I will admit I went into INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (2016) with minimal expectations. I’d seen the first trailer and didn’t care much for it. There’s a Catch-22 around one’s expectations, however: I had hoped, since my expectation was low, the sequel to the blockbuster movie INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) would actually knock my socks off. Having hoped for that, I was really going in with high expectations… on and on in an infinite loop of verbose point-making that just won’t end. So let’s just stop and begin again.
The original INDEPENDENCE DAY was exciting and visually-stunning, not to mention a well-acted and cleverly-written disaster movie. That’s a lotof hyphenated words, which indicates I enjoyed it. I didn’t love it, mind you, but it was a fun two-hour thrill ride. Back then, it felt like watching a TV-movie blessed with a massive budget, as most of the cast were culled from television shows (something not normally done in that day). If you’re reading this and wondering what a “TV-movie” is, ask your parents.
The appeal of the original was the blending of modern-day warfare with high-tech science fiction. How would everyday people, soldiers, and politicians deal with an attack from outer space from technologically-advance aliens? The filmmakers did a good job with it, using the device of stolen technology from the mysterious Area 51 as a deux ex machina to defeat the bugs.
(Yes, I probably used deus ex machina incorrectly in this context, but so what? I still used it, which makes me cool, in a pretentious, literary way.)
ID: RESURGENCE (I hope you appreciate how hard it is to spell “resurgence”), on the other hand, is all science fiction. In fact, it goes a little beyond that and just skirts being a live-action anime film. I half-expected the fighter pilots to climb aboard giant, fighting robots (they didn’t, but I said it only skirts the edge). The film takes place in modern day, 2016, twenty years after the devastating attacks of the first film. Humanity has rebuilt civilization. More than rebuilt, in fact, since now everyone has access to the invaders’ technology. Everything is updated, though mostly militarily. Instead of helicopters, we have quasi-spaceships that hover and fly across the world via fusion engines (with lots of bright, blue lights). There is a base on the moon, and even an early warning outpost orbiting Saturn!
Humanity has come a long way in two decades. At least the military has. Most average people still drive cars and school buses. Aside from being able to pick apart and recreate the alien tech left behind after the mother ship went boom after the last attack, this scenario is plausible for another reason: every country has banded together, forgetting their ideological differences, working as one race to rebuild the planet’s infrastructure. At the same time they have are constantly preparing for the next invasion, if one should ever come. The base on the moon is used for controlling an array of laser cannons. We never see the outpost around Saturn, though it is soon destroyed by the aliens as they close in on Earth.
Earth’s technological leap makes sense, and is a logical progression from the previous movie. What it causes, however, is the removal of a significant element in the previous movie: humans surviving MacGyver-like against an advanced race.
Granted, when the aliens finally show up, it’s in a whopper of a ship, three thousand miles across, reaching from the east coast of the US to the west coast of Europe. Their technology has not advanced much compared to when they first attacked, and this gives humans a better fighting chance. But this is a Queen’s ship, and she’s one smart cookie. And did I mention the ship was three-thousand miles wide?
Most of the original cast of INDEPENDENCE DAY returns for RESURGENCE, twenty years older but no less entertaining. Bill Pullman (SPACE BALLS, 1987, AMERICAN ULTRA, 2015) plays the retired, somewhat twitchy former President Whitmore; stuttering, mumbly Jeff Goldblum (JURRASIC PARK, 1993, THE FLY, 1986) is scientist David Levinson (who, we learn, has been in charge of building Earth’s defenses); Judd Hirsch (TAXI and NUMB3RS television series) is still kicking as David’s father, Julius Levinson. Brent Spiner (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION television series), as Dr. Brakish Okun, wakes up from a twenty-year coma as the new ship comes into range. We’re also given a brief cameo by an older, but no less elegant, Vivica A. Fox (KILL BILL VOLUME 1 & 2, 2003/2004) as Jasmine Hiller, the exotic dancer who saves the first lady in ID1, and whose husband was played by then break-out star Will Smith. Smith is not in ID2, unfortunately. To deal with his absence, the writers had his character die years earlier during a test flight, leaving behind Jasmine and their son Dylan.
Dylan has grown to be the head of an elite group of young fighter pilots. The planes look a lot like our current jets, except they go a lot faster, shoot lasers, and can go into space. They didn’t combine together to form a massive robot lion, but that might have gotten left on the cutting room floor. Jessie T. Usher (WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL, 2014) plays Dylan, albeit it a little stiffly, as if the young actor isn’t quite comfortable in the role.
Liam Hemsworth (THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012, THE EXPENDABLES 2, 2012), however, shines as Dylan’s rival and hot dog pilot Jake Morrison. Jake happens to be engaged to ex-president Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe, IT FOLLOWS, 2014). The super jet team is rounded out by Chinese flying ace Rain Lao, played by askance-glancing Asian actress Angelababy (HITMAN: AGENT 47, 2015). Not a typo. It’s the name she uses, and Jake’s buddy Floyd (Nicolas Wright), who nearly kills them all a couple of times, yet is still considered one of the elite.
There’s a decent mix of new and old blood in the movie. For fans of the first, Bill Pullman’s haunted President Whitmore is a treat. He (and many more humans across the globe) had made a psychic connection with the aliens twenty years ago, causing serious psychological strife. With the monster ship approaching, his nightmares are growing worse. In truth, they’re not nightmares at all, but a link to arriving alien queen. This post-psychic anxiety has actually become a psychological phenomenon, studied by the likes of David Levinson’s former girlfriend and science buddy Catherine (Charlotte Gainsbourg).
Yes. There are a lot of characters in this movie. A bit too many, in fact, each with their own backstory. Like the original film, the script juggles six or seven of these subplots beneath the overarching premise of earth being attacked. The difference here is that none have any real meat to them. Judd Hirsch’s character, after almost dying on his boat when the alien ship lands, spends the rest of the movie driving a bunch of orphaned children around, arriving at Area 51 just in time for the climactic battle. His story adds a bit of humanity to an otherwise shooty-up space story, which I did appreciate, but not much else. It felt inserted into the film instead being a natural part of it. I’ve always loved Hirsch, though, so that’s okay. None of the others had much more depth than his storyline, anyway.
Dylan is angry at Jake for nearly killing him in a training exercise years before (considering his father was killed that way, you can’t blame him). Young Patricia Whitmore misses her fiancé, Jake, and they need to pick out a house to buy before the wedding. (Honestly, that’s their subplot.) Current President Lanford (Sela Ward, GONE GIRL, 2014, and the CSI: NEW YORK television series) makes a couple of speeches, but doesn’t do much else, so overshadowed is she by ex-president Whitmore’s legacy. One other newcomer, who I thought was actually in the original but wasn’t, is William “No One Has Ever Spelled My Last Name Right” Fichtner (THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008, CONTACT, 1997) as General Adams. The military leader contends with a hodge-podge of scientists and soldiers all trying to save the world. In the end, no one had enough screentime to flesh their characters out as much as they should have.
The strongest performances are from Pullman, as President Whitmore, and Hemsworth’s cocky flyboy Jake Morrison. Pullman and Hemsworth are the stars of the film, and I admit it was fun watching the latter actor in a more smiley, active role after the eternally-pouty Gale in the HUNGER GAMESseries. He finally gets to smile in a film almost as much as his brother Chris (aka Thor in the Marvel movies).
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE is not going to be up for a Best Picture Oscar. It’s less David and Goliath than its predecessor, and the bulk of the individual storylines are thin. So, is it worth forking out 30 bucks a person for a night at the movies instead of waiting for its streaming release?
Well, depends if you have a home theater system. Visually, this has some cool scenes. Before the Queen ship arrives, there’s an eerie appearance of another craft, materializing through some kind of wormhole (this is never explained, however) above the moon. The giant alien ship which arrives soon after is impressive. Because of its size, it not only wreaks havoc with the moon as it passes almost through it, but has its own gravitational pull that drags up half of China as it comes in for a landing on top of the Atlantic Ocean—one set of feet in Europe and another in the United States.
This was interesting, but I’ll admit to being a little confused about what I was seeing from time to time. It’s so big, I had difficulty figuring out what was happening. The film did have the requisite monster waves, boats rolling around, and cities destroyed. Everything you’d expect in a Roland Emmerich film. You’ll see dog fights with aliens and other stuff which I’ll won’t discuss to avoid spoilers. Visually, you will have gotten your money’s worth. If you went to a matinee and had a coupon for the popcorn.
As an aside, I occasionally give a film nods for musical score. In this case I noticed the music, composed by Emmerich-alums Harold Kloser (2012, 2009, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, 2004) and Thomas Wander. Problem is, I noticed it in an intrusive way. The score was not nearly as pervasive as, John Williams’s score in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE (2005) which just wouldn’t take a break, but it was close. Sometimes you can relegate it to the back of your mind, but sometimes it’s just a bit much.
Again, I could talk about other parts of the film, good and bad, but that would require some spoilers and, to be honest, I’m out of time. We’ve reached the end. Without giving anything away, the last few lines open up the possibility that INDEPENDENCE DAY might just become a trilogy. RESURGENCEwraps up its story nicely (if not a little silly-ly), but it opens the door a crack for yet another sequel. I doubt it will happen, but if it does, expect a full-fledge space opera.
That’s the key to getting the most out of INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. Don’t expect the innocence of the first, but a film with both feet and a couple of tentacles in the science fiction genre. If you set your expectation properly, you might enjoy it more than I did. Or decide to wait for the video, if straight sci-fi isn’t your bag. For me, I give it two knives. (Two and a Half if someone buys your ticket and chips in for popcorn).