Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) – Movie Review
Independence Day: Resurgence
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods & James Vanderbilt
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman & Maika Monroe
Music: Harald Kloser & Thomas Wanker
Release Date: June 23rd 2016
1996’s ‘Independence Day’ is easily one of the most iconic blockbusters of all time, right up there alongside ‘Jaws’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc’. That’s not necessarily because of its sheer quality (although, it really does hold up) but because of its incredible marketing campaign and its trailers which consisted of blowing up national monuments as well as its timeless themes of unity which complimented its special effects.
It is a movie that has earned its place in public lexicon and now, 20 years later, director Roland Emmerich who simply has been unable to replicate that lightning-in-a-bottle success with equally big but not equally good action films like ‘Godzilla’, ’10,000 B.C.’, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and ‘2012’. Even his smaller passion projects haven’t taken off, like ‘Anonymous’ and ‘Stonewall’. So, in an age of nostalgia-based filmmaking it only makes sense for Emmerich to try and give his career a second-wind by re-visiting the universe that made his career in the first place. But should the aliens have stayed put or is the perfectly fine original movie worthy of being part of a franchise, with or without Will Smith?
It’s 20 years after the original alien invasion depicted in ‘Independence Day’ and the planet Earth is a very different place. Having incorporated the alien’s technology into everyday life, the citizens of earth have put their differences behind them and unified to defend themselves against any other extra-terrestrial threats. But the aliens are returning and have had the same amount of time to prepare. It’s up to former-President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman), experienced scientist David (Goldblum), skilled pilot Jake (Hemsworth), the son of pilot Steven Hill, Dylan (Usher) and others to fight back the alien threat and also discover what the meaning is behind a strange symbol that certain humans have started to compulsively sketch.
The set-up is strong if a bit distant when compared to the first movie. ‘Independence Day’ in 1996 was depicting a relatable and recognisable world that was being invaded by aliens. However, by design, the 2016 depicted bares little cultural similarity to our own. We have a defence-base on the moon, anti-gravity helicopters, laser-guns etc. and while it’s interesting to see what Planet Earth has done with 20 years of technology I feel like the movie didn’t go nearly far enough. Outside of the military applications, this technology doesn’t seem to have leaked into everyday life. Televisions are still the same, people Skype as normal, mobile phones are comparatively unimpressive, the architecture of buildings hasn’t change (in fact, 2016 ‘ID4:2’ London is identical to 2016-actual London despite the city being destroyed in 1996), boats, buses and consumer cars haven’t changed etc.
It feels like when designing a brave new world in the aftermath of an alien invasion, the filmmakers took the lazy route and didn’t do much in the way of world-building. Even the unified countries and governments don’t get much time to be fleshed out as we only have the character’s word for it that there’s world peace and that everybody gets along. We only see other government leaders on computer screens in dark rooms and we get no sense of true unity or countries putting their differences aside.
However, a lack of world-building despite this movie’s attempt to kickstart a franchise is the least of this film’s problems because Roland Emmerich’s approach is two-fold for ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’. 1) Make everything the same as the first but bigger. 2) Rip-off lots of other films.
We get the tribes vs. aliens concept from ‘District 9’, people having specific visions from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, we get the pilot with a chip on his shoulder from ‘Top Gun’, the aesthetic of ‘Portal’ when it comes to another alien species and the list goes on and on. Not to mention that with the exception of a few different beats and the lack of any sort of conclusion, the plot hits the same beats as the first ‘Independence Day’. We get the lead up to July 4th, the aliens arrive, wreck-stuff, we fight back, fail, regroup for a smaller plan etc. Despite having 20 years to come up with a plot, Roland Emmerich and the movie’s FOUR OTHER screenwriters (seriously) the plot is nothing more than a lazy re-tread of the first despite new characters, a new future world and the desire to set up a brand new trilogy of movies. One egregious plot-point has the main characters come up with the exact same plan that the aliens used on them earlier in the film, but rather then coming across as beating the aliens at their own game, it just comes across as a lazy way to end the movie.
But the scale is definitely bigger and there are some great, cheesy blockbuster moments like when the 3000-mile wide spaceship comes to earth over the Atlantic. When one character asks “Which part?” of the Ocean, she’s told “All of it!”. The massive spacecraft’s landing procedure alone decimates the population of the Earth and it does make you wonder just how on earth the humans are going to win this time.
Yet, simultaneously, the aliens aren’t on earth for revenge, they’re there to drill into the planet’s core and harvest the Earth’s resources to fuel their ship. Giving the aliens a motivation in the first movie was one of the weaker elements of that film and in ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ it feels like the five writers (seriously) were overthinking the narrative again. We don’t need a convoluted motivation for the aliens, in fact the only motive they should have is revenge for what happened 20 years ago because that makes them more threatening and formidable. Just the idea of these hyper-advanced alien creatures travelling billions of miles across space JUST to set an example and finish what they started is more terrifying than “Oh, they want our Planet’s Core for fuel”.
Incidentally, revenge as a plot-point never occurred to Emmerich as he revealed doing an interview on the Empire Magazine Podcast and he also mentioned that the movie’s relatively short run-time of only 120 minutes didn’t leave much on the cutting-room floor with no extra character development or the fleshing out of plot-points being involved in the movie at any stage. That says so much about the movie when it gets greenlit, does the bare minimum narratively and then hopes a sequel will come if they set one up. ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ comes across as soulless and Roland Emmerich is the type of filmmaker who cannot fake enthusiasm. When he’s not invested in a movie, you can tell from every frame and every frame of ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’, despite looking occasionally very polished with glossy special effects, feels lazy and lacking in heart.
You’ll notice that I’ve not talked about the characters much and that’s because there’s so little to talk about. Jeff Goldblum returns but I have a feeling that he and Emmerich were drinking the same decaf coffee because it feels like he’s phoning it in here. Very little of Goldblum’s natural charm and charisma (that he still has, make no mistake) is present and it feels like an easy pay-cheque for him. Also, despite being experienced in alien-invasions and being proven right all the time, why does the government always ignore his advice? His character’s father also returns played again by Judd Hirsch who gets nothing to do in the movie and serves no narrative function yet he gets his own sub-plot where he saves a small group of kids. He’s absolutely pointless.
Bill Pullman on the other hand is really trying and he rocks his PTSD-beard very well but he doesn’t get the hero moments of the first film and Brent Spiner also returns as witless comic-relief. Newcomer Liam Hemsworth gets nothing interesting to do and he’s basically “Generic Young White Guy #24601”, he has a romance with the former-President’s daughter Patricia played by ‘It Follows’ star Maika Monroe who is “Generic Young White Romantic Interest #21109”. She tries on numerous occasions to get a badass moment or a moment to influence the story but everytime the movie flirts with it, another character comes in to steal the spotlight. The 4th time it happened, it just became unintentionally funny how the only notable female presence in the movie kept getting any worthwhile moments snatched out from under her.
William Fincher is the generic military general, Jesse Usher doesn’t have an ounce of the charisma of Will Smith and gets so little to do in the movie that there’s no point in him being the son of the Fresh Prince, Travis Tope is a comic-relief pilot who I really wanted to die but he never did, Angelababy is just Chinese Eye-Candy for the rest of the cast, the list of pointless, witless characters just goes on and on. There’s no one worth investing in and the movie really does lack a human touch. Even when millions of people are getting killed, it feels like there’s nothing at stake and there’s no attachment or exploration of the aftermath of the alien attacks meaning that despite the visuals ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ is phenomenally boring. Thankfully, it’s only 2-hours long.
Does the movie provide blockbuster visuals? Yes, it does for the most part. The alien mothership landing truly is a brilliant sequence with gorgeous tableau’s, the ship using its own gravitational pull to drop landmarks on top of other landmarks and setting the sky on fire as it re-enters the atmosphere is brilliantly done. If I ever re-watch this movie again, it will ONLY be because of that sequence…and then I’ll promptly turn the movie off.
The CGI aliens, on the other hand, look really fake and phony and look like they came from 1996 (ironically) and when the climax takes place in an empty desert you can’t escape the feeling that the production ran out of money at the very last minute (which might explain why the film doesn’t actually have an ending). The music by Harald Kloser & Thomas Wanker feels generic, the production-design feels generic, the action-beats feel generic and the whole enterprise feels (say it with me) generic. By no means is the production bad it just…feels so bare-bones.
Going on a slight tangent for a moment, I think it’s pretty amazing that movie-goers are accusing the ‘Ghostbusters’ remake of being a soulless cash-in and being lazily put together to make a quick-buck…yet they seem to have ignored ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ which, while far from the worst movie of 2016, feels like one of the most redundant, corporate and paint-by-numbers. Despite using the iconic 1996 original as a launchpad, it feels hopelessly generic and despite one awesome landing sequence, there’s nothing here that will be remembered, fondly or otherwise, 20 years from now. The characters at the end remark that mankind won’t be able to survive another invasion. I personally don’t think the franchise survived this one, let alone another.
I give ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ 1 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 4th Aug 16