Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt, Nicholas Wright, Roland Emmerich
Starring: Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 120 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Twenty years after the alien attack in 1996, the Earth has recovered and the United Nations created the Earth Space Defense [ESD], a united global defence program which uses technology salvaged from the remains of the alien forces, with military forces assembled on the Moon, Mars and Rhea [a moon of Saturn]. In Africa, ESD Director David Levinson meets with ex-lover Dr. Catherine Marceaux and warlord Dikembe Umbutu, who lead him to an intact alien ship which they discover has sent a distress call to its home planet. Furthermore, Umbutu, former U.S. President Thomas Whitmore and many others have been having recurring visions of alien symbols since 1996. Then a spherical ship teleports near the ESD’s Moon defense headquarters….
I doubt [and this is coming from someone who really likes the film] that many would consider Independence Day, the biggest hit of 1996, a particularly great film – it’s very derivative, is so cheesy you can almost smell it, and is often poorly written – but something about it just works and it can’t help but put a smile on your face throughout. The chances of a sequel, especially one as belated as this one, recapturing the original’s odd ‘in spite of itself’ magic were therefore minimal, and indeed the one that we have now most definitely fails to do that, though I think it’s a little bit better than the overall critical consensus seems to have it be. And I’ll say right now that the reason for many of its failings could be laid at the door of 20th Century Fox, who apparently drastically cut it down to two hours. Even without this information, it’s obvious that huge chunks of footage, including parts when the beginning and end of scenes appear to be missing, has been removed, and often in a haphazard way. Don’t even expect to see much of the footage that appeared in the trailer, including even most of the amusing lines spoken in it, and even that shot of a huge wave causing a ship to drift away. I have the distinct feeling that a Director’s Cut will appear on home media, and that it will iron out a lot of the problems with this theatrical version.
That’s not to say of course that Independence Day: Resurgence wouldn’t still be majorly flawed, the two main problems that initially come to mind whilst watching the film being the low amount of tension – just think how well the suspense and sense of threat was achieved in the first film’s first half an hour and compare it to the lackadaisical feel of the first section in this one – and the writing, in particular the dialogue. In one jaw droppingly dumb moment, a scientist has to ask someone what gravity is. And we’re alsos supposed to believe that, in the modern age, someone can spend 20 years trying to find an alien ship which isn’t even underground. Of course the original had stupid bits and pieces but it also had an appealing innocence and sincerity which helped to override this. This one does get progressively more humorous but has a rather more serious feel in its first third which feels at odds with some of the goofy bits, while it can never really stop coming across as rather cynical and lazy, partly because it just remakes the 1996 picture in so many ways.
We’re introduced to, and then have to follow, quite a lot of characters, some new and some old. This shouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but here some don’t seem to have much of a purpose [like Julius Levinson, who’s clearly just in the film because he was in the first one], and it tends to be done in a way that is rushed [this is one of the major issues that could possibly be rectified in a longer cut]. The 1996 film may have had mainly cardboard characters but at least you were allowed to care about them, and it felt like you’d got to know some of them by the end. Here, every moment seems to be cut short so we can have another bout of CGI spectacle. The so-called romantic relationships especially suffer here because there’s just no time for them to play out properly. This is especially damaging in the case of David Levinson, who runs into an old girlfriend in Africa, and it’s probably not spoiling things to reveal that at the end they kiss, but we don’t get any scenes in the interim that show them reconnecting with each other. Then there’s another character who loses a parent but isn’t given any scene where he seems upset by the occurrence. In fact, he doesn’t seem to care less. It’s one thing to keep a movie moving, but one with lots of characters needs to let them all breath a bit.
Though there’s one absurdly pointless action sequence right at the beginning where Moon-based fighter pilot Jake Morrison, one of our heroes, almost destroys a space satellite by mistake, the first third is another, though far less ominous, build-up to an orgy of destruction. Buildings, vehicles and people of Beijing being sucked up into the air, and a Chinese tower being dumped on London Bridge, will give those who have a liking for mass devastation [I plead guilty] much satisfaction, even if the CGI sometimes looks rather iffy [the destruction stuff looked better overall in director Roland Emmerich’s earlier 2012], and it seems like one major set piece – the destruction of the Russian space base – is missing, judging by the IMDB’s listing of Soviet cosmonauts in the cast. It’s hard to fathom why Fox would remove a possibly very exciting scene, but then this a studio that oddly doesn’t seem to want movies to succeed at times [it seems like they ruined Fantastic Four]. Unlike the original, this one doesn’t really take a breather after the initial attack and keeps piling on the Star Wars-like dogfights, gun battles and even some monster mayhem, while the characters in this movie don’t seem to so much look for each other as just randomly bump into each other. The editing is often very poor though, probably again due to the drastic attempt to cut the film down – there’s one bit where a spaceship is about to crash and in the next shot is seen already on the ground.
Sadly Emmerich has almost completely abandoned practical effects for this sequel – the original, while it did employ a lot of CGI, seems to be one of the last films of this nature to use lots of non-computer generated effects – and some of the scenes with the spaceships look less, rather than more, convincing as a result, while they haven’t even tried to make the aliens look the same. Too much of the action ends up looking like a computer game while alot of the film just looks dreary with the same blue/grey tones. Still, some of the funny lines do work, there’s a good attempt at broadening the scope of the first film [albeit leaving things hanging in expectation of a third film which, judging by the low box office performance – at least so far – probably won’t happen], there’s a few decent ideas amidst all the rehashing, the theme of world cooperation is nicely put [without lecturing the viewer], not to mention timely, and, unless you really do take everything seriously, it’s impossible to totally dislike a film where, say, a big monster is chasing a bus and fails to catch up with it while meanwhile a load of spaceships are firing at the monster and never once hit the bus. Emmerich and his co-writers, which include his old partner in crime Dean Devlin, let the movie often possess a sense of its own daftness without letting things turn into an out and out comedy, but just can’t give this one the charm of the one from 1996.
It’s Jeff Goldblum who tries hardest to hold things together, clearly having fun and able to make something of the corniest of lines, though in a way he’s probably acting in the Independence Day sequel of his imagination than in the one we actually have. Liam Hemsworth and Jesse Usher, the latter playing the part of the son of Will Smith’s character in the original, together fail to make up for the absence of the Fresh Prince, and don’t possess any of the chemistry that Smith shared with Goldblum, while Maika Monroe, so excellent in It Follows, seems a bit lost, Brent Spinner goes totally over the top and Bill Pullman is erratic but is given some of the nicest moments. Despite his rousing score for the 1996 picture, David Arnold wasn’t asked back to do this one, so instead we have a mostly dull effort from Harald Kloser in the Remote Control manner with a few references to Arnold’s themes. Overall Independence Day: Resurgence could have been worse, and it has its exciting, awe-inspiring and funny moments, but it seems entirely made by committee, as if Emmerich and co. had been waiting so long to do their sequel that by the time they were able to get it off the ground they’d lost much their enthusiasm. But if a Director’s Cut comes out, there’s a chance I could change my mind a bit, and I’ll either amend this review or do another one!