Independence Day Resurgence
Dir – Roland Emmerich
Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Brent Spiner
Released June 24th, RT 120 mins, Rated PG-13 / 12A
“Now that’s what I call a proximate engagement!”
Currently being a certain type of British person, this curiously belated revisiting of 90s sci-fi destructo-fest Independence Day could scarcely have come at a more irritating time. Some of our more grimace inducing political figures recently described June 23rd as being Britain’s own Independence Day (if you’re reading this in the far future – we voted to leave the E.U. which you might also need to look up in your archives). Fittingly though this movie, like our ‘Brexit,’ turned out to be an Independence Day that half the people didn’t really want and absolutely nobody needed, which now presents the possibility of future head-shaking facepalmery.
There is a very good reason why after 20 years (count ’em!) Independence Day could still be a viable movie world for resurrection or, indeed, resurgence. In 1996 we had never seen cinematic destruction on such a scale. The original movie was a wonderfully cataclysmic and equally fun slice of action/sci-fi cheese in an era mostly defined by cynicism and ‘ironic cool.’ If you’re my age then it probably also represents a simple and special time when you and your friends were finally allowed to go to the movies by yourselves and a ticket, plus snacks, set you back less than five units of whatever your currency is. If that’s you then don’t even try and convince me that the image of The White House being super death rayed into oblivion isn’t laser burned into your mind with immediate clarity. It remains one of the most enduring images of 90s blockbuster cinema and like Independence Day itself – a kind of disaster movie iconic that Roland Emmerich hasn’t quite been able to capture since.
The premise of Independence Day: Resurgence is simple enough. Twenty years after “The War of ’96” Earth has apparently become the model of a social and technological utopia. Advancement born of the alien technology captured after the events of the first movie have catapulted the planet into an era of green laser assault rifles, Earth-alien hybrid military and civilian vehicles and gigantic lunar stationed defense cannons. While the opening salvo of scene setting exposition assures us that the petty differences and international conflict of our species has been consigned to memory (as much a sci-fi concept as anything else in the movie), we have clearly had our eyes and shiny new weapons trained on the stars for the last two decades and, rest assured, this time around we are the first to strike as soon as a perceived new threat rears its inhuman head. William Fichtner’s General Adams is barely able to contain his glee at what is possibly the first time in 20 years that an American general has even been necessary. We aren’t the only species with two decades of enhancements under our belts, though, and before long we are back in familiar territory as the planet is quite literally mounted by an extra-terrestrial construct the size of the Atlantic Ocean and our inevitable collective ass tanning begins in earnest. All in all this cocktail only serves to remove us from the gleeful 1996 experience of seeing our world brought to heel – this is not our world as of 2016. It might as well be another planet entirely.
Anyone who is familiar with the video game series Mass Effect should be able to recognise, as I did, exactly what is going on as soon as the opening shot is fired. From there, you will be able to predict other familiar story beats concerning the driving purpose of the aggressive invaders and the wider part that humanity is obviously set to play in their tale. By the time the big reveal is made and you see how that feeds into the film’s final line of dialogue, you’ll likely be wishing that we just let them win the first time. Other revelations include the discovery that the aliens operate like a hive species and are presided over by a comically humongous Queen. Sounds like something else you’ve probably heard of, no?
It falls to most of the same people as the first time around, plus their kids and their current squeezes, to save the rest of Earth from annihilation. While Resurgence should surely thank its lucky stars for Independence Day reprisals from Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner, there sadly isn’t a memorable character or performance to be found among the crop of new young heroes. Requisite crazy-fly-boy-maverick-stuck-flying-a-space-tug-because-he’s-just-too-damn-reckless Liam Hemsworth just feels there to deliver cliched dialogue tropes and scenes and look good doing it while Jessie T. Usher, as ace test pilot and son of Captain Steven Hiller, makes Will Smith’s absence keenly felt as he tries his best to convincingly pull off lines like “Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!” – incidentally just one of many eye rolling callbacks to the first movie. Elsewhere we learn that Central Africa has been embroiled in a long and fierce ground war with the invaders since one of the craft from the initial conflict managed to land there intact and not for nothing, but that sounds like a much better idea for a sequel. Along with this comes Dikembe Umbutu, played by Deobia Oparei. A character who, if not exactly racist, certainly qualifies as culturally uncomfortable. A warlord who, of course, kills the technologically advanced invaders by dual wielding massive machetes and inexplicably accompanies the central heroes on their adventure to space and then to Area 51.
Resurgence is the latest summer blockbuster to leave the vice grip of the comic book superhero movie unshaken. While there is no real tangible concrete reason for Independence Day: Resurgence’s failure to live up to expectations when it essentially follows the same formula as the first beloved movie, it just inescapably comes off feeling that way. In attempting to make everything bigger than the first fondly remembered Independence Day, Roland Emmerich has instead served up what appears on the surface to be a new banquet of cinematic destruction, but one that will just leave you feeling hungry for the old days. As Jeff Goldblum deadpans in the trailer – “They like to get the landmarks” and it is “Certainly bigger than the last one,” but he’s seen it all before. So have we.