Movie Review - Independence Day: Resurgence
By Matthew Huntley
July 7, 2016

He has the worst luck with dinosaurs and aliens.

Independence Day (1996) is not a “good” movie per se, if you know what I mean by “good” movies. It's cheesy, predictable, silly and gratuitous. Plus, it plays on ethnic and racial stereotypes and recycles a lot of the traditional alien-invasion formula that dates as far back as 1938 when Orson Welles broadcast War of the Worlds on the CBS Radio Network.

All that said, Roland Emmerich's once record-setting blockbuster remains a modern and much adored classic. All the things I've “criticized” about it are the very reasons most people, myself included, still have a lot of affection for it. It's the epitome of fun, mindless entertainment.

Now, 20 years later, which, by Hollywood standards, equates to about 10 lifetimes, the same filmmakers bring us Independence Day: Resurgence, and it's all the things its predecessor is, only less. It too is not a “good” movie, but it's not a bad one, either. It's simply unnecessary; although that isn't to say it doesn't have its moments and that I didn't leave the theater with a mild affection for it. But its appeal is limited because we get the impression that as the filmmakers set out to recreate the first one's magic, they merely copied it. They probably felt that after two decades of fans wondering if there would ever be a follow-up, simply delivering the same thing would be enough. Unfortunately, it isn't, because even by fun, mindless standards, we need something more original.

The plot can be summed up rather easily: “They're baaack.” Or rather, “They're awaaake.” Twenty years after their 1996 invasion, which left most of Earth in shambles, the same alien race has returned and is on a vengeful path to once again destroy all life on our planet. Their new arrival coincides with the prisoner aliens from the first picture, who now reside in Area 51, suddenly waking up from their catatonic state and “celebrating” because it means potential freedom. The aliens are once again after Earth's core, which, for reasons that go unexplained, fuels their ships and advances their technology. We eventually learn from a “friendly” alien race that the “bad” aliens have been carrying out strikes on other civilizations for thousands of years and the one happening now, on Earth, will be the latest. That is, unless the human race can does something about it. And, to quote the original, humans are not about to “go quietly into the night.”

Speaking of quotes, Resurgence has a whole fresh batch of chintzy one-liners that I'm sure the screenwriters were hoping would join the ranks of “I'll be back,” “Roads? Where we're going we don't need...roads,” and “Now that's what I call a close encounter,” to become classic sci-fi sayings that would one day make the movie instantly recognizable. But it seems too self-conscious about doing this, as if it's something it has to do. The same goes for the plot, which doesn't flow naturally. We watch it as it merely runs through a checklist of events the filmmakers probably felt they had to incorporate in order to appease fans instead of coming up with something more innovative.

The problem is, as the plot progresses, we remain too far ahead of it. Part of the fun of the first ID4 (remember that was the original's abbreviated title?) was that, despite it being predictable, it took its time and built up genuine tension and excitement. Because we're more aware what's going to happen this second time around, the sequel simply can't have the same impact and we grow restless, even bored.

To be sure, I did enjoy catching up with a lot of the old characters, especially the geek scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and his flagrantly Jewish father, Julius (Judd Hirsch), who's written a book about how he saved the world, although he can't even get patients in a nursing home to care about it. There's also former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who now walks with a cane, has grown a disheveled beard, and takes medication because he's convinced the aliens are coming back. He seems to routinely wake up screaming and has a compulsion to draw strange symbols. The same goes for Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner), the wacky, mad scientist from Area 51 who wakes up from a 20-year coma. I actually thought he died in the first picture, but apparently not, and it's funny how his unusually long stupor didn't render him physically sore. He's able to get out of bed almost instantaneously.

And the movie just wouldn't be an Independence Day without some hunky young fighter pilots to save the day. Liam Hemsworth leads the pack as Jake Morrison, who's engaged to President Whitmore's daughter, Patricia (Maika Monroe). She works for the current Commander in Chief (Sela Ward) and, wouldn't you know, is a fighter pilot just like her dad, which means she too will play an integral role in the aliens' undoing, as will Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), stepson of Will Smith's now-deceased character from the first film. Vivica A. Fox returns as Dylan's mom, Jasmine, who's graduated beyond exotic dancer to become a hospital administrator and Robert Loggia, in his final appearance, is on-screen just long enough to salute the American people.

The five-man team of screenwriters puts all of these and other characters in place to pretty much do what we expect them to do so the plot can roll out accordingly. There's nothing particularly special about them or their various relationships with one another, but we like them just the same and the actors are all perfectly serviceable and bring enough human weight to an otherwise weightless story.

But this was to be expected. I doubt anyone walking into Independence: Resurgence will think they're seeing anything other than a popcorn movie, and that's fine - popcorn movies certainly have their place and purpose - but because this one doesn't seem to have any ambitions beyond replicating its predecessor, its effect and appeal are too narrow.

On a positive note, there are some impressive special effects, especially when the aliens attack and start sucking up skyscrapers, bridges, landmarks, etc., and during the climactic battle with the alien queen. I also appreciated its humor and the way it triggers nostalgia for when the first Independence Day came out. I was 14-years-old and it was the third Sunday of July, 1996. When my mom picked me up from the theater, I remember saying to her that I had just seen the greatest movie ever made. I'm grateful to Resurgence for allowing me to recall this moment, but it wasn't essential. I would have rather had it create new movie-going memories; not just rekindle old ones.