If ever a film release was well-timed, it’s the sequel to Independence Day. The film’s title actually sounds like it could’ve been thought up by someone on the Leave PR team. Thankfully, Independence Day: Resurgence has absolutely nothing to do with the EU referendum (although we’re not sure how much you can read into the complete annihilation of London in it). Unfortunately, the film also has very much to do with anything else, except as a lesson in how not to make a sequel to a film that everyone has fond memories of.
Resurgence sees the (apparently) inevitable return of the big bad aliens that almost wiped out the planet 20 years ago. Earth has moved on and aided by the alien tech left behind, now has spaceships and Moon bases and the Thunderbirds. Sorry, they’re not the Thunderbirds, they’re the ESD task-force team led by the step-son of Will Smith’s character from the first film. Will Smith isn’t in this film, but others have returned, such as Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Goldblum’s dad, Data from Star Trek (who didn’t die in the first film, even though clearly he did) and of course, President Bill Pullman, who’s gone a bit crazy and hears alien voices now. Which is just a thing that happens that is never explained properly, so deal with it.
There’s plenty of stuff that does get explained though. The first half-hour could have been called Independence Day: Exposition, as all the gaps in the last 20 years of story are pointlessly filled in. Then, plenty of explaining as to what has happened/going to happen/will happen occurs for the rest of the film, but all in such a hurried fashion, you forget any of it. Which is a good thing, because little of it makes any sense. Writer and director Roland Emmerich wisely quickens the pace to get to the next set-piece, But there’s a problem here. A problem the size of the gigantic alien mother ship now covering half the planet, which incidentally, seems to be described by characters a fair number of times as being bigger than before. Yes, Roland. They have a bigger ship now, the stakes are much, much higher than they were in the first film. We get it.
The issue here is that simply, none of the characters are developed enough for you to remotely care about them. Sure, some of the older characters have that bit of nostalgic love going for them (you can’t help but love Goldblum), but the wave of new characters are dull and bland and you ultimately feel nothing for them and their cold, dead eyes. Strictly speaking, Will Smith’s step-son and President Bill Pullman’s daughter aren’t new characters, but the original actors that played them as kids have been replaced and the new actors inject less personality into the roles, compared to what the child actors originally did. Then there’s Thor’s brother, Liam Hemsworth, who pops up to effectively replace Will Smith. He’s wisecracking, looks pretty and is basically the Generic Hero Bro. You know the type, like Chris Pratt but without the charm. Oh, they’ve also added comic relief characters too (yes, more than just one) who fail to offer much in the way of comedy or relief.
It’s probably unfair to throw all these actors under the school bus full of kids that inexplicably gets shoe-horned into the end battle (yes, that happens). The fault lies primary with the writing. None of the characters are fleshed out enough, expect for some brief lazy back-stories that are skimmed over quicker than explaining why Will Smith isn’t actually in this film. Now, we’re not saying that the first Independence Day was some kind of deeply layered essay in character study. Far from it. But it did what it needed to do to make you root for the characters in it. The bit at the end with Randy Quaid flying into the ship’s laser and shouting “Hello boys. I’m back!” was priceless, and it worked as a pay-off to his story. Resurgence has nothing even remotely close to that. Although, god knows, they try to duplicate the beats of that scene, along with many others from the first film.
Case in point here, is the initial alien attack in the first film. There is no denying that thrill you probably got in watching that moment when they first start blowing shit up – it’s pure unadulterated sci-fi schlockly fun. Here in Resurgence, it really feels like London gets annihilated because it’s something they just have to do in the film. Like it’s one of a list of things that should probably be seen in an Independence Day film. Tick that box and move on. Yes, of course the “They like to get the landmarks” line is still good (even if it has been played to death in the trailers) but that brief little self-aware joke is only a brief glimmer of what Resurgence could have been.
The fact of the matter is, that despite some of the flaws of the original film, it still holds up as a shamelessly entertaining film to sit and watch all the way through today. That’s not just nostalgia, it’s because it knows exactly what it’s doing in terms of story, it knows how to use its characters and it knows just who its audience is. Resurgence fails on all three of these counts and because of this, it is unable to deliver a satisfying cinema experience as a result. What’s worse is the decision to set up another sequel at the end of the film in the most ham-fisted, cringeworthy way possible.
But until they actually manage to come up with a deserving, even exemplary sequel, here’s a reminder of the truly spectacular moments the 90s original was capable of.