Independence Day: Resurgence

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.

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Truth

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood

Director: James Vanderbilt

Writer: James Vanderbilt


The questions of fact vs. fiction, honesty vs. bias, and journalistic integrity are very hot topics in today’s political and social climate. In an age where opinions are often mistaken for facts or facts are viewed as opinions, where unchecked citizen journalism continues to be problematic, and where people feel compelled to ignore evidence and undermine the reliability of stories they don’t agree with, it is enough to make you wonder whether the truth even matters anymore. I found the casting of Robert Redford to be an interesting choice due to his role in All the President’s Men, a film about the pursuit for truth led by two journalists that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. It is a film that celebrates the honest and principled art of journalism as exemplified by Woodward and Bernstein, both of whom are contemporaries of Dan Rather. Although Truth is not nearly as strong a film as its predecessor, its message is clear. The age of noble journalism has long since departed.

The film covers the real life story of Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), the producer of the CBS news programme 60 Minutes, and the scandal that destroyed her career during the 2004 presidential election. She enlists the help of the famed veteran news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and her handpicked research team including Mike Smith (Topher Grace), Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) and Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid) to report a story on President George W. Bush as he seeks re-election. The story they run accuses Bush of exploiting powerful connections and political advantages during his military service in order to avoid being drafted for Vietnam in the early 70s. Once they report the story however, their evidence is brought to question leading to an inquiry. As the procedures, intentions and principles of these journalists are condemned and their reputations are ruined, the larger issue at stake gets lost until the point when the entire purpose of their original story becomes irrelevant.

While watching this film I couldn’t help but compare it to a superior film about journalism that came out this year, Spotlight. This might be unfair since the two films are in a way telling two different kinds of stories. While Truth tells of an incident when the ideals of journalism were defeated by bullying tactics, misshapen public perception and the bottom line, Spotlight is an instance where it actually succeeded in spite of them. However when I compared the two as narratives some of the weaknesses in Truth became readily apparent to me. While Spotlight allowed each of its main characters to be fully realised as crucial members of the team in creating their story, many of the journalists in Truth amount to little more than talking heads. Grace’s character serves as a vessel for some of the impassioned speeches that seemed to be trying to hard while Moss’ character only exists to ask questions for the benefit of exposition. Those who follow this story can quite easily work out the major themes being explored but, unlike Spotlight, Truth feels the need to hammer the point in as hard as it can. It is an important and a relevant point but it isn’t one that needs to be preached in order to be conveyed.

The redeeming qualities of this film are Blanchett and Redford in the leading roles. While Mapes is clearly a smart and capable producer with clear principles and a passion for what she does, she is not portrayed as a paragon of truth. As the investigation into the story proceeds, the film acknowledges that mistakes were made and corners were cut because Mapes believed so strongly in the story’s importance. They even raise the question of whether her politics clouded her judgement as a producer. Blanchett is, as usual, stellar as her character is thrown under the bus by her superiors and is forced to defend her actions to a panel that doesn’t even care about the truth of the story. Redford meanwhile brings the right amount of gravitas and class to the role of an accomplished and beloved news anchor facing the regrettable end of a distinguished career.

While Truth is not a great film, it does raise important points. The subject of the inquiry is the mishandling of the allegedly fabricated documents proclaiming that Bush never actually served his time in the military. As the doubt over these documents is exploited to undermine the entire story as well as the journalists who led it and the concerns of the network’s parent company lead the top executives to adopt a policy of appeasement and scapegoating, the one question that is never brought up is whether the story is actually true. The film invites the audience to debate the very purpose of journalism and how far the pursuit of truth and the greater picture has been corrupted. That the film came out just in time for another election year is no coincidence.

★★★