of unfathomable size, which wreaks havoc over the entire planet. Igniting a foreboding cloud that stretches over the entire sky, the super-structure plunges the city of Singapore into darkness, before lifting everything off the ground with its gravitational pull. ‘What goes up must come down,’ states Goldblum’s Levinson and just like that Kuala Lumpur goes crashing onto London, with the Eye rolling into the Thames, and the ship’s gigantic landing petals slamming down into the whole of the Atlantic Ocean! Equally as impressive is the flick’s finale, which sees a ginormous alien queen (with her own protective bio-suit) knocking jets out of the sky as she pursues David Levinson (who’s in a school bus full of innocent children) across Utah’s Salt Flats — it’s one heck of a showstopper, I just wish I were rooting for the good guys as opposed to just taking pleasure in all the visual noise. With that in mind, the choppy editing by Adam Wolfe, White House Down (2013), gives off a muddling sense of geography, as does the dim cinematography by Markus Förderer, I Origins (2014), with a large portion of IDR taking place in a deluge of dark, similar looking, weakly lit spaces.

In terms of its human players, Emmerich has decided to split the cast into two differing camps, in the hope of appealing to two diverse age groups. Over on the returning front Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park (1993), steals the entire show as the bemused scientist/ world savior David Levinson, Goldblum hitting the right self-deprecating notes with his lively tongue-in-cheek performance and wry jokes. The grizzled Bill Pullman, Casper (1995), on the other hand, has very little to do as former President Thomas Whitmore bar complain about the recurring visions he’s been having (of the aliens’ return), and rock up completely shaven in the final act, minutes before the world could potentially be obliterated (because, you know, grooming is important at the end of days). Judd Hirsch, Tower Heist (2011), reprises his comic-relief role as David’s dad Julius, the 81-year-old coming across as an unnecessary side character who’s been shoehorned into proceedings while Brent Spiner, from television’s Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), returns as Dr. Brackish Okun, the eccentric Area 51 scientist who’s somehow still alive and even kookier than before.

London, meet Malaysia. Malaysia, meet London.
London, meet Malaysia. Malaysia, meet London.

Leading the troupe of action-ready newbies is Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games (2012), who underwhelms as Jake Morrison, a Top Gun-like pilot-astronaut who heads a squadron of fighters. With Will Smith’s Steven Hiller killed in an off-screen accident — via a malfunction while test piloting the ESD’s first ever alien hybrid fighter — newcomer Jessie T. Usher, When the Game Stands Tall (2014), steps into his weighty shoes as Hiller’s son, Dylan. Unfortunately, Usher doesn’t exhibit any of the charisma or appeal that made Smith such a superstar, Dylan coming across as a one-note tough guy who shares a paper-thin conflict between Hemsworth’s Morrison. Who does shine however is the gorgeous Maika Monroe, It Follows (2014), the able 23-year-old showing considerable depth as Jake’s fiancée and Whitmore’s grown-up daughter Patricia, whose royal status has prevented her from forging her own path in life — I just wish Monroe had more to do!

Then there’s Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia (2011), as the feisty psychologist Catherine Marceaux, a former flame of Levinson’s, and DeObia Oparei, Doom (2005), a bowie knife wielding warlord named Dikembe Umbutu who helms from Africa’s Democratic Republic of D’Umbutu, a nation that fought a decade-long war against a small group of alien survivors from the 1996 battle, the residents fending them off without the aid of government intervention — two neat characters I would’ve loved to have seen more of. So Emmerich, can we maybe get a prequel about that 10-year African conflict?

'I've got this guys, I'm Thor's brother!'
‘I’ve got this guys, I’m Thor’s brother!’

With director Roland Emmerich — who hasn’t had a hit since the Mayan calendar apocalypse flick 2012 (2009) — essentially trying to cash-in on the nostalgia wave, Independence Day: Resurgence sees the 60-year-old filmmaker competing against a plethora of similarly themed fatigued sci-fi/ catastrophe films, which he (and countless others) have churned out over the years. While Resurgence isn’t a complete rehash, there’s little synergy between the actors and little tension amongst the carnage, IDR proving that sometimes what was great in the ’90s should have perhaps remained there. Closing with a wink towards an interplanetary sequel (and an extended universe), I have a feeling that humanity will be rather safe for a while.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Independence Day: Resurgence is released through 20th Century Fox Australia