Silver Screen: Independence Day: Resurgence **
Independence Day: Resurgence is a title full of wishful thinking. It implies the return of the space aliens who barbecued the earth in 1996, but also the reinvigoration of a franchise it spends so much of its time fussily setting up. Why not just call it Independence Day: The New Big Financial Success That Necessitates Yet Another One?
You could argue that the original is beloved in part because there were no shoddy sequels to muddy our collective memory. That and because it had the Citizen Kane of trailers, culminating in that iconic disaster-movie money shot of a scale-model White House blown to smithereens. It’s a classic— and rare— bit of blockbuster megacheese that actually managed not to overstay its welcome.
Resurgence spends half its time nostalgically looking back at the original and the other half gazing into its imagined future as a trilogy. The result is a sequel that feels oddly like a remake, slavishly recreating the story structure of the original while rearranging minor details to create the veneer of newness. It’s the same strategy employed in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but to significantly less effect.
The biggest change twenty years later is that humans have used alien technology to significantly advance society. This puts Resurgence more firmly in sci-fi territory, while the original was always more of a disaster movie where the disaster happened to be space aliens.
The world’s governments have united to form a space-based military branch that scans the stars in preparation for more intergalactic interlopers. The star recruit is Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), son of Will Smith’s hero pilot character. Smith is the only major player whose character survived the original not to return. (The filmmakers even shuffle a decrepit Robert Loggia onscreen for a moment, and he died last December.)
Thus Usher is plopped into the Will Smith role, and his entire backstory consists of “Hey, remember Will Smith?” He’s pals with fellow hotshot pilot Jake (Liam Hemsworth). It’s Dylan and his pals who have the first close reencounter of the third kind, making contact with an alien probe shortly before a massive spacecraft descends onto Earth.
Remember the alien spaceships from the original? Well, this is just like that, but waaaaay bigger, which of course inherently means waaaaay more exciting. Presumably, anyway. This ship is so big it covers the entire Atlantic Ocean. In the movie’s most delightful fit of havoc, the alien craft picks up an entire Chinese city and drops it on top of London. This wholesale destruction is director Roland Emmerich’s forte, and he goes about it with the giddy fervor of a kid blowing up his toys with firecrackers.
Emmerich is not nearly so adept with sci-fi. The first Independence Day drew inspiration from cinema classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still, but Resurgence feels more indebted to videogames, with its endless succession of space-laser fights and a “final boss” character who must be dispatched by shooting various key parts in the proper order. A plot point involving a greater interstellar conflict between other alien races suggests something more imaginative, but it remains entirely offscreen while Emmerich takes a victory lap around all the high points of the original.
And so Jeff Goldblum is back, now a respected scientist helping to scan the skies for future threats. Bill Pullman returns as President Whitmore, traumatized by his crushing responsibility and cared for by his daughter (It Follows’ Maika Monroe), herself now a space pilot. Yep, Vivica A. Fox is here, too, widowed, Smithless, mostly just a familiar face to see. Brent Spiner reprises his brief role as a hippy scientist overtaken by an alien— a twenty-year coma later and he’s bubbling with new ideas about alien technology. Yep, even Judd Hirsch is back as a caricature of a doddering old Jewish guy, mostly because, well, hey, Judd Hirsch is still alive, let’s give him a subplot.
This leaves little room for the introduction of new players like William Fichtner’s flinty general, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s doctor/Goldblum-lover, DeObia Oparei’s alien-hunting tribal warlord, or the god-awful comic-relief character, a human Jar Jar Binks played by Nicolas Wright. It’s a sprawling ensemble for a movie so uninterested in its characters. Only when Goldblum is onscreen does all the chaos seem to revolve around anything.
Independence Day: Resurgence starts off passably fun and gradually descends into bland sci-fi hogwash, a bleep-bloop invasion of your eyes and ears that fails to inspire anything more than a flickering memory of a much better time quite awhile ago.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillerComedy.