It has been twenty years since the alien attack on Earth. Twenty years since the world cried out in one (American) voice “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today, we celebrate our Inde-” But the anniversary celebrations are cut short.
The invading force which once laid waste to our homeworld’s tourist attractions has finally returned, answering a distress call sent by the losing fleet. In the intervening years mankind has adapted alien technology and leapt ahead. We now understand antigravity and have a fleet of augmented ships, an armed moonbase and an orbital defense system. But will it be enough to save us?
Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, The Fly) returns as David Levinson, now director of the Earth Space Defense, a United Nations organisation set up in the wake of the first invasion. His work has been vital in preparing Earth for the return of the enemy force and he is the one to find the distress call sent by the only alien ship to have survived the initial attack.
It is in Africa on land guarded by the warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Game of Thrones’ Deobia Oparei) whose people “fought a ground war with the surviving aliens for ten years,” and he now boasts a link with the alien hive mind as well as a one-line backstory which is more interesting than the actual movie in which he features.
The same telepathic link is shared by others such as former President Thomas J Whitmore (Lost Highway’s Bill Pullman), wracked by nightmarish visions of the returning enemy and a shadow of his former self, and Doctor Brakish Okun (Star Trek The Next Generation’s Brent Spiner) who amazingly survived his alien puppet act and wakes from a twenty year coma haunted by the same images.
An expert in the alien/human telepathic link, Doctor Catherine Marceaux (Melancholia’s Charlotte Gainsbourg) believes there is more to these visions and tries to solve the mystery of one particular image which keeps reappearing, possibility giving a clue to a weapon against the enemy. She is hampered in this by also being a half-hearted love interest to Goldblum’s Levinson which feels so tacked on as to be an afterthought, but while the scientists investigate the mysteries, the air force prepares for action.
As Will Smith chose not to return as Captain Steven Hiller, instead the now grown-up Dylan Hiller (Survivor’s Remorse’s Jessie T Usher) is eager to live up to his late stepfather’s reputation as a world saving pilot, and disgraced pilot Jake Morrison (The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth), assigned to moonbase maintenance following an incident with Dylan, seeks an opportunity for redemption, but they do not have a fraction of Smith’s screen presence or charisma, their scenes feeling hollow.
Director Roland Emmerich, he who brought the subtlety and grace of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 attempts to recapture the blockbuster success of his 1996 classic but now faces an audience who have seen many versions of Earth facing annihilation, all too often at the hands of Emmerich. His answer to this problem is to overwhelm in an attempt to impress, but his aggressive supersizing brings steeply diminished returns.
Rather than a fleet of ships as before the alien antagonists have returned with a mothership so preposterously large it covers the entire Atlantic Ocean, seemingly for the sake of it, and watching it enter Earth’s atmosphere it is a wonder anything survives let alone the plucky group of heroes, and the absurd scale of the ship, reminiscent of a brain slug from Futurama, undermines any hope that the film can be seen as anything other than a farce.
Taking a leaf from the James Cameron manual of sequel one-upmanship, there is also a previously unsuspected alien Queen, which, predictably, is the size of a Kaiju. Still smarting over the drubbing his “misunderstood” Godzilla received and desperate to compensate, Emmerich gives his giant alien queen a giant alien gun, and in all the dreary spectacle the audience ends up caring less and less about the sprawling cast, some of whom are not even given a clear reason for being present.
In keeping with the misogyny of the original in that all the women must either be eliminated or defined principally by their relationships to men even while doing twice their work, Patricia Whitmore (It Follows’ Maika Monroe) is daughter of President Whitmore, works in the White House, doubles as an air force pilot, and is also the inevitable love interest of Morrison, while President Elizabeth Lanford (Gone Girl’s Sela Ward) is woefully underused, reduced to merely saying “Do that!” when someone else suggests a course of action, generally tiresomely destructive.
Despite not getting much screen time Elysium’s William Fichtner gives a good performance as General Joshua Adams, the military lead for the Earth Space Defence, standing out among the new cast, and it is good to see the return of smaller characters such as Vivica A Fox brief appearance as Jasmine Hiller. Judd Hirsch returns as Goldblum’s father and has a larger role but with a dull subplot involving ferrying children across America while trying to get to his son, a retread of Emmerich’s own The Day After Tomorrow.
It is touching to see Hollywood legend Robert Loggia featured in a brief cameo, his final role before he sadly passed away last year, but conversely, Nicholas Wright’s Floyd Rosenberg, an accountant following Levenson initially to Africa and then to the moon, has in fact no valid reason to be anywhere in the film, yet appears throughout the movie making poor attempts at comic relief; it is telling that Wright is credited as a co-writer alongside Emmerich, long time producing partner Dean Devlin, James A Woods and James Vanderbilt.
The special effects are of the quality to be expected from any major studio summer blockbuster, however adding far more ships fighting large battles creates such sensory overload as to disconnect what is happening on screen from the besieged audience. At some points during the excessive destruction across the Earth or the endless dogfights there is just too much going on to care about, the whole actually less immersive than their sister scenes of twenty years ago.
Frustratingly, the seeds are present of the film this could have been, moments early on in where a well designed view of advanced human technology is presented, the moonbase and the small maintenance ships rendered with a style that is fresh yet has notes of classic science fiction, but unfortunately the time to enjoy these is brief before any subtlety is lost to chaotic action.
While it is nice to see tributes to the original movie and characters, Emmerich relies too heavily on slavishly recreating the glory of two decades past when this could and should have been a chance to do something wholly new inspired by his classic original. Independence Day: Resurgence ends with a clumsy path for a potential sequel laid out in such a blatant way it feels as if the onscreen characters are delivering a sales pitch to the audience.
One of the strengths of Independence Day is that it was a spiced up B-movie on steroids, the golden age thrills of Earth vs the Flying Saucers unleashed from budgetary concerns and limitations of technology. It was an invading alien adventure where the heroes saved the day, and while it had its faults it was designed to be an unchallenging and hugely entertaining romp that will remain a pleasure to watch for many years to come.
Independence Day: Resurgence does not have that same charm, energy or entertainment value. It is at most a watchable film, and certainly it will not enjoy the popularity and longevity of its predecessor except by the dubious virtue of its association with the superior original.
Independence Day: Resurgence is currently on general release in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX