Maybe about the worst thing you could say about a movie back in the day – and especially a successful movie – is that the sequel went straight to video. I always felt that was a slap in the face to the original moviemakers, none of which were generally seen around that kind of production. It still happens: here’s a brief list! Sometimes they go straight to Netflix or some other streaming service too. These are mostly garbage money grabs, cashing in on a popular title after the original creators and cast have moved on. Rarely will you see such a sequel with any of the main stars. Independence Day: Resurgence is an odd duck. While it isn’t a direct-to-blu-ray, it sure as hell feels like it.
Set exactly 20 years after the original, this sequel does absolutely nothing with its premise. Nothing whatsoever. In the 1996 original, malicious aliens attack the Earth and are beaten down by the plucky united nations of the Earth. The sequel is depressingly rinse and repeat, with no attempt made to do anything different, new, or interesting. Cinematically, 20 years is a long time. In that period there have been 4 Star Wars movies, 5 Star Treks (not counting First Contact, because it was released in 1996 also), 3 Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, and umpteen Marvel/DC superhero movies. In short, genre cinema wasn’t just busy in that 20 years, it bred like wild rabbits. With all the visual extravaganzas in that period, there’s a sense that moviemakers who want to play in the same sandbox need to up their game. Independence Day: Resurgence doesn’t come close in any areas.
It’s sad, in a way. I was never a huge fan of the original, but in 1996 it was still somewhat refreshing. Remember, in terms of CGI-fests, Jurassic Park had yet to have a sequel, and the groundbreaking movie The Matrix was still three years away. Independence Day’s success was due to a conflation of still reasonably new technology and the rising star power of Will Smith – both elements delivered a mostly fun popcorn experience, complete with inoffensive jingoism bursting with platitudes that admittedly would have been more effective with better writers. Still, that was never the point of Independence Day – Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich delivered the biggest hit of their careers, and a lot of people were mostly satisfied with the result.
Quite why it took an entire epoch of genre moviemaking to deliver a sequel is probably a story in itself, and likely intertwined with Devlin and Emmerich’s moviemaking partnership acrimoniously dissolving after the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot. For some reason, they reteamed to work on this sequel, and the end result makes you wonder why they did. As I watched this, it gave me the impression that a promoter had given Mike Tyson a pile of money to fight for the world championship one last time, but as soon as he stepped back in the ring you could see that it was all gone. All the drive, the enthusiasm, the power. In the last 20 years it had simply ebbed away and all that was left was a hand taking tickets from a curious public.
I’ve gotten angry before at movies that were flat out terrible (see my reviews for Cell, and Harbinger Down), but while I acknowledged as I watched that Independence Day: Resurgence is a bad movie, it’s inoffensively bad. It doesn’t rip off better movies, it doesn’t play to any particular current events. It doesn’t use analogy or metaphor to say even simple things about anything in particular, nor does it try to put clean underwear on for company. No, like Tyson’s one last imaginary paycheck, it simply strolls around the ring evading the big hits and not throwing any back. Too tired to even clinch its way out of trouble, it hangs on through its two hour running time full of memories of better times until the final bell.
Despite returning vets of the original conflict, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman (and Robert Loggia in a sad cameo just before his death), and new blood like Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher, this movie is a tired old retread of the original. We see that Earth has reverse-engineered the fallen alien technology of the first movie to make life better, but we don’t see any human examples of that. Plenty of guns and big tech, but nothing small, like everyday people could appreciate. In this, there’s no heart of the movie. No real people doing real things, just a collection of hollow 90s action movie stock characters saying and doing everything you expect. Macho posturing, check. Sarcastic “sir-yes-sir!” to clueless authority figures, we got it. Angry McAngryface roaring during arial dogfights, yep. Maika Monroe, good in It Follows allows herself to be reduced to “weeping, anonymous girlfriend”, just like Jeff Goldblum’s character becomes, well, a stereotype of Jeff Goldblum characters, all bug eyed incredulity, and Judd Hirsch takes one last big paycheck for portraying a ludicrously clichéd Jewish papa who appears in just about every one of the movie’s most ridiculous scenes. And it took 4 people to come up with this story. 5 to write the actual screenplay, a statistic that’s almost mind-boggling.
The worst thing you can say about Independence Day: Resurgence is not that it’s a terrible movie, it’s that it had a terrible accident and went into a coma in 1998, and while it slept, the world around it went on with its life. Awoken after so long and pushed out into the world it’s simply a relic of a past quickly receding into the distance.
© Andrew Hope, 2016
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