Movie Review - Independence Day: Resurgence
By Ben Gruchow
June 27, 2016
The least interesting part of this film is the big alien attack. Independence Day: Resurgence provides us with some effective character moments in isolation, a hint of a thematic core, a nice and slow buildup that hits some unexpectedly rich veins of tension, and a wholly involving new character that points us in the direction of a more intriguing sequel concept. These elements are sandwiched around a big, dull, and tentative reprise of the first film; it's fan-service nostalgia at its most blandly competent. Then the final reel kicks in and the movie becomes wildly, goofily fun for about ten minutes or so. It's all a gigantic mess.
If you'll remember, the 1996 original navigated a cross-section of '90s-era market-tested Humanity in the midst of an invasion by frill-headed, exoskeleton-clad aliens in massive ships. These aliens positioned themselves over the world's major landmarks (and by extension, most of its major cities), and blasted most of them to smithereens. It was the second film by Roland Emmerich, who has made a career out of splicing cinema's most dubious scientific principles with urban destruction at jaw-dropping scale. Why he and co-creator Dean Devlin devoted such tenacity to revisiting this corner of their filmography, even unto a sequel at least 15 years past its sell-by date, isn't that hard to guess: Emmerich likes making movies with a big U.S. nationalist spirit; other nations are allowed to sit at the table, but only at the sides. Combine this with the numerous instances in the last couple of years that have (or have purported to) test/define our national identity, and you have a playing field that welcomes the concept of an Independence Day sequel with open arms.
The sequel that came into being reflects that heavily glossed, Emmerich-ized style of political references - which is to say that it basically takes a look at headlines and public figures now and applies those headlines and figures to the characters and story, with some basic good or bad character traits thrown in based on whatever the cultural narrative is. This one gives us a female President (Sela Ward), plus rudimentary references to preemptive strikes, refugees, tactical versus guerrilla warfare, and Western culture merging with Eastern culture, particularly China. The movie also features a well-known Chinese actress (Angelababy), and contains lines of dialogue so obviously intended to aid the film in the Chinese market that I'd think it was an act of meta-commentary, if the script wasn't dumb as a post in every other respect.
We're also given a new trio of leads, all of them the grown children of parents killed or otherwise inconvenienced by the original attack. There is Dylan (Jessie Usher), son of Will Smith's Captain Hiller from the first film, and Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) as the former President's daughter and a totally needless replacement of the original's Mae Whitman. We also have Liam Hemsworth and Travis Tope as Jake and Charlie of the Earth-Space Defense, deployed on the moon as the movie starts.