I am an ardent supporter of the original Independence Day. Despite all of its detractors, all of those who can’t help but harp negativity on the picture, I maintain that the 1996 film is popcorn spectacle at its finest: with epic alien-on-spaceship dogfights, endearing characters, a brilliant score, and excellent (I mean excellent) pacing. That movie really has stood the test of time for me. Every time I hear that classic speech from Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore I feel like I could go out and punch an alien, and every time I see Randy Quaid’s character makes his famed kamikaze run on the massive death ray in the end, a chill goes down my spine. In the years following its release, as we entered an age of endless sequelification and constant franchise building, one of the things that I came to like most about this movie was that it never got a followup; it didn’t need one. It stood as a weird monolith in the filmmaking landscape; a reminder that big budget spectacle could exist just fine as a single installment, telling a complete story with a cathartic ending that closed the door in a satisfying way.
Oh, how things have changed. Unfortunately, the powers that be finally caved and decided to make a very unnecessary sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. And no, this movie doesn’t come close to justifying its existence.
I’m going to cut to the chase here: Independence Day: Resurgence is an awful film. I mean that. It is bad. I’ll explain why down below, but my core feelings on this film are surprisingly uncomplicated, so I thought I’d get them out of the way first in case any of you were pressed for time. And for everybody else, please read on.
Resurgence is a congested hodgepodge of old and new ideas. Much of this film attempts (unsuccessfully) to replicate the beats of the original. We again get an ensemble cast (with both new and returning characters, including one who I’m pretty sure died in the original film), we again get those gigantic alien spaceships that reap massive quantities of destruction, and there’s still a bit of that old patriotic, “Let’s band together, guys!” theme going around. Fear not though, this isn’t merely a mediocre retread of old material. This movie also gives a bunch of new and underdeveloped plot points: plot points about what Earth has done since the last invasion, plot points about the invader aliens and what they’re like, and some weird McGuffinish plot points about higher life forms.
Due to sloppy filmmaking and weird pacing, none of what’s happening has any real impact what-so-ever. It’s not simply a matter of too much going on (though that’s a problem), it’s that, all too often, moments of importance are passed up for moments of sheer stupidity. As an example, Resurgence practically skims over a seemingly important backstory about what happened on Earth in the time since the first film, and it allocates virtually no time to reflect on the destruction that these new batch of aliens bring, meaning it has nowhere near the visceral impact or thematic weight of the original; yet this movie counterintuitively wastes endless amounts of time on stupid subplots involving David Levinson’s father and the resurrection of that wacky long haired scientist from the first film (played by Brent Spiner, desperately trying to prove he can play someone other than Data from Star Trek), who was kind of amusing back then but is mostly just irritating now as a source of childish jokes. Seriously, why must every blockbuster these days have to resort to that kind of asinine humor?
Brent Spiner’s character isn’t the only annoying one, though. Actually, most of the characters in this movie bugged me in some way; be it through the forced melodrama of the new characters–like how Liam Hemsworth’s and Jesse Usher’s characters have some petty beef with each other that goes nowhere– or the missing/underdeveloped plot points from older characters–like how nobody ever mentions that David Levinson’s wife evidently passed away, despite the fact that he has a new love interest here. And as a side note, actor Jeff Goldblum, not known for his enthusiasm, seems rather disinterested here, anyways. I think Bill Pullman’s ex-President Whitmore really gets the short end of the stick, though. His character bounces between deranged states and sanity very sporadically; and his big moments are literally just underwhelming remixes of moments that happened to him in the first movie. Again he gets attacked by an alien, battles in the air, and tries to rally troops with a patriotic speech (which, in another case of poor pacing, is inserted really awkwardly into the picture); but it all feels like a glorified retread, as though the filmmakers can’t possibly imagine anything else for this character to do. Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, Will Smith declined to appear in Resurgence (Jesse Usher plays his character’s step-son to try to soften the blow); which is really a shame because he was pretty great in the original.
Many of my issues with pacing and characterization clearly tie back to how Resurgence tries to emulate moments from the original and fails at it. That said, as I alluded to earlier, many of the times it tries to be explicitly different from the original also bother me. A few noteworthy examples: there’s a queen alien in this that is a pretty blatant rip-off of creatures from Aliens and 2014’s Godzilla; there’s a weird higher intelligence that the humans find that tries to be like something from a Star Wars or Star Trek movie and feels completely out of place here; there’s a sequence about some fighter pilots being inside an alien ship that doesn’t seem credible the way it’s handled*; the ending of this movie tries to be different from the first but is nowhere near as cool or epic, despite twenty years of advancement in movie special effects; and, especially egregious, very little of the original film’s terrific score is used in this movie, and the music that is present isn’t as good. I know I should try to be thankful for the times when this picture tries not to repeat its predecessor, but so much of where it’s different is either an attempt to cash in on something else or just really underpowered in its own right.
By far the worst aspect of all, though, in my opinion, about this movie is how it tries to set up for a sequel at the end. To say nothing of the fact that we didn’t need any sequels to the first movie at all, that one sequel was already too many; now they’re trying to make a series out of this thing? And the filmmakers have the nerve to do this after making a film this bad? No sir, not here, not now. I want out.
This movie is a poorly constructed, derivative money grab; a half-hearted attempt (even by Hollywood standards) to squeeze money out of a property simply because it was once popular. It’s weird to think that it was made by the same folks– Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin– who made the first film, as they have seemingly forgotten everything that made it so great. I haven’t seen any other reviews of this movie, but I really can’t see many people liking it, and I imagine word of mouth will be pretty terrible. In a perfect world, that would mean it would bomb at the box office and then we wouldn’t have to worry about a sequel. Unfortunately, even awful films sometimes do big business, so who knows. Regardless, I’m just going to pretend that any and all Independence Day sequels (including this one) don’t exist**. There’s only the original.
So with that, I politely suggest you go see something else at the theater this weekend.
*It may seem weird for me to bring up credibility here. I know many people say the original Independence Day is ridiculous and not exactly credible, but this goes a few steps beyond that. And really, it’s more that Resurgence couldn’t hold my interest as a movie goer that I start critiquing its plausibility. I get that the first film isn’t exactly plausible, but I enjoy watching it, so I don’t mind it there. This movie is a different story.
**Other franchises for which I have selectively ignored sequels/followups include The Matrix (both sequels) and Indiana Jones (the fourth film).