MOVIE REVIEW: Independence Day: Resurgence

(Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation via


The advent of computer-generated visual effects in the 1990s raised the scope of what and how much disaster movies could destroy on screen.  No better film encapsulated that new era than the raucous and wildly successful “Independence Day” from 1996 with aliens laying waste to world monuments and making a star out of Will Smith.  In the twenty years since, the evolution of CGI filmmaking of bigger and more opulent destruction has elevated the craft to the moniker of “disaster porn.”  Returning with the grand ambitious sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence,” the former standard-bearer enters a present day where audiences have been desensitized by asteroids, comets, natural disasters, monsters, Transformers, and superheroes dozens of times over.  What was awesome the first time isn’t jaw-dropping anymore.

The worldwide alien war of 1996 galvanized the planet together over the last two decades.  Countries across continents united to rebuild cities through the power of survivor’s remorse and hubris.  The United Nations created the massive Earth Space Defense (ESD) program centralized at the old Area 51.  Scientists like David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) tapped into ways to repurpose the alien technology in the development of new weapons, energy sources, propulsion, and vehicular capabilities superior our own.  With a vast satellite network and outposts on the Moon and neighboring planets, the powers that be feel that Earth is ready for any interstellar threat that visits next. 

On the eve of the 20-year anniversary of mankind’s victory, the leftover alien vessels and captive alien prisoners in stasis mysteriously begin to awaken.  Worse, those humans previously affected by their mental links, including aging heroic former President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), begin to experience that residual pain again.  All signs point to an alien distress call that is finally being answered by an immense queen ship.  At over 3,000 miles in diameter and carrying its own damaging gravity, the ship is capable of drilling into and extracting a planet’s core, destroying the Earth’s magnetic field, and killing the entire planet.  Its arrival naturally stirs the fronts of spirited resistance. 

President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) handles the politics, aided by former First Daughter Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe, replacing Mae Whitman).  David, along with Dr. Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), work the problem on the scientific end.  The military action response is led by General Joshua Adams (William Fichtner) an his band of fearless pilots Dillon Dubrow-Hiller (newcomer Jessie Usher), the famous stepson of the late hero Steven Hiller (no Will Smith), his rival Jake Morrison (the top-billed Liam Hemsworth), the geeky Charlie Ritter (Travis Tope), and Chinese dreamboat Rain Lau (model/singer Angelababy).  All leap with their gung-ho energy, horseshoes inserted up their asses, and terrible acting into the blockbuster throwdown.         

Try as it may, “Independence Day” cannot hold a candle or even a sparkler next to the 1996 original.  If you wanted bigger, you certainly got it.  If you want the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, to magically be pulled from Dubai to crash into the Thames in London, you got it.  Alas, bigger isn’t always the answer.  This is a case where bigger also means dumber and preposterous.  The five-man screenwriting team crafted a lazy sequel that succumbs to too many copied elements, moments, lame character ties, silly coincidences, and repeated gags from the original.  The brand name and returning characters is all the nostalgia they needed.  You don’t top yourself repeating what worked.  You do it by pushing forward and doing something new.  This film fails at that goal.

The result is joyless disaster porn.  The original, through its cinematic cheese, built a stirring and infectious adventure of charm, unpredictable peril, and emotional peaks that made you stand up and cheer.  That zeal and astonishment is nonexistent in “Independence Day: Resurgence.”  The sequel has little to no inspiration, intrigue, heft, or passion behind its actions.  Nothing is going to raise your pulse rate higher than ho-hum or gee whiz.  The frenetic new characters offer little value to care about and the returns are mostly lip service to nostalgia and exposition.  This counts as a colossal missed opportunity of both talent and entertainment.  Unlike “Warcraft,” it is at least coherent.  Now we know why Will Smith said no thank you (and why it wasn’t screened for critics).

LESSON #1: DON’T GO BACK TO SAVE THE DOG—What is it with Roland Emmerich movies (and other culprits) and the whole “dogs in peril” trope? That guy must love his dogs.  This may not be ASPCA-friendly, but if an earthquake or giant alien menace is bearing down on me, that dog is on its own.  Its got four legs to move its ass and get away.  Please stop putting these dumb rescue scares in movies.  Just once, let’s see a scene where the human bites it and the dog gets away just to prove logic true.     

LESSON #2: WORK SMARTER NOT HARDER—The characters that do find success in the sci-fi melee and warfare are the ones that think out of the box and take chances.  That includes David’s successful brains-over-brawn and Jake’s rule-breaking “Top Gun” audition tape.  It’s too bad this couldn’t spread to the script.

LESSON #3: RESOLVE IS A POWERFUL ADVANTAGE—If a character or faction doesn’t win with smarts and planning, it wins with boldness and willpower.  Bolstered by selfless and intrepid courage, mankind’s resolve is what powered their victory in 1996.  That resolve is needed again.