Commercially speaking, I am somewhat baffled a sequel has only now been made to 1996’s smash hit Independence Day. Because of this twenty year delay, much of the target audience was not alive when the original film was released. Whether a new young audience will discover Independence Day: Resurgence remains to be seen, but frankly I have my doubts, especially as it is a decidedly average piece of work. Perhaps a better title might be Indifference Day: Regurgitation.
To be fair, the original film was hardly a sci-fi classic. A provocative opening act gave way to ideas strip mined from War of the Worlds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Top Gun, Star Wars, Aliens and many others. Exactly the same films are referenced this time round (and a few others too, including Contact in the opening shot), but the one genuinely groundbreaking thing director Roland Emmerich had in his favour last time, visual effects money shots of entire cities and landmarks being destroyed, has now become so routine as to seem passé.
I recently re-visited the original film, and to be fair it is an entertaining if silly watch. Resurgence is equally silly but less endearing. Twenty years after the events of the original film, Earth has become united, and the alien technology left behind from the carnage reverse engineered, allowing for nifty Death Star style defensive weapons around the Earth, and in a base on the moon. Some of the characters are now dead (Will Smith’s character having been famously written out due to an alleged demand for a $50 million paycheque). Others return, including Area 51 scientist Dr Okun (Brent Spiner, last seen in a coma), David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and his comedy Jewish stereotype father Julius (Judd Hirsch). Bill Bullman’s President Whitmore, is also back, plagued by visions of the aliens returning.
New characters including Liam Hemsworth Jake, a hotshot fighter pilot who, wouldn’t you know it, has a real problem with authority. Elsewhere clichés fall thick and fast in his friendship with Dylan Hiller (Will Smith’s son from the original film) and his engagement to Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe). They’re both fighter pilots too. In fact, every other person in these films seems to be trained fighter pilots.
There are other subplots I can’t be bothered to summarise, but essentially the various story threads are juggled as the aliens inevitably return in bigger, upgraded spaceships, along with bigger aliens. Visual effects are obviously impressive, but despite knowing lines about the invaders wanting get the landmarks (as London is cheerfully annihilated with a gravity weapon thingy), the effect this time is less wow inducing and more weary shrug inducing. The film feels similar to the first in many respects, and whilst it is certainly not terrible (none of Emmerich’s films descend to Michael Bay levels of incoherence), it struggles to be anything more than blockbuster by numbers.
I actually feel a bit for Emmerich, who clearly admires Spielberg and Lucas and desperately wants to emulate them. Yet he consistently fails to capture their magic. One reason, I think, is the militaristic tone – again, nowhere near as appalling as Michael Bay’s films, but Emmerich’s characters just aren’t that interesting. They lack the everyman quality of, say, Roy Neary in Close Encounters. Furthermore, whilst they knowingly behave in a manner akin to characters from 1970s disaster movies, it is still much more entertaining predicting who will live or die in the likes of The Towering Inferno.
What are we left with? A series of admittedly impressive explosions and special effects, and a few funny scenes (especially with Goldblum). Independence Day: Resurgence is a belated and frankly pointless sequel which, though not dreadful, certainly will not attract the kind of following the first film did circa 1996.