Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman
Twenty years ago, the silly yet endlessly charming Independence Day helped re-define the modern blockbuster, revelling in the cinematic landscape where characters could be simple stereotypes, good versus evil was an enjoyable plot, and city destruction was not reminiscent of a certain tragedy. It’s therefore interesting that Emmerich and Fox chose now to create a sequel, since what was once glorious would not sit so well with modern audiences. Of course with major reworking and re-interpreting, Independence Day: Resurgence could have been a fun film. This, unfortunately, turns out not to be the case.
Of course it would be hard for the film to live up to the success of its parent- other films rarely touch its popularity or box office gross, and it is impossible to review Resurgence without endlessly comparing it to the original. Apparently Emmerich didn’t understand this, and the film falls down by trying to both relish in and spring off the original.
The film takes place twenty years after the Independence Day, as humanity has rebuilt civilisation and used the alien technology to create a better world. After David Levinson (a returning Goldblum) finds a distress beacon the original aliens left behind, an even larger spaceship attacks Earth. All the planetary defences are destroyed, and humanity must once again band together to kill the alien queen and stop the aliens drilling to the Earth’s core.
The original film had such a simple plot that criticism of it seemed bogus, however with the alien’s larger plan and the introduction of worldbuilding elements such as a recently finished ground war in Africa, mental connections with the aliens, or contact from a second alien species, the plot seems unnecessarily confused and winding. It also means any thematic similarities to the original; man’s resilience or the power of teamwork, gets lost in the pile of subplots.
The main issue with the film is, strangely enough, the pacing. Whilst the original spent time introducing the aliens- slowly building tension and intrigue to depict these invaders as a scary threat, Resurgence blasts through character introductions and the initial alien invasion with a strange apathy to the catastrophic event that the first two acts of the original relished in. None of the characters seem too bothered by the existence of this moon-sized spaceship, and the sheer size of the cast means none of the copious number of characters is given much of an opportunity to be a real hero in the way that Smith, Pullman and Goldblum were in the original.
Along with the tension Resurgence lacks the charisma and fun that made the original great- in the midst of terror Will Smith and Randy Quaid shone, lighting up faces as the alien ships lit up cities. Now, aside from generic quips as someone kills an enemy or begins on the next action set piece, there’s a void where ‘fun’ should sit. Smith especially is a sore absence.
What the film lacks in pace it makes up for in action and cinematography. Refreshingly there is not as much action as a film with this plot could have gotten away with, resisting ideas of it being some mindless action film. What action and events the film does include are shot marvellously, with enemies such as the giant spaceship or the alien queen treated with awe and reverence to portray them as genuinely terrifying foes. This film follows Interstellar’s footsteps of a beautiful science fiction film with little interesting substance.
The aforementioned huge cast is another issue with the film, as many characters seem included just to refer to the original film. Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher) has minimal role in the plot, purely acting as the son-in-law of Will Smith, a small character from the original. Similarly recurring characters Thomas J. Whitman (Pullman) and Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) both dodder around following the action but having no real input. The characters had huge potential, and it is initially hinted that Whitman was suffering from PTSD before this is shown to be some alien telepathy instead.
Some characters are enjoyable to watch, such as Deobia Oparei’s African warlord who knows how to fight aliens due to his combat experience in the African ground war, or Nicolas Wright as a fearful UN bureaucrat who gets caught in the action and finds his inner courage. These characters are the film’s only link to the raw humanity that made the original so great, and they aren’t given enough screen time to truly shine.
Independence Day: Resurgence can be most closely linked to Jurassic World. Both are modern interpretations of 90s classics that try to map the cultural impact of the film in the real world to the impact of the events in the fictional world. Yet while Jurassic World understood that the awe of impressive CGI dinosaurs would not work a second time, instead alienating that awe to respond to and escape from the original, Independence Day: Resurgence tries to imitate the original in a modern context. This stops it becoming anything more than a passable action film.
The film isn’t a terrible film- it’s quite enjoyable for a majority of the two hour runtime. Yet for a sequel to such a beloved classic, it doesn’t do much to enamour itself with either a fan of the original or a general sci-fi audience. If Emmerich had tried to aim at either audience- either by literally re-creating the film and updating it, or by turning it into an XCOM-esque alien war, the film could have found a footing. But by trying to achieve too much with the film, it instead simply disappoints.
Review by Tom Bedford