With Independence Day: Resurgence, Roland Emmerich is giving Michael Bay a run for his money and solidifying his status as the Director you call if you are looking for global catastrophe.
I try to watch a movie for what it is. This is not an artful indie flick with snappy dialogue. This 20 year old cluttered sequel to the 1996 smash Independence Day is a summer popcorn movie. That usually means destruction in between bursts of vapid or humorous dialogue, Resurgence delivers according to those expectations. But for some reason, Emmerich feels the need to continually remind us that this is an Independence Day sequel instead of just making an Independence Day sequel. It seems like we can’t go more than 5 minutes without some visual or auditory clue that we are watching the child of his most accomplished work.
When Independence Day arrived on the scene in the summer of 1996, it dominated the box office, being seen as a swollen sci-fi twist on the disaster flicks of the 1970s. The trend took off and we have seen humanity come to the brink of extinction more times than we can count. And Emmerich himself has led the charge with his eye for apocalyptic destruction.
I don’t think that the world’s population views Independence Day with quite the nostalgic eye that Emmerich himself does. In my opinion, Resurgence tries to do too much and because of it, the story is scattered and overly optimistic. It is upsetting to think that those aliens interrupted our 20 year Pax Americana, yet our new found love for peace didn’t give us the least pause when a new ship arrives on the scene. It seems to me that the Hillary-esque U.S. president Lanford (Sela Ward) has more in common with potential president Trump. Clearly, things haven’t changed all that much in 20 years.
Liam Hemsworth takes over the quipping and wisecracking role from the Fresh Prince who is the big elephant strangely lacking from the room. He plays Jake, a reckless and cocky pilot who was orphaned in the first alien attack with several of the other new wave characters. In this peaceful society they enlist in the military in hopes that some day they may get their revenge on E.T. when he returns. Of course, our favorite Cable TV repairman David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is back on hand, tasked for the past 20 years with getting the world ready for the next great Alien war that everyone knows is coming. Ironically, he is the only one with any restraint when it comes to using the destructive power of the alien’s technology.
It is such a relief to know that if Will Smith can’t return at least we can have the crazy trio of former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), mad scientist Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner), and quirky nearly senile Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch, whom I was surprised to learn did not actually die in the past 20 years). Each of this cast of misfits is given his own full side story whether it be the loving, faithful daughter, the patient and caring “friend,” or the entire school bus of children which makes the film feel like 5 people were fighting over the best story to tell (that’s exactly what happened) and consequently we all lost.
I haven’t even mentioned the female Chinese fighter pilot who got stuck with the bottom of the barrel when it came time to divvy up the script, or Charlotte Gainsbourg who serves as the love interest of Goldblum, who is apparently like nerdy chick kryptonite in this alternate universe.This distracted structure makes Resurgence seem longer than its predecessor though the original was actually about a half an hour longer in reality.
When it comes to judging a purely-for-entertainment film like this I tend to forgive the type of inch-deep, mile-wide storytelling we find here. But even with that forgiveness, I couldn’t overlook the fact that after we have just watched the decimation of an entire continent the first words of dialogue are in the form of potty humor. We never get a chance to feel the gravity of anything that we are watching, we are so quickly shuffled to the next moment of flippant levity. I may be the only person in the theater thinking this, but it is hard to enjoy the spectacle when you think of what is actually happening under the carefully crafted visuals.
However, Resurgence does make good on the expectation that most viewers have come for; dizzying set pieces, that warm feeling you get when you see legendary monuments on fire, and the all-American joy of blowing stuff up. Emmerich is like the circus ringmaster who commands the show, leading the viewers to ever increasing heights of spectacle. The safety net is the lack of character building, even if we see one of the trapeze artists lose their grip and begin to fall that twinge of horror is quickly abated as we remember that this is just a movie and we don’t really care about that person anyway.
I have to give credit to the dozen or so special effects teams who surely worked their fingers to the bone to bring this film to life with such a rich and gritty realism like the way that the war-wearied alien mothership looks as though it has torn through dozens of other worlds like ours. It is a wild and crazy ride and as long as I don’t think about it too much, it is enjoyable for what it is.