The original Independence Day defied critical scorn and general common sense to become the top-grossing movie of the year back in 1996. The movie definitely hasn’t held up that well with time, at least not beyond being a cheesy B-movie that is hilariously dated while still being ironically entertaining, but its fortune likely came from being in the right place at the right time. Director, Roland Emmerich was at the forefront of the 90’s disaster movie craze with this offering, after all, and while Emmerich has largely fallen from grace with the turn of the millennium, back then, his original Independence Day was the disaster movie spectacle to beat!
What many may not know however is that 20th Century Fox was actually very passionate about making a sequel to Independence Day after its massive success in 1996, to the point where they threw a whole bunch of money at Emmerich and his head writer/producer on Independence Day, Dean Devlin. The two ended up returning the money in the end though, as they felt that they couldn’t top the storyline of the original (seems hard to believe, I know, given how corny and cliched the original movie is), so an Independence Day 2 never happened… At least not until a whole two decades later, when the studio, Emmerich and Devlin finally managed to get Independence Day: Resurgence off the ground, with a third movie also already being planned.
However, as you can imagine, there’s really only so much you can expect from a twenty-year-on sequel to a movie that’s already aged very poorly. The good news about Independence Day: Resurgence is that it still manages to capture most of the sense of dumb fun that founded the original, if you turn off your brain, and don’t really have any expectations. The bad news however is that Independence Day: Resurgence feels like a pointless, way overdue follow-up that completely fails to stand out from the huge selection of many other blockbusters released in theatres this year, let alone the past several years. If you enjoyed the original, or just want to watch a bunch of mindless destruction, Independence Day: Resurgence is serviceable, but most of it will have left your brain by the time you exit the theatre.
When it comes down to it, Independence Day: Resurgence is inferior to its 1996 predecessor, even considering all of the first movie’s flaws and poorly dated elements, and a big part of this is due to the overabundance of characters. You’ll be happy to see some personalities from the first movie again, especially Jeff Goldblum’s reliable, snarky egghead, David Levinson, as well as Bill Pullman’s former president, Thomas Whitmore, who maintain their same appealing, albeit cliched charm from the first movie. Even Brent Spiner has his moments of fun as returning eccentric scientist, Dr. Okun (apparently, he didn’t die after being attacked by the alien in the first movie, but was merely in a coma for two decades), though Spiner’s increased screentime sometimes works to mixed effect, especially since Dr. Okun largely just exists to set up for a third movie that may or may not happen.
That said though, some of the returning actors from the first movie aren’t really utilized or necessary. Vivica A. Fox returning as Jasmine Hiller, the former sweetheart of Will Smith’s late Steven Hiller (the lead personality of the original Independence Day who unceremoniously died off-screen in the two-decade interim), adds nothing beyond cheap throwaway drama, and Judd Hirsch’s Julius Levinson, David’s hyper-Jewish father, is given nothing to do, and just completely takes up space, especially when his arc introduces a fresh ensemble of characters about halfway through the movie in a very awkward display, which only seems to be there for more setup for another sequel that may or may not happen. The absence of Will Smith also really hurts this sequel, no matter how you slice it, since Smith was a huge part of why so many people love the original Independence Day, even when it’s aged so badly.
There’s also some new personalities that thanklessly try to succeed Smith’s character, namely hotshot young pilots, Dylan Hiller, Steven Hiller’s older son, President Whitmore’s daughter, Patricia Whitmore (fresh off a casting controversy when Patricia’s original 1996 actress, Mae Whitman, an actress still reasonably successful today, was subbed out for the presumably prettier Maika Monroe), and some new pilots like Liam Hemsworth’s Jake Morrison, Angelababy’s Rain Lao, and Travis Tope’s Charlie Ritter. Hemsworth is passable, having a decent amount of fun with the production, but the rest of these characters fall completely flat, and completely fail to make any kind of impression. This is most noticeable with Dylan Hiller, who is a bland, very poor replacement for Steven Hiller from the original movie. These young upstarts are who we’re supposed to be looking to when it comes to succeeding the veterans with this supposed franchise, but when they come off as such bland, shallow heroes, it’s really difficult to care about them, especially when the endless charms of Will Smith are not there to distract audiences from the flat characterization.
There’s a whole bunch of other personalities that are tossed in at random into Independence Day: Resurgence as well, including some others like William Fichtner’s military general (that’s literally all the characterization he’s given), and Sela Ward’s female president (again, that’s all the characterization that Ward is given). It feels like Independence Day: Resurgence wants to be grander and more dramatic than its predecessor, but it just quickly becomes way too dense and over-crowded, tossing in an excessive amount of characters that don’t serve any real purpose in the story, when it should be focusing on the spectacle and entertainment value. The sequel takes a disappointingly long time to really get going, since it introduces way too many people way too fast, and that gets worse when it’s impossible to ultimately care about pretty much anyone in this movie. There’s some likable exceptions like Goldblum, Spiner, Hemsworth and Pullman, but it’s just not enough to carry a cast that is way too large to sustain the wafer-thin plot.
The original Independence Day, for all of its ironic fun, is as cliched and flat as movie storylines come. It was about aliens coming to Earth, and humans fighting them. That’s it. Independence Day: Resurgence tries to up the scale while setting a new direction for the franchise, but ultimately, it’s just yet another movie about aliens coming to Earth, humans fighting them, and not much else happening.
Alright, to be fair, at least there is the interesting angle of humanity exploiting and reverse-engineering appropriated alien technology from the original 1996 invasion to advance several facets of our civilization… Kind of. Maybe. The movie goes back and forth on that, beyond making our machines look cooler, and making most of our guns shoot lasers. The problem here though is that the movie doesn’t do anything with this direction. The new invasion isn’t at all tied into the technological rush that humanity has enjoyed since the original movie. Instead, a big, continent-sized mothership just hovers over the world, new aliens attack, and that’s about it. There couldn’t have been some sort of A.I. threat? There couldn’t have been humans trying to weaponize the alien biology, and that inevitably going wrong? We’re just going to do the same thing again? Seriously?
Yes, we are, because Emmerich and Devlin immediately fell into the trap of many inferior blockbuster sequels; Trying to do the same thing again, only making it bigger, and barely adding any new or interesting material to the story or personalities. This leaves Independence Day: Resurgence feeling extremely disposable, and highly forgettable, because it just recycles the same song and dance from its predecessor, only in an inferior form, and on a grander scale. There are some decent moments of brainless fun, and a few sequences that at least try to be creative and interesting, but too much of Independence Day: Resurgence is rehashed, and too much of what audiences have already seen before, especially if they’re already well familiar with the previous movie.
Emmerich definitely has an eye for spectacle and action, and when it came to movies like Stargate, Independence Day, Universal Soldier, and hell, even his more maligned movies like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, that’s constantly on display. It’s also on display during the better moments of Independence Day: Resurgence, which manages some fairly exciting sequences of global destruction, alien warfare, and other such fun things every so often.
Unfortunately, Emmerich is also the textbook definition of a director that is all style and no substance, and that’s still true with Independence Day: Resurgence. Granted, Independence Day: Resurgence at least has a little more to it and is at least more entertaining than the excessively dumb and illogical The Day After Tomorrow and the even more excessively dumb and illogical 2012, but there’s only so many times that you can show audiences a heartless orgy of effects and destruction before they get bored and tune out. Independence Day: Resurgence tries to compensate for that with its highway pileup of a cast, but unfortunately, Emmerich isn’t able to wring interesting performances out of almost any of them.
Truth be told, the original Independence Day represented a much more noteworthy and impressive directing job for Emmerich, despite it being hilariously dated by today’s standards. That’s not to say that Independence Day: Resurgence is never impressive from a directing standpoint, but it’s just more of the same, with no more reason to care about anything that happens. Like I said, Independence Day: Resurgence sort of works as brainless, disposable fun, but even then, it doesn’t manage that nearly as well as its predecessor did. Emmerich just doesn’t add anything of note here, and that makes this sequel feel phoned in, despite its big attempts at destruction and chaos.
Composer, David Arnold doesn’t return for Independence Day: Resurgence, which is disappointing, and we now have Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander succeeding him with the music suite. As with most anything else in this sequel, there really isn’t much to say about the music or soundtrack either. The music score is very out-of-tune and forgettable, adding little, if anything to the sequences of mayhem and destruction, and completely failing to capture any real sense of urgency. It’s a huge let-down of a score, and it completely fails to capitalize on the movie’s raw ambitions of high scale.
The rest of the audio is similarly flaccid in a weird way. A few of the more destructive scenes hit with the desired audio effect, but even in my IMAX 3D screening, there was a lot of strangely underpowered audio work. The aliens sound fine, as do some of the better disaster-level effects in the movie, but a lot of the audio just sounds phoned in and forgettable. Like the story and cast, the sound work just doesn’t stand out from so many other, better sci-fi blockbusters, and while you may get a small boost to certain scenes in an IMAX theatre, or other such premium formats, it’s probably not going to be enough to give Independence Day: Resurgence any real sense of cinematic power.
At the very least, Independence Day: Resurgence has some fairly impressive visual effects work. The alien designs have been touched up a bit, as have the destruction effects, and at the very least, the movie is brought into 2016 from a visual standpoint, if not a narrative one, and doesn’t sport any more of some of those laughably dated effects from the previous 1996 movie. Despite the updates though, the movie is still very CGI-heavy to a fault, and it’s difficult to get the sense that many of the dangers and hazards are actually there, even for less frequent moviegoers. Some of the visual directing in this sequel is indeed cool, especially when the aliens first come back to Earth, but beyond a handful of especially impressive destruction sequences, the effects still don’t stand out enough in contrast to many competing blockbusters, and that’s a big problem during the Summer movie season especially.
Like I said, my screening of Independence Day: Resurgence was in full IMAX 3D, and despite the grand scale, I must say that this movie is strangely poorly optimized for IMAX theatres. Absolutely nothing is done with the IMAX screen, and even the underwhelming audio isn’t boosted all that much by the IMAX speakers, which will likely make the IMAX 3D cut of the movie a waste of money for many moviegoers. The 3D presentation is at least alright though, and does add a small degree of additional atmosphere and scale to a few scenes. If you like 3D movies, you might as well see Independence Day: Resurgence in 3D to get the most you can out of it, but even flat 2D showings won’t feel like they’re sacrificing a whole lot, considering how strangely phoned in a lot of Independence Day: Resurgence feels, even when it comes to its otherwise good visual effects work.
Avid fans of Independence Day will likely find enough silly, destructive fun to enjoy in Independence Day: Resurgence, but everyone else will find that this sequel is far too late to the party, and does far too little to separate itself from so many other, better sci-fi blockbusters of recent years. For all of its visual updates and attempts at increased scale, Independence Day: Resurgence feels like a disposable, CGI-packed blockbuster that is acting like it’s 1998, not 2016. Most movies now, blockbusters especially, have evolved since the days of mindless disaster porn and vapid American ego stroking, but Roland Emmerich clearly didn’t get that memo.
If you can still watch Independence Day with a dorky smile, then you should gather some friends and have some cheeky fun with Independence Day: Resurgence, even if you’ll likely agree that the original movie did this cheesy recipe better. Everyone else however probably shouldn’t bother with this one. There just isn’t enough here that’s new or interesting. Independence Day: Resurgence is so heavily outdone by too many other movies, and its final product is likely doomed to be quickly forgotten, especially considering how quickly you’ll forget about most of the movie’s events by the short time it takes to leave the theatre.
This also makes it all the more irksome that Independence Day: Resurgence goes to such lengths to set up a third movie, when it hasn’t even done a great job at justifying the second one. As it stands, Independence Day is a relic of the 90’s, and that’s painfully apparent throughout much of this sequel, which is plenty flashy, but not all that interesting or truly engaging. 20th Century Fox really should have just cut their losses, and accepted Independence Day for the silly one-off that it was better off being. Worse than violent and powerful aliens returning to Earth after two decades, is violent and powerful aliens returning to Earth after two decades and no one caring, which is all that Independence Day: Resurgence will likely prove in the long term.
- A few fun returning characters
- Visual effects work is still largely good
- Some enjoyable action scenes, especially in 3D
- Over-stuffed with too many dull, pointless characters
- Storyline remains flat, cliched and uninteresting
- Presentation does too little to stand apart from other sci-fi blockbusters