It’s not like Independence Day is really that much of a classic. Mostly for the fact that it hasn’t aged that well. It has Michael Bay-like levels of senseless spectacle, overstated American patriotism, an overly romantic view of characters and plotlines, and special effects that don’t hold up to modern viewing. But it is highly regarded. Highly enough to warrant a sequel? Enough people thought so to get Independence Day: Resurgence made.
Independence Day: Resurgence starts out exactly 20 years after the 1996 original film. Earth is a relatively peaceful place (except for Africa, it seems), united by the alien invasion, and utilising alien technology for great advances. And then, of course, the aliens come back to wreak havoc once more. Or take revenge. Or rescue the surviving aliens from their prison at Area 51. While Will Smith didn’t return as Steven Hiller from the first film, Hiller Jr (portrayed by Jessie Usher) takes over his role as Earth’s poster boy fighter pilot. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Sela Ward, Brent Spiner and Vivica A. Fox all reprise their roles from the first film, even though some of the roles are very minor. Liam Hensworth’s Jake Morrison is probably the biggest protagonist of the ensemble cast, as a handsome hotshot space pilot who’s stuck driving slow space tugs on the moon, and somehow getting into trouble for saving lives.
Then the rest of the film essentially plays as a greatest hits-style rehash of the previous one. Some weird things happen. People who were in contact with the aliens previously have some kind of psychic connection with them. Aliens attack Earth’s Moon Base and space defences, and completely obliterate London. A dishevelled and limping Bill Pullman quickly shaves off his beard in time for a classic motivational speech and an heroic attempt at personal sacrifice. The kooky scientist Dr. Brakish Okun wakes up from a coma to explain plot details to us while ensuring there’s something to laugh at (he’s not wearing pants). Then Jeff Goldblum (now Earth Space Defense Director) has to try his darnedest to outsmart the aliens.
It’s director Roland Emmerich’s first sequel, and there might be a good reason that he hasn’t attempted a continuation before: The trademark Emmerich disaster is generally a once-in-a-lifetime narrative. The coincidences and cliches become even more apparent when the same characters witness it a second time. In Independence Day: Resurgence, characters even comment on the aliens’ love for destroying world landmarks (London’s Tower Bridge, in this case), but they don’t dare to draw attention to the fact that the aliens waited exactly 20 earth years to return on the titular American holiday.
Originality is sorely lacking in Independence Day: Resurgence, and character development or depth is pretty much non-existent. There are old cliches that most of Hollywood have left behind in the 90’s, and a predictable pace and structure. Even China’s emerging financial influence on Hollywood filmmaking is clearly visible in the casting of two key roles and a few Chinese words. But no-one expected this film to reinvent the wheel. The action sequences are directed well, easy to understand, and completely inoffensive. It’s not a cheap cash-in, but also not a groundbreaking sci-fi masterpiece. The film drifts somewhere between the two extremes, and to most audiences, that might be perfectly acceptable. Mostly, Resurgence is an unashamed kickstart to a movie series/franchise. There are definitely firm plans for more movies, and this film seems to primarily serve as a bridge between what came before and what’s coming next.
Independence Day: Resurgence was released on 24 June 2016. It is currently showing in cinemas in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D.