The image of an alien craft destroying the White House is one that immediately evokes a classic sci-fi disaster movie – the 1996 film Independence Day has had an impressive shelf life and continues to be fun to this day. Its sequel, Resurgence, has not received the same love, and it is certainly struck by a number of problems, but it has much of the fun and the spectacle of its predecessor.
Twenty years after the original film and the first alien attack, the Fourth of July approaches on Planet Earth. Investigations by satellite engineer David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) into mysterious alien symbols and a mysterious craft on the Moon are the harbingers of a 3000-mile-wide mother ship approaching the planet – the aliens are returning. The Earth had exploited the recovered extra-terrestrial technology from the first wave to develop an immense defence system but, when the invaders attack with unprecedented force, US presidents past and current, teams of scientists and a group of young fighter pilots must spring into action and save the world from a seemingly unstoppable enemy.
Resurgence is B-movie schlock of the highest order, and it manages mostly to capture the same sense of fun and cheesiness that the original movie did. We have the landmarks being destroyed, the massive CGI monsters (with an alien queen the size of Godzilla) and a sheer sense of inane movieness at all the destruction. Roland Emmerich is a man who knows how to realise disaster and, if we’re frank, creating wonderful looking disaster and action is really the point of a movie like this.
There is a considerable divide between characters in this movie – on the whole, if they appeared in the original, they are good. Goldblum is really the film’s star, bringing his typical mix of putzy charm and snark to power the movie through some of its more silly moments. I think that Bill Pullman was a touched under-used – his President Whitmore is a shell-shocked one, still dealing with the events of the last film, and using his character a bit more would have perhaps enabled the movie to add a bit of genuine human drama to it.
By contrast, the newbies suffer a bit. There are hints of some past antagonism between two of the young pilots, Will Smith’s in-universe son Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) and Whitmore’s daughter’s fiancée Jake Morrison (Luke Hemsworth), but I don’t understand what it was nor what it was meant to add to the film. There are an awful lot of characters old and new, and the new ones suffer because the film is so packed – both character- and event-wise – that there is no time to spend any real time with them. With the exception of Deobia Oparei as an African warlord (with echoes of a backstory that is far more interesting than a lot going on), there are a lot of character sketches here.
Sadly, there are a number of issues with the film if you aren’t ready to fully lose yourself in the fun of it. In the best spirit of big action blockbusters, a lot of the movie makes no sense whatsoever. A sequence towards the start of the film sees the alien mother ship arrive and use its gravitational pull to pick up all of Asia (seemingly), stopping to drop it a moment later on London because why not.
Another issue stems from the film’s innate nature of being a sequel – we’ve seen it all before, and so have the characters. The movie is set in a parallel 2016, in which alien technology has enabled countless scientific advances, but this world is so different that it immediately causes the audience to disconnect a bit. Similarly, everybody is expecting the aliens, and so their arrival and the destruction offers no particular form of release. If it gets the sequel it clearly angles for at the end, expect the disconnect to grow substantially.
Independence Day: Resurgence is exactly the sort of sequel you’d want – even lacking Will Smith, it manages to capture much of the same spirit as the original – and if you haven’t watched the 1996 movie, there is a lot of joy to be had in the giddy excess of it all. This is certainly not a movie without fault, but I enjoyed it and I think that any viewer who is willing to get lost in the movie is bound to enjoy it too.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Liam Hemsworth (Jake Morrison), Jeff Goldblum (David Levinson), Jessie T. Usher (Dylan Hiller), Bill Pullman (President Whitmore), Maika Monroe (Patricia Whitmore), Sela Ward (President Lanford)
Running Time: 120 Mins