Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Sela Ward, Angelababy
Runtime: 120 Minutes
The beauty of Roland Emmerich’s 1996 blockbuster Independence Day was that – for all its visual enormity and action set-pieces – it was never really a film about conflict and warfare. At its heart, the story that Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich were trying to tell concerned the prevalence of multicultural unity in a time of absolute global crisis. The state of mind that it occupied (and continues to occupy) was one of jubilant optimism in the face of oblivion that played fast and loose with science, quirks of fate and even common sense in favour of keeping the spirits of the audience soaring.
As well as becoming one of the biggest box-office successes in history, it helped to reshape how Hollywood would continue to market and manufacture its productions well into the 21st century. Its enormous cultural impact, partnered with the nostalgia factor of its overwhelming presence with the millennial collective led to Independence Day: Resurgence; the long-awaited follow-up designed to bask in the glow of its predecessor’s former glory.
From a narrative perspective, Resurgence has an incredibly natural flow to the progression of its story following exactly 20 years on from the original. The ‘what if?’ scenario of a present-day Earth whose culture has been reshaped following its prior collapse is the film’s masterstroke. The worldbuilding is vast in scale and organically grown from the repercussions of the original attack, as humanity has utilised the alien technology to both better themselves and their defences; a sustained utopia living under the constant threat of a re-emerging enemy that manages to hold everything in place. Its parallels to America’s state of duress following 9/11 are there in soft application.
The plot itself is a mere emulation of the first instalment, only bloated up by the virtue of standing as a sequel to an already massive movie. The ship is bigger, the threat is bigger, even the aliens are bigger – and the film is fully aware of this absurdity. Unlike the original with its slow wind build-up and balance of genuine tragedy and horror, reconstituting the tropes of the disaster movie genre, Resurgence is a louder, sillier and somewhat lazier picture than the original, but just rolls with it anyway as if happy enough to just be existing. All of the Spielbergian mystique and wonder has been stripped bare in favour of a barebones regurgitation of what has come before, both in terms of the genre and its predecessor.
This is only mired further by the fact that the cast is almost too cramped for its own good. The likes of Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner all return, alongside a hideously handled shoehorning in of Judd Hirsch's Julis. Goldblum’s David Levinson and Spiner’s Dr Okun gleefully devour the scenery at every opportunity, even as they’re forced to share screen time with the next generation. Liam Hemsworth is a decent lead hero as pilot Jake Morrison, as is the fabulous Maika Monroe as the now grown up Patricia Whitmore, but Jessie Usher in the role of Dylan Hiller (son of Will Smith's hastily written out lead role from the original) gets little range out of his theoretically interesting character as the son of one of Earth’s greatest heroes. Not only that, but side characters as brought to you by the likes of William Fichtner, Sela Ward and the criminally underused Charlotte Gainsbourg get just as much time devoted to them without as much of the back-story.
At two hours in length, the film races by yet nothing of any genuine consequence seems to have evolved beyond some sort of interesting developments surrounding other alien species. Much of what unfolds is unsurprising by any standards and the lack of content finally on show is surprisingly shallow. As well as this general want of build-up and payoff, Resurgence’s over-reliance on digital effects to depict it's destruction – while incredibly detailed and rendered – feels too clean when depicted through the lens of its digital photography. The marvel of miniature and practical majesty is what the action truly lacks, as well as a sense of dramatic and emotional weight.
And then, at the centre of it all, there’s Roland Emmerich. Emmerich might be derided for the generally bold goofiness of his pictures, but he’s a filmmaker who knows how to fill a frame with as much content as visually possible in a creative and frequently picturesque way. Granted though, this is not his finest work. There are more moments of genuine thrill and iconography in the original (or even 2012 for that matter) than there are here, but he’s able to carry the whole thing through with the exact same emotional temperament of broad oddball humour and genuinely awesome destructive scale. It takes a particular mindset going in to be able to tune in to his auteurist frequency, but once you’re in and settled the film can be a breezy blast of escapism.
Independence Day: Resurgence is definitely not a film to be taken on its own. It has roots bound deep into the mythology built up by the original, with entire character beats reliant on prior knowledge going in, and it sets up enough toward its third act that insinuates even bigger things to come. Taken as a follow-up, it’s simply not as good as the original from a production perspective (put this down to a change of DP and the noticeable absence of David Arnold’s original musical compositions), but tonally it’s still undeniably a Roland Emmerich film - and a silly, enjoyable one at that. If you’re able to just strap in and allow it to divert your attention from real-world pessimism, it might be just the ticket for you, even if it ultimately proves to be nothing more than just that.