I’m starting to suspect these long-gestating sequels to major popular films are a bad idea. Someone contact Pixar or Sylvester Stallone – only they can do these nostalgic-based sequels correctly. Independence Day: Resurgence has arrived in theaters to soil screens around the globe. It traded in 20 years worth of anticipation for tired tropes and a cartoonish nature so lazy and uninspired. It’s hard to believe the same people that delivered the first movie had anything to do with this mess.
Think about what you loved about the original film. Was it the interesting group of characters played by a fully-committed cast, all displaying an array of comedy and drama? How about the way the story played off a brilliant “what if giant alien spaceships hovered over our major cities with uncertain intentions” scenario? Was it the tension so deftly at work in the film’s first act that built toward the impending attack? How about the then-cutting-edge special effects that didn’t simply distract audiences from a lacking premise, but actually delivered iconic moments like the White House being obliterated and Lady Liberty laying across the rubble? Now imagine what the movie would be like if you took all that away.
Director Roland Emmerich and writer-producer Dean Devlin have returned to the global phenomenon of Independence Day only to have forgotten everything that was special about their best movie. Even the handful of returning cast members are mere shells of their former characters. What audiences are left with is little more than a ‘Syfy Presents’ iteration of a sequel that has zero story to tell.
Twenty years have passed since the War of 1996, in which aliens invaded Earth with large spaceships. The leadership of President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the determination of hotshot fighter pilot Steven Hiller (Will Smith), the smarts of David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and the kookiness of alcoholic pilot Russell Case (Randy Quaid) saved the world. From the aftermath, Earth obtained alien technology to secure the planet as it finally banded together to rebuild.
Former president Whitmore now has haunting, prophetic nightmares of another invasion, taking over the oddities and paranoia from the Case character. He warns his daughter (Maika Monroe) the aliens are coming back. He announces the same during a presidential speech, then BAM! The aliens are back!
Meanwhile, Levinson investigates the downed mother ship from the previous film. He discovers the aliens were actually drilling to the core of the Earth to destroy the planet. But weren’t the aliens actually harvesting the planet ‘until every natural resource was consumed?’ Regardless, the aliens indeed return to finish the job. Massive ships that create their own gravity lift and drop entire cities. Instead of zapping green lasers this time, the ships suck everything up into the sky like a vacuum cleaner before plunging them back down.
The fate of the world ends up in the hands of a group of young fighter pilots led by Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) – the maverick, and Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher) – the adopted son of the famous pilot Steven Hiller, now deceased. The movie is overloaded with a myriad of other characters, none of which have much to do.
Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) returns after awakening from a 20-year coma, even though he technically died in the last film. David’s father, Julius (Judd Hirsch), is still cracking jokes even after having mostly been absent from his son. Dylan’s mother, Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox), returns for all of two minutes as a nurse rescuing a patient from a crumbling hospital. Oh, and even the late Robert Loggia returns for a brief cameo. Keep in mind, these are just the returning characters. I haven’t even mentioned the African warlord, the nerdy co-pilot and his love interest, the nerdy businessman, the general-in-charge (William Fichtner), and the new love interest for Goldblum’s character.
David develops a hive theory before long: a queen monster controls the aliens and their technology. If they can destroy her, everything else will conveniently die. This idea was silly and playful in the first film. Now it feels tired and redundant.
The aliens do get a healthy dose of screen time for the sequel, and to be fair, they probably have the best moments in the entire film. That’s saying a lot when you have Jeff Goldblum at your command, getting second-billing, and you don’t give him a single Goldlum-esque moment. The man goes from co-piloting an alien spacecraft into the mother ship to driving a school bus full of children in the desert. Something isn’t right.
The action is very by-the-numbers and purposeless. There was real excitement, tension and horror in the first film’s destruction sequences. This time they happen erratically, with little buildup. Emmerich’s jumble of characters prevents the story from ever really taking flight. He cuts away and catches up with his cardboard cutouts as they deliver exposition about what they’ve been up to since the first movie. This also inhibits the action from mattering much. The special effects aren’t faulty, but there’s never an “ah” moment in any of these sequences.
Will Smith is sorely missed. He provided a charisma which this movie lacks entirely. Sure, Liam Hemsworth does okay here, but he isn’t the willful pilot with an attitude that Smith was. Newcomer Jessie Usher is also a curious addition to the movie. For the son of the previous film’s hero, the script gives him zero personality. The original, memorable score is also sidelined for the most part. It prevents the picture from generating any real excitement.
Maybe everything just fell into place for the original movie by accident. I suspect, however, the filmmakers were genuinely excited about their work 20 years ago. That excitement is extinguished now, despite a cliffhanger ending that invites another sequel. I’m pretty sure the fat lady sang this time, guys.
★½ of 5.