‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ less fun, more nostalgia cash grab
The 1990s were a weird time for movies. Much like today, the top spots at the box office were dominated by Disney and caped crusaders, but it seems like the rules for action movies were different back then. Sure, box office stars and big explosions ruled the day, but having a lot of explosions and having a decent plot were not mutually exclusive. Take a look at ’90s hits like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgement Day and you’ll see movies that you remember for their characters or story, not just for their most badass action sequences. The original Independence Day came out at the tail end of the action-with-plot era, banking on the talent of its stars (Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum) and its impressive use of CG over a great story, but still managing to give us enough plot to keep it from falling into full Armageddon territory. The long-awaited sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, seems like it can’t decide if it wants to give up and go for the explosion-filled cash grab of today’s action movies or harken back to the good old days of including a little character development with the action.
Resurgence is set two decades after the initial alien invasion in ID4. After facing an interplanetary enemy, the people of Earth have united and there are no more wars. Plus, we’ve learned to use that badass alien technology to make all sorts of futuristic stuff, from jets that look like Transformers to floating Jumbotrons on the National Mall. Our Earth defense system is unbeatable, ensuring that if the aliens ever pay us a visit again, we’ll be ready to blast them from the sky before they cross the moon’s orbit.
Captain Hiller (Smith) is dead, only appearing in the film via references in constant and tiresome clunky exposition or in a giant portrait of him that hangs in the White House—arguably one of the most bizarre pieces of set decoration ever. Hiller’s stepson son, Dylan (Jessie Usher), who you might remember from the first movie where he was played by Ross Bagley, is a now promising military star. He used to be best friends with Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), the black sheep of the group of the group of highly-trained young pilots, who tries so hard to give us that Han Solo reckless-rebel-who-won’t-listen-to-authority vibe that it almost becomes a running joke. Jake is doing grunt work on the moon base for mouthing off to supervisors and nearly killing his BFF in a training accident, which we don’t see but gets alluded to enough times to warrant a “drink every time” game.
Everything seems pretty peaceful until a mysterious alien vessel that looks more like the Heart of Gold than the giant saucers of the previous movie approaches the base. David Levinson (Goldblum) who is now a renown alien expert because of the “jackets” theory from the first movie, urges the government to leave the ship alone, as it doesn’t appear to be the same hostile aliens who attacked earth before, but the ship is destroyed by the shoot-first-ask-questions-later government. All that’s left is a big white sphere in a cargo container. While the gang is attempting to check out the wreckage, all hell breaks loose and a gigantic alien ship emerges carrying an alien queen who’s ready to destroy Earth by drilling out the core of the planet. Before long, our brash young pilots have to team up with what’s left of the original cast to save humanity.
We live in a world where Hollywood is desperate to tap into our collective desire for nostalgia, but this also means every remake must be bigger and more intense than the previous movie. Instead of the city-sized ships that wowed us in ID4, we now have a ship bigger than the United States that parks on the earth like some kind of physics-defying barnacle. Instead of the guy-in-a-suit-sized aliens of yesteryear, we get an alien queen who’s the size of a small building a la Cloverfield and whose sole purpose is harvesting the earth’s iron core, as if there aren’t a zillion better ways to get iron in the universe. Instead of President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) giving a big speech to rally the troops, we get a few little moments mixed in with him constantly having an alien-migraine and a shaggy beard. Instead of a pair of heroes as humanity’s only hope, we have a bloated cast of way too many characters who seem to exist mostly to tick off cliche boxes rather than serve any real function.
Medical scientist Dr. Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is there to loop in a silly plot about aliens tapping into people’s minds and forcing them to draw a symbol that looks an awful lot like a power button. Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) is there because we have to have a love interest for Hemsworth—though it would have been so much better if they’d gone with Mae Whitman (aka Ann from Arrested Development) who played the role in ID4. No shade to Jessie Usher, but he seems to only be there to remind us how much better this movie would have been with Will Smith. By the time we reunite with Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner), who somehow didn’t actually die after being choked out by an alien tentacle in the first movie, it’s clear that they’re trying to scrape together a sequel with what’s left in the jar from the old movie rather than bring us anything new. In fact, the only new character of any real interest is Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), an African warlord who spent a decade battling aliens with a pair of machetes—something that would have made a much better movie than the one we actually got.
Will Smith’s palpable absence is really at the core of what’s wrong with Resurgence. The film is critically lacking charisma, and therefore it lacks fun. The original movie was filled with stupid lines and ridiculous moments, like a 1990s Macintosh Power Book somehow hooking into alien technology and saving the earth, but it was still a lot of fun. Maybe it’s that I’m not twelve years old anymore, or maybe it’s that we’re completely oversaturated with green-screened explosion-fests, but Independence Day: Resurgence is a shining example that they don’t make big action movies like they used to.