Movie Review

Film Review: INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (2016): Resurged, Reused, Recycled

Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) Film Review, a movie directed by Roland Emmerich, starring Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deobia Oparei, Nicolas Wright, Sela Ward, Angelababy, Travis Tope, Mckenna Grace, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, and Brent Spiner.

Hey kids, can you even remember back twenty years – let alone to the impact a film called Independence Day had on your movie going lives? I’m thinking the folks over at 20th Century Fox had their doubts; but don’t worry – here comes more seconds than you’re actually expected to digest. Just don’t throw up, and the chefs guarantee you’ll be full all Summer.

Well, being older means either not being inclined, or not being allowed to ingest the same stuff I did, twenty years prior – no matter how good I remember it being.

Back in my day (somewhere between rotary & smart phones), the impact of the first film left some of us declaring it the one true heir to the Star Wars franchise. Of course, regardless of how well it’s managed to age, we’ve since come to realize that the only heir to Lucas’ Star Wars has been J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars (though some of us may still be waiting). So maybe losing both that unofficial title, and the Star Wars ATM card, prompted Fox to stage a Force Awakens styled refresher of their own.

I don’t think their intention was to give us a better appreciation for the Abrams rehash – but I was left with a better appreciation for the Abrams rehash.

Full disclosure: back when fans were racking their brains over how they could get a sequel out of Independence Day: The Day We Fought Back, I joked that the sequels would be ‘Labor Day: The Day We Fought On,’ and ‘Memorial Day: The Day We Remember Why We’re Fighting.’ When the execs & movie people started racking their brains, I took an actual stab at a trilogy outline. I’m not going to say my idea was better – let’s just say that I’ve put an extra amount of time & effort into figuring what it was that I wanted from a sequel.

“What I wanted from a sequel” was an expansion to the original; the kind of expansion that I thought would occur organically, after ID4’s circumstance. The first film left not just alien tech in our hands, but surviving aliens, I imagined. Given our history & nature, it seemed clear that we weren’t going to just wait for a return, but collectively demand a decisive end to the threat. On the other hand, the more enlightened amongst us would seek a more magnanimous turn to our fortune, and the psychic nature of the aliens would open up something of a dialogue, between surviving aliens on the run, and gifted humans. The backdrop would then be a galactic campaign to wipe them out, versus a homefront underground outreach campaign – with first & second generation characters being forced to take sides.

Not every expansion works, I had to admit (consider the Matrix sequels); but I feared Fox would go for a double-down, give-’em-seconds-in-bigger-portions direction, and they kinda did.

ID4 was Emmerich & (Dean) Devlin’s best film, but despite Emmerich & Devlin. All the worst elements of their films (holes to the ones that have any kind of plot, arch/ stereotypical characters, punchlines/ speeches instead of dialogue) were present, but the combination of novelty, star power, and SFX overcame it all. It revitalized the alien invasion genre, raised the bar for Summer blockbusters, and was just a fun time of an event film.

Sure, some of that fun was a little on the mindless side; but that was a fine place for the original to be, given the novelty of it all. I don’t think it’s a good place for a sequel to attempt franchising a formula; but clearly the studio disagreed.

Independence Day: Resurgence (ID4:R, since my generation prided itself on starting the abbreviated titles trend) was meant to be a celebration of the first film; but failed to advance the idea in any way but one. The Hawk v Dove issue only went as far as a “Stand your Ground” moment, eventually opening the door to a wider conflict – but one where we get to keep calling the shots & our white hats. The global rally amounted to a nod to China (both in Angelababy’s casting, and how she fit into the larger plot) – but that’s the price of business, these days (at least, according to my inner cynic). The plot actually kicked off in Africa; but that only drew attention to such locations being left to their own devices, as usual. From there, everything else was either a revisit to, or a doubling-down on points from the original – Emmerich & Devlin warts and all.

What the people of Earth (as represented by the U.S. administration & the U.N. Earth Space Defense initiative) seemed to take away from their last close encounter/ call was the importance of projecting strength, and good speechifying. Really. This would essentially be the ‘why’ behind callback headliners David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), and former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) spending much of the film setting them straight. There seemed to be a natural progression to their characters that I really liked; but tack on some legacy characters, some secondary love interest, a retroactive plot, and supersize some warmed-over bits, and the studio had a sequel to serve the masses.

So how do you like your seconds?

I remember the characterization to Judd Hirsch’s Julius Levinson character not being all that well received; but he made the cut, and was back at some of the old shtick. ID4:R gave him more to do, however, so most of the annoying whiner role went to Nicolas Wright’s Floyd Rosenberg character. Oddly enough, the crossing of old & new whiney comic relief seemed to meet at where Randy Quaid’s character left off – with Floyd taking on the redeemed loser role, while Julius had to do right by a new (and larger) batch of nomad kids.

I also remember some people thought it too convenient that there were so many combat vet pilots in the first cast. Well, in addition to replacing Randy’s kids, ID4:R brought us a whole new slew of flight (to fight) enthusiasts. Leading this new “I pilot, I fly” talent pool: no less than Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), ID4’s First Daughter, all grown up. Her status telegraphed a bit of the climax, of course, as the extended talent pool seemed to shake off the rust more easily than the former President & the crop duster.

As much as I appreciated the need to keep things familiar, the film suffered from taking us back to key first film moments, but with less to do with them. Worse, when they got around to combining the Trojan Horse & “Hello, boys, I’m back” moments, it didn’t really register – either as a plot point, or as a moment – despite the fact that it involved a truly key character.

I guess with vengeance being everyone’s motive (except David), there was no point in crying over spilt milk, when it’s up to your ankles; but the film kept trying. I imagine the whole point of a medical staff leaving a mother & child behind, in a soon-to-be-demolished maternity ward, was just to get one Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) on the same page as everyone else, while justifying the callback of character Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox).

The Dylan Dubrow-Hiller character was designed from the ground up with (no getting around it) Will Smith in mind – which is understandable, given that Smith’s absence left the biggest hole in the cast – but that brought more attention to what the film lacked. Dylan & Steven Hiller weren’t actually related, if you recall; so having him even remotely resembling Smith’s character didn’t make genealogical sense – leaving anyone who noticed wondering why try so hard to fill Will’s shoes. Fine, they may have tacitly acknowledged the Smith role really needed to be filled; but filling out a cast isn’t the same as filling out a plot.

The new Hiller character simply wasn’t given anything to do, here, except be another inspiration line dropper.

The rest of the newbies registered even less, considering that Dylan had a legacy position for us to keep track of. Beyond Hemsworth’s Devil-may-care archetype, and Angelababy serving as an object of affection, we were left with a somewhat interchangeable mix of jokers, whiners, and wannabes (we even got another tool in the Secretary of Defense spot). There was a small group of semi-rogue side-characters, that might’ve had more to offer the overall cast; but the cast may have been too large, as it was, so their sidelining was to be expected. Like Dylan, the Patricia character also benefited from legacy status; but this was mostly spent on managing her father’s resurgent messiah complex – all telegraphing events to come.

The extent to the psychic alien element went only as far as creating a small circle of ‘sensitives,’ that allowed for some otherwise reckless messianic moments, and the return of an ID4 fan favorite (looking exactly like he did 20 years back, surewhynot).

The extent to the setting expansion came in the form of more of a service provider than a character – which is why I guess it assumed such a pleasant, female voice (there’s a reason we got Siri, not Cyril). As if the events of the film, up to this point, didn’t already make the case, the new entry explained just how unprepared (and under-motivated, really) our heroes had been, up until the second invasion.

At times, it seemed the only ones who really learned anything, since the first film, were the aliens (why were we still reliant on orbital satellites & systems requiring countdowns, after again abandoning the low tech that saved us last time?); but they were still using their old tech (just ignore the obvious differences) – so we still got that fighting chance films like these rely on. They were also resorting to half measures – the tactic that neutralized the first counterattack could have rendered all organized resistance useless, had it been used on a global scale (but then we wouldn’t have our fireworks film).

The tight squeeze/ near miss roller-coaster moment may have been resorted to a bit too often, this time around; but there were moments that actually justified a 3D release. Unfortunately, the (arguably) best example of this involved wholesale destruction that we’ve seen before – not in the original film, but the latest Transformers effort. If there was worse than being poorly derivative of the first ID4, it’s being better derivative of the last Beyformers.

They even threw in ID4’s save-the-dog moment (a crowd pleaser, as I recall), and got that one wrong too. At least Jasmine Dubrow had the sense to call to hers from safety (or at least have a dog that obeyed commands).

I guess what was really missing from ID4:R was the sense of awe & scale.

Many cited the shadow as the single most effective element to the first film. Between the aliens’ arrival, the uncertainty of their presence, and the tension it generated between cast members, the initial suspense made the action that followed. Here, we were meant to sit & wait for an escalation to what came before.

Instead of the systemic, co-ordinated destruction of iconic cities – a major highlight of the original – we got a single punch alien plot, with the landmark destruction just coming from them walking to the ring.

Except for military technology, there was no sign of development – as in anywhere – since the first film. All the cities, societies, and cultures were pretty much intact/ restored to as we know them IRL, like no global scarring/ mobilizing had ever taken place. The whole experience just seemed to justify the U.S. calling the shots, rather than setting a global example. Beyond the China pander (again, just my cynical take), we got an African Warlord – literally on a ride along – and that was pretty much as international as it got.

That global mobilization was also the big payoff to the first film making the alien threat a mindless one. They were just a marauding horde, meant to be blasted with extreme prejudice, once we were given a reason to get over ourselves (them being a marauding horde out to kill us all). Well, the mobilization thing happened, so I had hoped that we could learn something about the aliens, now.

See, “what I wanted from a sequel” was maybe a more intelligent motive to the aliens (and maybe a name), and some of that first film perspective expanding to include them. In other words, they came to Earth as a nomadic horde for the same reason the Visigoths came to Rome, and that there was something worse on their heels. Conflict between Hawks & Doves, twists & role reversals, and intergalactic shades of grey ensue.

Instead, we got more of nameless aliens as guilt free, first-person-shooter targets, arena expansion by way of Stargate SG1, and a boss fight at the end (come on – if this film makes bank, you know the climax is going into the game version)

The best thing I can say about ID4:R is that it could be considered a bridge episode – aimed at getting millennials up to speed, and older types topped off, before going full franchise. Make no mistake, it will be going full franchise (if we fund it) – one wacky callback character practically running out to the audience to say “but wait, there’s more!” to literally end the film.

Consider yourselves warned. They’re coming back.

Rating: 4/10

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About the author

Sam Joseph

Sam is an Avid consumer/observer of Geek culture, and collector of Fanboy media from earliest memory. Armchair sociologist and futurist. Honest critic with satirical if not absurdist­­ wit with some experience in comics/ animation production.

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