Independence Day: Resurgence

Of all the blockbusting 1990s disaster event movies, Roland Emmerich’s 1996 Independence Day spawned imitators rather than sequels – and no, Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day don’t count.

Twenty years is quite a long wait for a second coming (curiously, Trainspotting is another 1996 hit currently shooting its sequel) but the two decade anniversary provides impetus enough to necessitate a reboot for a new generation.

Indeed, Emmerich and his original co-creator Dean Devlin, spend much of the new film’s opening minutes setting up new characters and filling us in on their relationship to the old ones who themselves are, sometimes literally, re-awoken for the new battle.

Just as Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore set a tone for movie Presidents to come, here we open with a female leader in the White House, Sela Ward’s President Landford, clearly a hint from Hollywood at where they think the race is going, just as many believe Morgan Freeman playing the President on screen paved the way for Obama in real life.

The other strikingly political/commercial giant step taken in this sequel is the inclusion of major Chinese characters, such as the beautiful Angelababy who plays fighter pilot Rain, whose uncle General Lao (actor Chin Han) is commander of moon base. There are passages of Chinese dialogue and Chinese moon products in the base’s canteen.

There’s an awful lot of plot and backstory floating around like space junk here, none of which really matters when the new invasion begins. Essentially, it’s the same as the first movie, but bigger and, seen through 3D glasses, at least in the case of my preview screening.

While Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch return and Brent Spiner’s Dr Brackish comes out of a coma, Will Smith is noticeably absent, his character Steven Hiller mentioned as a hero, but a dead one. His place – if not his charisma or box office clout – is filled by Hiller’s son Dylan, played by Jessie Usher, an elite pilot who’s a friend of President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia, a former flying ace who gave up her career to care for her ageing father, and played by Maika Monroe. Meanwhile she’s now in love with a maverick space pilot called Jake, played by Liam Hemsworth, who’s up manning space tugs on the moon.

Setting all this new info up is a very complicated, not to say rather dull, task but Emmerich has become a master at such multi-character mash ups and he manages to cram it all in smoothly enough to then test the strength of these sketchy characters and our emotional investment in them while blowing the world to bits.

Emmerich’s campy, gleeful global destruction is ramped up, even if it couldn’t really go much further. The new alien mothership is so vast – “3 and half thousand miles across”, exclaims someone looking up at a virtual sky – we can’t get to see the whole thing on the screen, which somewhat deflates its visual impact.

This dark vessel exerts such a gravitational pull that whole cities are sucked up and dumped down as it passes – thus when London gets its now customary wipe out, the London Eye is crushed by half of Kuala Lumpur falling on it, before Dubai’s skyscraper spears Tower Bridge.

As Goldblum’s David Levinson has time to observe: “They like to take out the landmarks.”

In truth, the movie could have done with more of this humour. Goldblum is the only character with any sense of irony and his character gets a bit sidetracked having to deal with his eccentric father Julius, played by Judd Hirsch who turns up at the climax to distract the giant alien with a rather silly schoolbus loaded with kids.

Goldblum does get a bit of an upscale romantic storyline, too, a relationship with an increasingly familiar type of character in such Hollywood mayhem, usually played a classy French actress. It was Juliette Binoche in Godzilla, Julie Delpy in Avengers Age of Ultron and now Charlotte Gainsbourg contributes her strangely posh yet slightly halting English delivery to the role of a psychiatrist specialising in victims of alien trauma. It’s not quite Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist Bond girl, but it is nevertheless odd casting.

Back to the end of the world, and such is the carnage on screen, Emmerich has the need to restate what’s happening every five minutes, with little graphics or incidental salty sea dog characters stuck on a ship monitoring alien activity: “We’ve shot down her defence shield, dismantled her weapons and she’s going for the molten core – you’ve got four minutes, General.”

These silly cutaways are always my favourite moments in such film. The shepherds in an Arabian desert tent, or the African villagers crowded round the sort of short wave radio everyone seems to have handy for just such apocalyptic occasions – brush off the cobwebs, twiddle a knob, give it a whack and boom, you’re patched into the President’s private line.

It would be foolish to say ID: Resurgence lacks scale and spectacle, however in this age of the blue screen blockbuster, scene after scene of the stuff becomes repetitive and soulless due to its victimless violence. It feels like no one ever really dies or gets hurt, despite the destruction of half the planet.

Again, the only joke is left to Goldblum, who looks up at the new enemy ship and delivers the deadpan line: “That’s definitely bigger than the last one.” Bigger, yes, but not nearly as much fun.

A version of this review also appeared on TheWrap.com 

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