INDEPENDENCE DAY RESURGENCE brought back the viral marketing tool in style. Truly immersive content and world building. Entertainment in itself.
Sadly, that viral build up was all a LOT better than the actual FILM. In fact, I would go so far as to break my own rule and deploy some bad language in a review here. INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE is not just ‘bad’. It’s not merely a disappointment. It’s one of the shittest films ever made. Allow me to explain WHY..
We begin with an excellent premise, to be fair.
Twenty years on from the original INDEPENDENCE DAY, President Hiller (Will Smith) is facing a dip in his popularity ratings. And, with the world now moving away from the initial burst of unity it enjoyed after the first alien attacks of 1996, national identities and tensions are re-emerging and budgets are tightening under austerity measures. Hiller argues differently and begs Congress and Senate to enable ongoing ‘Earth Space Defence‘ Programs.
But even with the support of old ally Levinson (Jeff Golblum) and armed with a compelling forecast of the imminent ’20 year anniversary threat’ and ‘relativity: our twenty years is their 5 minute distress call’..the warnings are ignored, funding denied and the program shut down. Hiller and Levinson drown their sorrows at Camp David, while hosting former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who has become a kind of wild hermit /hippy figure in retirement.
And THEN..from nowhere..THEY attack, again. Those aliens are BACK…and this time, it’s personal. They had ‘sleeper’ divisions, mobilised secretly under the earth’s core. And as landmarks once again fall across the globe, all eyes are on Hiller, Levinson and Whitmore to somehow devise and execute the ultimate counter-attack..the RESURGENCE!..
Ok. That’s NOT the premise. But how much better is mine? Oh go on. Not convinced? Ok. Here’s the REAL one.
Twenty years on from the original INDEPENDENCE DAY, a lady President (SELA WARD) is overseeing a celebration of ‘The War of 1996’. The aliens were defeated and held back but the ongoing Earth/Space Defence Program remains a top priority, in a world united and devoid of racial or ideological tensions (unless you are an African Warlord; also contingent on a reverent love of China).
Will Smith’s Captain Hiller died in a test flight but his step-son is now also a ..Pilot? Liam Hemsorth (the one who is not quite Chris) is also a..pilot..in space? So not Chris Hemsworth and not Will Smith must team up and lead a fight back against aliens who have returned with gravity weapons, capable of destroying the world.
They are helped by former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and his daughter (not quite Blake Lively). And the mastermind of the human strategy is Levinson (Jeff Golblum): who has overseen Earth’s defenses for twenty years. He is aided by a love interest (Charlotte ‘not Sophie Marceau and not Jane Birkin’ Gainsbourg), with an African Warlord and a Nerd. There is a spherical mcguffin that might be friend or foe..can they harness its power in time against the alien threat? We’d like to care but.the film is so devoid of any spark or soul that frankly..we don’t give a damn.
NOTICE: My premise, though simpler and more derivative, at least read like a natural SEQUEL. IE: characters you loved and cared about. Reunited. Against odds. To defeat a worldwide threat that attacks by surprise. That was ALL they needed to do. Somehow harness the CHARM and element of novelty / surprise from the original movie, whilst wrapping it in a warm, glowing parcel of visual nostalgia. But no. NONE of that is on offer here.
There is no innovation of note in production design or effects. No real exploration of a world post alien invasion, save a few nods to a Moon base and a gravity bubble. No Will Smith! Yes, he asked for $50 million. Yes HE WAS WORTH IT!! That minor write off an investment would have saved this movie both critically and commercially. Dick move, 20th century Fox. False economy! Smith was NOT disposable and he IS missed, both as a protagonist and as THE most natural point of reference and continuity for fans new and old alike. It’s why he is a MOVIE STAR.
Instead of Smith? We get pretty much EVERYONE else back. Even BRENT SPINER as the mad scientist with whacky name I cannot be arsed looking up. JUDD HIRSCH returns as the elderly, VERY Jewish Dad/ token comic relief and is completely wasted and arguably, therefore, redundant. ROBERT LOGGIA (God rest his soul: you can see he had not long left for this world in a somewhat ill advised but well intended, silent cameo). Plus, there are some token new characters that are so lifelessly dull and boring, you frankly find yourself rooting for the alien antagonists.
And there’s an odious ode to CHINA. Yep. Yet ANOTHER Hollywood movie that feels a need to bow down before our new masters. And it’s NOT just because there is a huge Chinese market to reach. This is a far more creepy and insidious infiltration towards full on subordination. Ironic in a movie supposedly celebrating both borderless unity and a gung ho American independence?
The new Moon base is commanded by..a Chinese leader, it seems? Fine. I would not have noticed..except they SHOW a CHINESE FLAG being PRESENTED and they make a VERY BIG DEAL of the fact that one of the pilots (a WOMAN, no less..shock, horror..) is..wait for it..Chinese..as in..she’s from..CHINA! Make a ‘big dumb fun’ popcorn movie, by all means. Just don’t treat the audience like idiots, yeah? That’s like showing us contempt and that breeds a similar feeling from us in return. Hence, perhaps, this film’s incredibly low rankings on Rotten Tomatoes and online, generally.
Ok, I’m being flippant. Other nations DO get an airing here. There appear to be a gang of FRENCH seamen, hunting for gold. And, once asked for help to save the entire WORLD, their first demand is that they get a fee of $100 million. How very noble. How very..French? European? No. Just repellent mercenary thuggery. Which would be FINE. If this were not a sequel to a film whose charm lay in its naive simplicity; not so much merely a belief in as a promise of human unity in service both of short term survival and longer term reconciliation. Was that cheesy and written badly? Yes! Was it also strangely endearing and thereby enduring? Absolutely. So why the HELL is it MISSING from THIS sequel?
You had TWENTY YEARS to ‘prepare’ as the poster promises. They may as well have banged it out like a late night last minute term paper. ZERO charm. Zero warmth. Honestly, Director ROLAND EMMERICH’s 1998 version of GODZILLA had more humanity. And his old writing /producing partner DEAN DEVLIN shows more spark in his facebook page updates.
In fairness, they DO try to give us something suitably ‘new’ and surprising in premise, avoiding the simple rehash. There is some logically devised and intriguingly teased science fiction theory on display in the plot and that was absent from the original movie.
Indeed, I’d go further. The saddest thing of all is that this is even, arguably, a BETTER script than its predecessor. None of the recycled cliche characters and stock disaster movie beats. But the thing they forget is that it was that very derivative quality that MADE the first movie so effective. Its replayed motifs were in effect, a love letter TO the cinematic heritage being mined and in a parcel of possibilities in special effects technology, previously unseen in counterpart films.
The original INDEPENDENCE DAY was both familiar AND new. RESURGENCE is neither. One therefore gains no comfort food nostalgia or glimpse of brave new cinematic frontiers. There is nothing truly incompetent in the core craftsmanship. It’s just remarkably unremarkable.
This movie feels underpopulated, under-ambitious, underfunded, even, despite the increased budget and expectation associated therewith. There is an emptiness to the set pieces and a total lack of surprise, urgency or genuine heart, soul and humor. Those qualities ARE attempted and flagged up to the extent that there may as well be subtitles that say ‘LAUGH NOW!’ or ‘PLEASE BE MOVED’ Or ‘THIS BIT IS MEANT TO BE A BIT SCARY!’.
I WANTED to laugh and even TRIED doing so, as though fighting to convince myself that things really weren’t all that bad. I even WANTED to be MOVED (no stranger to a good cry in the Cinema, me). And I began to feel my heart strings tugged when a few bars of DAVID ARNOLD‘s brilliant score from the first film were echoed. Suddenly, for a split second, it was summer 1996 all over again! GCSE results! A new dawn! I am 16, going on 17! Life is GREAT! Look at this silly but fun and joyous movie..Oh..right..shit..feeling died after that split second.
And I note that even David Arnold’s talents are in fact absent from the film’s remainder. He did not write the music. That was excusable with JAMES BOND (SPECTRE /SKYFALL Director SAM MENDES directed the last two 007 adventures and ALWAYS uses THOMAS NEWMAN; no doubt Arnold will be back to Bond soon?).
But here? WHY did they not employ David Arnold? His music was integral to the success of the first film. And it’s conspicuously, painfully absent here. He does not even warrant an ‘original themes composed by..’ in the first flashes of the closing credits. Yep..even the CREDITS..are..a bit..shit.
Bad form, frankly and reflective of an absence of good will in a movie whose every existence depended on an audience keen to either relive old glories or be greeted with a new generation of equivalent promise. That was especially true on Friday’s post BREXIT Britain shock, where a cloud of depression swept the nation like some alien space-ship in the skies.
Am I wrong to cite meta-textual politics? No. The first movie LOVED subtext, with Bill Pullman’s President in that film a thinly disguised love letter to Bill Clinton with added combat experience to redeem his human frailties. Here? We get SELA WARD (who looks LOVELY, by the way).
Yes, it’s a lady President. Great! The aliens obviously took Trump back with them? But if they HAD to go with a Hillary Clinton type..why not simply use MARGARET COLIN, from the FIRST movie? Oh. They killed her off, in some expanded universe fiction. Shame: as she was integral to the story arc of JEFF GOLDBLUM’s Levinson in the original adventure.
Those story arcs and character beats, though fairly unoriginal and clunky, had CHARM and SPIRIT to them and they bound the threads of set piece together. Pullman’s President went from ‘wimp’ to ‘warrior’. Goldblum’s Levinson accepted his dormant talents and ceased his stint as drifting divorcee to become a war leader come field scientist. Randy Quaid took an alcoholic clown and morphed into an avenging self sacrificing human bomb. And so on. Plus: in each case, there was a kind of visual symbiosis between character and action, with one defining and driving the other in turn.
Here? Well, the arcs are absent. And the set-pieces are fairly unmemorable and incoherent. They don’t even attempt to match something as distinctive as the exploding White House. An aborted sequel draft that was penned just post 9/11 had featured a VERY clever spin on that image but sadly does not make it to this abysmally mediocre ‘resurgence’.
There are SOME embryonic nods to character development, but it’s all tired and cynical. The incompetent nerd who saves the day; the token gay couple and – wait for this – a MACHETE WIELDING African Warlord (because, obviously, our world is more peaceful and united, twenty years on..yep).
Is there ANYTHING to redeem and recommend this awful mess?
Well: JEFF GOLDBLUM is ever watchable. It’s GREAT to see him in another action sequel, his IAN MALCOLM character having been inexplicably left out of the new JURASSIC PARK /WORLD franchise. He’s in his sixties now but in fine shape and critically, he convinces as both academic and adventurer, in a similar manner to HARRISON FORD as INDIANA JONES. You believe in this man and you want him to win.
But even Goldblum is slightly subdued and given little to do or learn, save devise the inevitable plans that enable mankind to fight back once more. Last time round, that had dramatic and comedic weight. Here? It’s just dead air, made all the more painful by Goldblum’s chemistry deficit with tagged on love interest Dr Marceau (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Was Margaret Colin unavailable? Pity. She made a GREAT couple with Goldblum in part one.
Goldblum’s finest hour in INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE is arguably during the African sequences. Those also exhibit some strong techniques in sound and lighting; thereby triggering some Spielberg worthy atmospherics. But that promise burns out all too quickly before being drowned in tsunami of mediocrity and boredom.
Considering what they COULD have made here and given the TWENTY years in which a better product SHOULD have been devised, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE is a criminal insult to Cinema. It’s not so much ‘bad’ as painfully forgettable, mediocre, uninspired and lacking in anything even resembling the sheer JOY that the original (for ALL its many flaws) somehow generated.
A third film IS set up but I will make it really simple..DON’T MAKE ANOTHER ONE!
Save your time. Save your money. Save the planet. AVOID THIS FILM AT ALL COSTS. You have been warned! EPIC FAIL. 4/10: Buy the first film’s Blu Ray special edition instead.
I came in peace..