Just go see the original Independence Day instead. Don’t bother with the sequel that’s arriving 20 years later, long after there was any interest in a follow-up to the 1996 sci-fi blockbuster starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman.
Independence Day: Resurgence presents a strong argument on a statute of limitations for movie sequels. If a follow-up to a popular film can’t be made within five, maybe even 10 years from the original film’s release, maybe it’s just better to move on. Especially if no one was really clamoring for a sequel in the first place.
But let’s pretend that there was some interest in seeing how the aliens invading Earth responded to having their mothership blown up by Goldblum, The Fresh Prince and Randy Quaid. Did Smith go on to become our nation’s next great military leader? Did Congress waive the 22nd Amendment so that President Whitmore (Pullman) could serve more than two terms in the White House after leading our country — our world — through its darkest hour?
Speaking of the White House, was it rebuilt after being destroyed in what was then one of the most memorable shots ever seen on the big screen?
Since Independence Day: Resurgence picks up 20 years after the original, the same timespan during which we last saw Earth triumph over that particular alien invasion, the story doesn’t resume right where we left it. Quite a bit has happened over the past two decades since that first attack.
On the negative side, President Whitmore has become a scraggly recluse whom everyone thinks is crazy because he keeps having visions tied to the aliens linking minds with him in the first movie. Also, there’s no Will Smith. Spoilers! (Actually, this really does spoil the movie.) OK, you probably already know that, even if you don’t devotedly follow movie news and gossip, noticing that he’s not in any of the commercials and trailers. Capt. Steven Hiller’s absence is explained early on in the story in a throwaway line that has nothing to do with salary demands.
On the positive side, David Levinson (Goldblum) has spearheaded the integration of alien technology with our own, resulting in helicopters that don’t need rotors, jets that have quite a bit more kick (fusion drive!), and aircraft easily able to fly into space and help build both a upgraded space station and choice outpost on the moon.
One of those fighters/construction vehicles called “tugs” is piloted by the guy who’s sort of supposed to be the hero of the story, Jake (Liam Hemsworth). I say “sort of,” because either director Roland Emmerich and the script’s nine (!) writers decided that the movie shouldn’t have just one hero (much like the original) or somebody quickly figured out that Hemsworth is no Will Smith and limited his screen time. The same goes for the charmless substitute Will Smith (Jessie T. Usher) selected for the cast.
Yes, the first Independence Day largely succeeded because it didn’t have a headline star, assembling an ensemble cast that allowed producers to put more money into the film’s impressive special effects. But Smith was obviously a standout on the verge of stardom who helped the movie become a huge hit. Goldblum, Pullman, Quaid and even Judd Hirsch were also compelling, largely because they were given good material to work with. (Or maybe they took mediocre material and made it good.)
Independence Day: Resurgence tries to emulate the no-stars approach and spread the acting wealth throughout the cast. But there’s no one here who grabs your attention and makes you care about what happens, regardless of how ridiculous or campy the story might get. (By the way, that goofiness is one of the things that made the first ID4 so fun to watch.) Any sentimental value derived from seeing Goldblum, Pullman and Hirsch resume their roles is quickly extinguished by a script that doesn’t give them any memorable lines or anything to do. It just doesn’t matter that these guys are back.
Nothing feels like it matters in this movie. Aliens are invading Earth again? Yeah, OK. We kind of figured, otherwise we wouldn’t really have a movie. And while the first act of the story demonstrates how integrating alien technology with ours has improved society and uniting to fight a common enemy brought the world together, the entire point of all this was apparently to prepare for another alien invasion, the inevitable retaliation.
But that’s just a shrug. OK, the alien ship invading Earth is much, much bigger than the one that threatened the planet 20 years ago. It’s a whole lot larger, so overwhelming that it almost doesn’t make visual sense on the screen. It’s just this big thing that takes up most of the sky, mows over the entire eastern U.S. seaboard, and wipes out London, but it’s just special effects spectacle with no human weight to it.
The story does attempt to have some character moments, but each of them is either eyeroll-inducing or unintentionally funny. They either don’t feel earned or come off as repetitive, trying to recapture an enjoyable moment from the first Independence Day. (Hey, they didn’t just bring back Bill Pullman to ramble with a bushy beard!)
Maybe the problem is that we’ve seen so much on-screen destruction and catastrophe in blockbuster movies during the past 20 years. It’s just not impressive anymore. And it should be, because the digital effects for the aerial battles and practical designs for the bigger, badder aliens are all very good. But none of that stuff feels different or new. “Bigger than the last one!” just isn’t enough anymore.
During what should have been the most exciting, thrilling part of the film, I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open after a long, sleep-deprived day. Alien spaceships and fighter jets zooming around and shooting at each other is not supposed to be a sleep aid. Your experience might be different. Get your rest before seeing this one. Except you should really go see something else instead. The biggest threat to our planet is that this movie sets up for another sequel.