Like it or not, right or wrong, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's Independence Day forever changed Hollywood filmmaking in the summer of 1996. Their canny updating of '50s-era alien invasion hokum with state-of-the-art special effects, the anticipation for which went through the roof with an impeccably well-timed (and, at the time, daring) six-months-in-advance trailer during the Super Bowl showcasing a massive alien ship blowing up the White House, ushered in a new era of outsized blockbuster filmmaking predicated on big emotions, end-of-the-world stakes, and mass destruction (Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg's game changer three years earlier, looks positively tame by comparison with its isolated location, limited number of characters, and emphasis on old-fashioned suspense).
Now that two decades have passed along with dozens and dozens of blockbuster blow-out movies they helped spawn, Emmerich and Devlin reteamed, for the first time since 2000's The Patriot, to produce a belated, and long-rumored sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. It would seem that with the wholesale destruction of the invading alien forces in Independence Day (enabled by an Apple Macbook, surely one of Hollywood's greatest and most ridiculous moments of product placement), there wouldn't be much left to do, but it's hard to keep a good idea down. So, the film presupposes that the aliens, having been rebuffed by the forces of Planet Earth led by (who else?) the American President, have spent the past 20 years retooling for another invasion, and when they arrive, they are bigger and badder than ever.
Rather than a bunch of ships 15 miles wide, now we get one ship that is 3,000 miles in diameter, which plants itself on the western hemisphere, and starts drilling into the ocean with the goal of sucking out the planet's core. A number of characters from the first film return to help save the world once again, including Jeff Goldblum's sardonic scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum); former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who led the Earth's defense the first time around and is now a slightly hobbled, heavily bearded old man with bad dreams and possible visions of a new attack; Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), the long-haired Area 51 scientist who was supposedly killed back in '96 but has apparently just been in a two-decade coma; and Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch), David's father who has no real place in the story except to provide another familiar face and some cantankerous shtick.
Of course, there needs to be some new blood as well, and Liam Hemsworth is on hand to provide good looks and not much else as Jake Morrison, a pilot who is engaged to Patricia (Maika Monroe), President Whitmore's daughter. The only real dramatic conflict in the film is between Jake and Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), another pilot and the son of the character played by Will Smith in the first film (who was apparently killed on a test flight). The conflict between them boils down to an old feud stemming from Jake's almost getting Dylan killed during flight school, and it is so thin as to barely merit mentioning, much less the amount of screen time that it gets. Other new faces include Sela Ward as the current President; Travis Toe as Charlie, Jake's brainy sidekick; Angelababy as a Chinese pilot after whom Charlie shamelessly lusts; Charlotte Gainsbourg as a psychologist who studies human-alien psychic connections; and Deobia Oparei as an African warlord on whose territory an alien ship landed back in '96 and has remained ever since. As in the first film, Resurgence has scenes that take place all over the world-in Washington, DC, in Africa, in London, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean-and also on the moon, as humankind has utilized the alien technologies to advance their own, which gives the film a futuristic sci-fi feel even though it takes place in the present.
Of course, what audiences are looking for in Independence Day: Resurgence is spectacle, and Emmerich delivers plenty of it. Much of it will feel familiar, especially since Emmerich has already destroyed much of the world many times over-not only in the first Independence Day, but also in Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and 2012 (2009)-and there are only so many visually interesting ways you can lay waste to major cities (the destruction of the London Bridge gives occasion for one of the film's funnier self-aware comments, when Goldblum mutters, "They always go after the national landmarks"). The special effects are often quite good, although there are several scenes that were clearly shot on soundstages and look utterly unconvincing. A lot of the action feels regurgitated from other action movies (including the original film), but some of them stick, like the big climax in the Nevada salt flats, whose expanse of white ground and blue sky lend visual clarity that is often lacking in the darker, more hectic sequences.
While Emmerich and Devlin managed screenwriting duties on the original film by themselves, the sequel has required no less than three additional scribes, including Nicolas Wright (White House Down, James A. Woods (a minor character actor making his screenwriting debut), and James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man). As a result, the film often feels overcooked and overseasoned-the proverbial "too many chefs" problem. The basic structure works fine and some of the ideas are pretty good, but there is no emotional resonance; the characters are all flat, even Goldblum's David, who is good for a few funny lines and not much else. Will Smith appears briefly in the background in a framed photograph in the new White House, which only makes his lack of presence all the more noticeable. Some initially laughed in the mid-'90s about the idea of the Fresh Prince taking on invading aliens, but Resurgence could have used some of that charisma and energy to round out and enliven the mostly empty spectacle.
Copyright 2016 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Overall Rating: (2)
Get a daily dose of New York Telegraph news through our daily email, its complimentary and keeps you fully up to date with world and business news as well.