Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Sela Ward
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt
It’s no secret that nostalgia is a strong selling point for audiences seeking to recapture their pasts, childhood especially, with adult colouring books and Pokemon Go marking just two of the popular trends to emerge this year. It’s the reason why we keep getting movies and shows that honestly have no business existing like Dumb and Dumber To and Fuller House. Because we associate the original works with our fond memories of the past we crave for more of the same regardless of whether they were actually any good or not. Our expectations are then so twisted by our memories that we are inevitably disappointed by the cheap knock-off that couldn’t possibly have lived up to our nostalgia. While Independence Day was very much its own thing when it came out, pretty much every disaster movie that has come out since has tried to copy and outdo it. Should it be a surprise then that the sequel feels like nothing more than another cheap imitation of the original?
In the twenty years since the alien invasion human society has made great advances in its technology and global security and have established a defensive base on the Moon. A couple of days before the twentieth anniversary of their victory David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) makes a discovery with Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) that leads him to believe the aliens might return soon. Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) shares the same belief as his telepathic connection with the aliens gives him a premonition of their arrival. His daughter Patricia (Mae Whitman Maika Monroe) is now grown up, is on the staff of the current president Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward), and is engaged to Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsowrth), a hotshot pilot stationed on the Moon. There he comes to blows with his former best friend Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) and the late Steven Hiller and one of the best pilots in the armed forces. On July 4 the aliens do indeed return, this time in greater numbers, which means that the Earth must once again band together to combat them.
Independence Day is perhaps the quintessential popcorn movie which is why criticising it for its illogical plot or its stereotypical characters does little to deter viewers. People are watching this movie for one simple reason: spectacle. Who cares about the ridiculousness of defeating an entire alien army by uploading a computer virus onto their mothership if it means we get to see Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum escaping a giant explosion in a spaceship? Back then the visual effects were so mindblowing and the actors were so entertaining that people were willing to put up with any number of faults in terms of story and character. This time around, we’ve seen it all before. Independence Day: Resurgence looks like every other disaster movie being made today which means that it falls short in spectacle. We’ve seen cities get levelled, spaceships get into dogfights and famous landmarks get destroyed in a countless number of movies over the last two decades. Because it all feels so done and tired, it doesn’t feel like anything is really at stake in this story. The result is a movie lacking in thrills and suspense.
The biggest absentee from the first film is Will Smith and it shows. When you see the kind of stilted dialogue and weak characterisation that many of these actors have to put up with, it makes you realise just how much life Smith brought into the first movie through sheer charisma alone. Few actors possess that same level of on-screen presence and none of them are in this movie. Jeff Goldblum gets on alright as he revives the ticks and quirks that made him a household name in the 90s but the others are not as successful. While Hemsworth, Usher, Monroe and the other new kids do what they can, there is only so much they can bring when the film only requires them to be good looking, run around a bit, and fire the occasional laser. A more thrilling experience might have distracted me from these faults like in the first movie but here they were inescapable.
Independence Day is a movie that isn’t and didn’t need to be perfect. It is a silly, corny thriller with some neat effects and decent comedy that holds up pretty well today. It was its own thing that had its time and place in the 90s and there was nothing about it that warranted a revival. This sequel isn’t exactly terrible but it is dull, stale and pointless. It has the same ludicrous plot, stereotypical characters and hackneyed dialogue except this time the spectacle isn’t nearly spectacular enough to distract us. This movie is almost indistinguishable from the dozens upon dozens of other films that have followed Emmerich’s example except that this one happens to share its name with the movie that started it all. Everyone who worked on this movie has wasted their time by trying to capture something that could probably have never been recaptured anyway. Independence Day: Resurgence is what happens when we allow nostalgia to govern our movies above all else: we get an empty, hollow imitation of the original.