Last year the world was hit by a box office asteroid in the form of Jurassic World. It was an unapologetically cheesy, blissfully nostalgic exercise in revisiting one of the nineties’ biggest franchises. It worked like a charm, seemingly out of nowhere becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Almost exactly one year later, we have Independence Day: Resurgence. Lacking the novelty of dinosaurs, it attempts to re-capture the magic of a time when it’s predecessor’s landmark destroying CGI effects were a thing of beauty and not a standard piece of almost every major blockbuster. At the outset, it even has a couple advantages over World, with director Roland Emmerich and star Jeff Goldblum returning. However, it becomes clear when watching the final product that Will Smith was the T-Rex of the original film.
Picking up twenty years after humanity’s first war with aliens (a fact the film never lets you forget), Independence Day: Resurgence centers on a version of mankind that has adapted to alien technology. Fighter jets can now go into space, weapons are more advanced, and the cost of gas has likely remained the same. However, this utopian existence finds itself in peril when David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) discovers that the aliens are mounting a second attack. Paired up with cocky fighter pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) who has a few personal problems of his own, David along with the world’s governments try to find a way to stop the even more catastrophic reign of destruction that ultimately comes to pass on the planet.
Conceptually, there are a couple of good ideas here. In fact, there is some solid world building in the first act that hints at a far more interesting movie lurking below the surface. However, the laziness of the storytelling here becomes astonishing the minute the aliens come back into the picture. Emmerich seems to believe that the addition of the new technology on the human end gives him free reign to essentially remake the original. It takes the classic lazy sequel approach by constantly acknowledging that it is the same movie without then trying to do anything that feels new. The humans using alien weapons amounts to seeing a different color of CGI goop on the screen, and it certainly doesn’t help that the people behind the weapons are so hard to care about, that the film ultimately feels like a Sy Fy channel version of its predecessor.
With the exception of Goldblum’s Levinson, who does add some humanity and wry humor to the proceedings, all of these characters are flat types. Hemsworth’s Jake is clearly supposed to be the rugged charisma magnet. The down to earth, sarcastic everyman that Will Smith embodied so perfectly before. However, Hemsworth is no Will Smith. His delivery here is completely lifeless which sinks any charismatic moments this character may have had. In fact, he often sounds unsure as to what his lines mean. Jessie T. Usher as the son of Smith’s Captain Hiller is not much better, seemingly afraid of either emulating Smith or doing something of his own. Mika Monroe, who was excellent in last year’s It Follows is completely wasted here as Jake’s generic girlfriend, who is established as a former pilot herself just so she’s not completely sidelined in the third act. Meanwhile, the returning actors from the first film could not seem more apathetic. Bill Pullman’s earnest machismo has become borderline lethargic, Brett Spiner pumps his annoying 90s geek schtick to eleven and Judd Hirsh seems completely nonplussed by the fact that there is an alien invasion. In fact, so many of the actors seem simply confused which shifts the blame of their weak performances on to Emmerich.
Emmerich is typically no slouch in the director’s chair. In fact, he often will deliver the most beautiful looking big budget destruction out of anybody in the business. There are moments here where that spark does shine through. A few of the action sequences, particularly the dogfights are filmed so clearly that the thrilling sensation of motion really shines through. Some the production design is also fairly creative, so much so that an art book of all the different human/alien fusion designs would likely be a pleasure. What’s missing is the playfulness that populates many of his other films, particularly the original Independence Day. This movie feels like a completely procedural job for him, with very little humor that doesn’t feel like it wasn’t added in reshoots to brighten things up. It’s a spectacle that feels so completely bored with itself.
Independence Day: Resurgence feels like a student cobbling together an assignment that was due twenty years before he even started. While there are a couple of interesting ideas here, the whole thing feels completely thrown together. It’s a PowerPoint presentation of muddled characters and un-ambitious storytelling punctuated by money shots to make it look pretty. While it is certainly not as insultingly bad as some of this summer’s other sequels, it perpetuates all of the problems that are making audiences lose interest in them. I suspect that now Independence Day will no longer be known as an American classic, but a franchise that went quietly into the night.