by Ken Bakely
Millennial nostalgia grows ever stronger, and regardless of whether one considers that a good or bad thing, the now two-decade-old Independence Day seems to have benefitted greatly from this. It is through a combination of this appraisal, and a long-held studio desire to return to this massive hit, that Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence has descended upon multiplex screens. But all of the elements which make its predecessor so cheesily enjoyable – unfiltered gung-ho patriotism, sudsy character development, and a sly degree of underlying irony – are scrubbed clean from this sequel, a soulless, clanging, and chronically incoherent mess. Susan Sarandon was apparently considered for a supporting role in this movie. She was sent a copy of the script, but turned down the part, later saying “I couldn’t understand what was going on. I just couldn’t understand it… I did not have the faintest idea.”
You and me both, Susan.
Taking the most optimistic view of the aftermath of the alien invasion, Independence Day: Resurgence is set in the summer of 2016. After winning the war, humans’ harnessing of alien technology has led to many new advantages, such as lightning-fast air travel and an international military base permanently stationed on the moon. One of the occupants of said base is a hotshot American pilot named Jake (Liam Hemsworth). His fiancée Patricia (Maika Monroe) is the daughter of former president Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who led the charge against the invading aliens. Patricia has returned to the White House as a personal aide to the incumbent commander-in-chief (Sela Ward). Meanwhile, the world is preparing to observe the twentieth anniversary of the so-called War of ‘96, but the celebrations are cancelled after humanity’s worst fear is realized: our extraterrestrial foes have returned, and they’re much more powerful than before. A sudden scramble is initiated to bring together the surviving masterminds behind the last retaliation, namely David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Jake finds himself at the center of the resulting mission to fight off this new invasion, and in the process, must attempt to mend the wounds between him and his ex-friend Dylan (Jesse T. Usher), the son of the now-deceased Steven Hiller (Will Smith’s character in Independence Day). Can humanity manage to survive this second war and once again liberate themselves from their would-be annihilators? I’ll give you one guess.
Independence Day: Resurgence, oddly enough for a film preceded by a case study in patriotism in blockbuster cinema, is entirely devoid of the American exceptionalism which both gave Independence Day charm and made it even cheesier than it already was. My presumption is that this is done to appease the foreign markets, particularly Chinese cinema-goers, the audience which is increasingly vital towards making sure studios return a profit on major action movies. This suspicion is validated by the appearance of a major Chinese actress playing a minor Chinese character in the supporting cast (complete with a cameo from the Chinese flag). Or this could be the fault of the screenplay entirely failing to create characters which leave an impression on the viewer. The folks you care about are familiar faces from the first movie, already established to satisfaction. Everyone else is little more than a name, as the script endlessly juggles a seemingly endless number of half-written subplots along its main storyline.
The original Independence Day is by no means a very good movie, but even after twenty years, it’s still a stirring, goofy sci-fi blow-em-up with a barrage of quirky and decently-defined characters. Its sequel is a restlessly edited parody, where every scene feels like a trailer. Only concerned with big (and admittedly fantastic-looking) setpieces and entirely indifferent towards whether or not one cares about the characters caught in the middle of them, Independence Day: Resurgence is caught in the ills of a ruthessly overtested package, designed for easy international distribution whilst hoping to make bank domestically off those who have fond memories of the movie it is ostensibly tied to. At the end of the action in this 119 minute movie, David Arnold’s boisterous, triumphant fanfare returns, roaring over the closing credits, but its presence ends up feeling less like a callback to the first film and more like unintentional mockery, a jarring reminder of how much is missing in this follow-up and how few of its predecessor’s trademarks are present. It’s no longer enough to just be loud, flashy, and cool-looking. Every major summer movie does that. In a wave of big sci-fi, you need to offer something to stand out from the crowd. Besides taking some character names from a film that we all remember, this one has nothing, aside from the unexpected sight of seeing European art-house icon Charlotte Gainsbourg in a supporting role, spouting off inanely written dialogue about decoding alien languages.