Independence Day was an event movie moment for me. I remember the initial trailer debuting during the Super Bowl XXX that year, and I was hooked. There was an epic scale that my then-15-year-old eyes had not really seen in movies up to that time. I remember waiting with great anticipation for it, watching specials on the making of it on the Discovery Channel or some cable network like that, and then going to see it with my friends on July 4th weekend. It did not disappoint. It was all of the spectacle I was anticipating. For me, it encapsulated what a summer blockbuster could and should be at the time. I haven’t gone back and watched it much in the 20 years since its release, but I’m sure parts of it haven’t aged well, while others hopefully still hold up. It marked the making of a movie star in Will Smith, who at that time was mostly known for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Twenty years later, Roland Emmerich, the director of the original, has returned with a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence.
Independence Day: Resurgence is set 20 years after the events of the original 1996 film. The world has been rebuilt in the aftermath of the alien invasion. Not only has it been rebuilt, but the alien technology has been incorporated and assimilated, as well as used to create a global defense unit, that includes a moon base and weapons orbiting the globe, in case any other visitors arrive. One of the men stationed on the moon is Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), a former fighter pilot who washed out and got reassigned after a falling out with his former best friend, Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Will Smith’s character from the first film. He also happens to be the fiance of Patricia Whitemore (Maika Monroe), daughter of former President Whitemore (Bill Pullman) and now working at the White House for President Lanford (Sela Ward). President Whitmore and others who have had psychic connections with the aliens have been having visions, including an African warlord, Dikeme Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), who battled the aliens for years after the initial conflict. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is on an expedition to meet with Umbutu, because the ship that had landed there had suddenly turned back on recently. While there, he runs into Catherine Marceaux, who is investigating the visions that people are having. At the same time, a ship appears unannounced just beyond the moon, and is shot down with a giant white orb contained within it. Soon after that, a wormhole opens and the aliens from the first movie have returned to finish the job, this time in a bigger ship, and, like a hive, controlled by a queen.
I found very few things to like about this film. Most of the time I found myself shaking my head, wincing, or outright groaning to myself at the strained attempts at humor or the convoluted, incoherent story that was unfolding. What Roland Emmerich has created here is a steaming pile of crap. It utterly fails to recapture the magic and the spectacle of the original film. There was a novelty, a unique aspect to Independence Day when it first came out. Nothing had been done to that scale before. Giant alien ships that could hover over New York City and blot out the sun? The scale of it all was immense and it felt that way both because of the visuals, but also because of the then-state-of-the-art technology being used to make it in 1996.
But today, in 2016, the novelty of it all is long gone. We have seen building leveled and entire cities reduced to rubble several times over in the intervening years between 1996 and today. There is nothing new to see here. It is all diminishing returns at this point. And with no one is that more obvious with than Roland Emmerich, who has built his career on these disaster event movies. Maybe most importantly, the scale of the original film is completely gone, and the sheer size of what they are attempting here just renders it unwieldy. There is nothing epic here in terms of scope or in visuals. Independence Day had the White House and the Empire State Building being destroyed by a beam of light. That’s a memorable movie moment. There is nothing like that here. When London and (I’m guessing) Beijing are destroyed, it’s just confusing mass of building and streets and bridges and earth falling from the sky as gravity goes out the window.
The characters are mostly uninteresting as well. That’s not to say that the original cast was akin to The Godfather or anything, but it definitely benefited from the charisma of Will Smith. And Bill Pullam’s speech at the end was legitimately moving in way it probably had no business being. Everything here is a caricature of all that. Hemsworth is perfectly adequate as an actor, but nothing he does here as the young lead can hold a candle to what Will Smith brought to the first movie. Jeff Goldblum seems to be mailing it in. Poor Maika Monroe is not given much of anything to do outside of being concerned for her father the majority of the movie until she gets back in the pilot seat too at the end. Bill Pullman’s attempt to give another stirring speech to pilots that need a confidence boost just doesn’t come close to his previous speech. It would almost be acceptable if the characters were less than one dimensional if the visuals of the movie were so good that they alone warranted seeing the film. But again, there are no memorable visuals here.
There are other minor characters involved in the story as well. Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) from the first film returns; not dead as everyone suspected after ID4 but merely in a coma all this time. I hate to say this about the guy who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but he’s got too much screen time. William Fichtner is a commanding general of the US military. Judd Hirsch reprises his role as David’s father Julius, and goes from living in Florida to getting to Nevada and Area 51 by the climax of the movie. Joey King is a girl with brothers and sisters who find Julius and they become a temporary surrogate family of sorts trekking their way across the country in near-record time, part of the way in what turns out to be the most nimble and agile school bus ever built. Vivica A. Fox returns for a small role as well, no longer a stripper but now a hospital administrator. Just, wow. Chinese actress/model Angelababy is one of the elite fighter pilots that Hemsworth’s buddy has a crush on. Based on her involvement and the visuals of a Chinese city being destroyed, I’m guessing that significant financial backing for this film came from Chinese investors.
Speaking of investors, the budget ($165 million) more than doubles the original ($75 million) and the results don’t look that much better. Independence Day: Resurgence fails to recapture almost anything that made ID4 worth seeing back in 1996. It’s just another half-baked disaster film from Roland Emmerich. There is nothing in its 120 minutes that is worthy of recommendation. It’s incoherent visually as well as plot-wise. Worst of all, it hints at a third possible film in the franchise. I can’t see the film making enough money to justify that, though franchises are less risky for studios in an increasingly risky business. In a summer of unwanted sequels, this is right up there at the very top in terms of being unwanted, unnecessary, unwelcomed and uninteresting.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars