Movie Review - Independence Day: Resurgence
By Ben Gruchow
June 27, 2016
Jake and Patricia are part of a long-distance relationship, I guess, although this strikes one of several shaky notes the movie has in regard to human relationships; on the basis of on-screen chemistry alone, he clearly belongs with Charlie. This would deprive the filmmakers of their opportunity to court the Chinese market with a budding relationship between Charlie and Angelababy's Rain Yao, though. Dylan keeps up contact with his mother, played by a returning Vivica A. Fox; since Will Smith could not be persuaded to return, his character has been killed off. Meanwhile, President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) are getting uneasy early warning signs that a distress call sent out by the aliens in 1996, at our moment of victory, has been received.
Some of these characters live, and some of them do not, and none of it really matters all that much; since we have bought a ticket to a film called “Independence Day: Resurgence,” we do indeed know before the characters do that the aliens will make their reappearance. Since this is a Roland Emmerich film, we know that it will happen in a way that features lots of monuments and landmarks and entire seaboards being blown up, flooded, and collapsed in grand fashion. What's surprising is how little of that resurgence there actually is, and how indifferently it's portrayed; the movie prepares for takeoff rather well, all things considered (there are little hints in the background of expository scenes, and the way those hints are slowly foregrounded gives us a nice sense of foreboding build-up), but then the first act concludes and the second act begins and everything just…happens, with no sense of a grand tipping point and no catharsis. It's like following a good sentence to the end, and finding that the author has forgotten to add punctuation before starting the next sentence.
This is unforgiving toward the movie, since the second act is prone to the same lethargy that the first film's second act possessed, with its muddled reading of post-disaster aimlessness and catatonia. Much of this film's middle hour centers on a mysterious spherical object that's recovered from the moon to Area 51, and the relationship the object has with the alien queen. The invading species, we find out, has a colony structure not dissimilar from bees and ants, with many smaller male worker agents serving the interest of a much bigger queen. This is literalized in the form of not only the alien queen herself, but her ship, which is so comically large that it more or less eradicates any sense of scale or awe. It replaces the sky in the shots it appears, and settles over most of the face of the Earth when it lands.
Much of Resurgence is augmented by visual effects, and here again we've traded down; most of the actors are clearly acting against CGI backgrounds, not entirely convincingly. This adds a plastic sheen to scenes that are reaching for impact and character drama, and it robs the movie of any opportunity to let weighty moments make an impact. The odd scenes that do work in this regard, like a backstory-revealing conversation between Jake and Charlie or an emotional moment involving Brent Spiner's Dr. Okun (yes, he's back, and it sort of makes sense, and Spiner gives by far the movie's most committed performance), do so in shots that don't require any effects.
These characters move arbitrarily toward competent scenes of little consequence, and then the movie arrives at its final set piece in the last 15 minutes or so and Emmerich seems to find his footing. The effects are better, but it's mostly a willingness to suddenly yank at every goofy plot mechanic he could that finally lets us glimpse what the movie could have been. It's fun, but it comes too late. Another opportunity shows itself in the new character of Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), a warlord whose forces have spent the last ten years fighting the aliens one-on-one using guerrilla warfare in the Congo. This character, and his methods and motivation, are singlehandedly the most conceptually interesting thing in the film, and I would have liked to see a sequel set during those ten years.
I still sort of liked the movie, in a way, or at least didn't much mind the experience of watching it; no, Independence Day: Resurgence is not very good, but you know what? Independence Day wasn't very good. Neither was The Day After Tomorrow, or 2012, or Godzilla. Roland Emmerich doesn't make very good movies; he makes ones that are occasionally, enjoyable in a dumb and inoffensive way. It's like the cinematic equivalent of a groaner pun that you chuckle at even as you recognize how bad it is, and it feels churlish to indict this movie on the grounds that it occupies roughly the same wavelength as just about everything else in the director's canon.