Review: Independence Day: Resurgence
PLOT: 20 years after we shut down an alien invasion, the world lives in harmony and has integrated the alien technology into our rebuilding effort. But, as we probably guessed, those aliens haven't been licking their wounds during the hiatus; they're coming back for Round 2, more intent than ever to wipe us out.
REVIEW: Is it possible for me to be disappointed with INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE? It's not like I have much affection for the first one; it was a thing, I guess, when it first came out, but it hasn't aged too well. And I haven't exactly been yearning for a follow-up, especially after all this time. Still, there's no denying the original's iconic moments - those shadows looming, those landmarks exploding - are ingrained in my mind. Like it or not, that movie left an impression; it paved the way for a new breed of disaster cinema (several of them made by ID4 helmer Roland Emmerich) and even though it's corny as hell, there's an earnestness and energy to it that resonates. So a small part of me was admittedly curious to see RESURGENCE; if the master of bashing Earth to bits can recapture a little bit of that magic from 20 years ago, maybe we'd have a real spectacle on our hands. After all, we've seen the planet devastated about 100 times since 1996, so it's going to take a lot to wow us at this point.
RESURGENCE doesn't wow, though. It has less grandeur than the original; in this film, an alien invasion is sort of a ho-hum event. The wow factor is important in a movie like this, which aims to give us some of that good old fashioned apocalyptic destruction but ends up feeling like a half-hearted effort. A bunch of cities get wiped out, no doubt, but Emmerich - who has staged these kinds of sequences with demented vigor in the past - doesn't appear to be into it; the destruction is swift and indifferent. There are only so many times a man can kill a billion people, after all - is it possible Emmerich has grown weary of incinerating us?
Not unlike the recent WARCRAFT (which this is just a little bit better than), ID:R spends a lot of time overcomplicated its plot with too many characters and scenes of exposition when what it all boils down to is very simple. 20 years after our civilization defeated an intruding alien race (thanks, computer virus!), the fearsome buggers come back for revenge. In the meantime we've had plenty of time to prepare; we've taken the technology they left behind to build bigger buildings and fancier transportation systems, as well as enhance our military might. We've even got an outpost set up on the moon, just in case. Naturally, all that time we spent preparing really hasn't actually prepared us at all for what's up the alien's sleeve now, which is a spaceship so huge it takes up like 1/4 of the planet. When it arrives it ends up sucking up half of China and England because it brings its own gravity; the cities eventually come crumbling down in horrifying fashion. The ship then settles over the Atlantic ocean so it drill into the Earth's core, which it uses for energy. Why it doesn't first just decimate all of our cities and then get down to business so it won't have any resistance is one of those questions you don't ask, but obviously the aliens don't forward plan too well either.
Intriguing ideas that the movie presents - like the fact we've rebuilt our cities, transportation systems and weapons utilizing the aliens' technology - are left unexplored satisfyingly; we see a few helicopters and planes that have been updated with extraterrestrial goodies, but instead of diving deep into the possibilities of this notion Emmerich gives us passing glances at them. He's in too much of a rush to cram everything else in. There's even another alien race that figures into the plot, but the wonderment of that is shoved aside. (We'll have to wait for the next film to get into all that, I suppose.) What Emmerich likes, in this movie and many of his others, are scenes where quirky characters interact with each other, urgently explaining the situation ad nauseam; this would not be a problem if Emmerich had any knack for comedy or convincing dialogue, but he doesn't, so most of the sequences where actors stand around conversing are either completely lame or thoroughly boring.
Dealing with actors has never (ever) been one of Emmerich's strong points, and here the cast is capable and that's about it. The newcomers are barely given any distinguishing character traits; hardly any thought, really. Liam Hemsworth is charismatic enough as what I think is supposed to be a "bad boy pilot" role, although his brashness is quite PG-13. Jessie T. Usher's Dylan - the son of Will Smith's Steven Hiller, now deceased - has practically nothing at all to do; his character has a beef with Hemsworth's character but that's resolved so quickly that it doesn't seem worth bringing up in the first place. Maika Monroe is fairly dull as President Whitmore's daughter; she looks vaguely worried about the world coming to a fiery end. The returning actors are welcome, however. Jeff Goldblum can always be counted upon to add a little subversion to the proceedings with his wry line-readings (although admittedly even he looks a tad bored here), and Pullman's erratic take on President Whitmore - who now has visions of the impending alien attack - gives the character an intriguing new layer. Judd Hirsch, god bless him, is actually pretty amusing as David's perpetually kvetching father; he at least he still looks like he's having a good time. Brent Spiner steals a few scenes as the kooky Dr. Okun (who has been in a coma since the last film), but even he can't quite rise above Emmerich's pitifully dorky sense of humor.
And I'm not even mentioning most of the cast; there are plenty more characters and subplots, the majority of them unimportant. The film's pace is jostled by the fact that it has to keep cutting to all these different people, it never finds itself in a comfortable rhythm. Emmerich is evidently compelled to toss about a dozen protagonists our way when he might've fared much better with about half that. (There are at least two "comic relief" doofuses here who never say anything funny, and an African warlord figures into the proceedings in a baffling manner.) INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE is only two hours long, short for a movie like this, and it often comes across as awkwardly overstuffed, like Emmerich was given a two hour time limit and had to fit two and a half hours worth of material into it.
But how is the carnage and action, you ask? That's why we're here, after all. It's fine, but never truly rousing. The alien ship's arrival looks cool and some of the destruction is vivid, but again, at this point it's rather hard to make this stuff really leap off the screen, so many times have we seen variations of it. (The movie never comes close to that first major sequence of destruction in INDEPENDENCE DAY, which actually did feel like a remarkable event.) The many aerial dogfights are finely executed but repetitive. ID:R only really comes to life during its big climax, which pits our surviving forces versus a pissed-off alien queen. There are a handful of really enjoyable moments during this standoff - I wish it had come way earlier - but it's too little, too late for INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, which at that point has established that while the aliens may be bigger and better, this followup certainly is not.
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