In 1996, Independence Day became an instant sci-fi classic largely because its cutting-edge visual effects allowed director Roland Emmerich to mount an ambitious alien-invasion epic that felt thrilling and new and unlike anything we’d seen until then. I still remember being blown out of my mind at the sight of the White House exploding into smithereens?
In the years since, everyone from Emmerich himself and Michael Bay, to the folks at Marvel and DC, has found new and innovative ways to destroy the world and flatten entire cities. So much so that it’s hard to find a blockbuster today that doesn’t end in colossal digital carnage.
But the formula’s gotten rusty, and frankly CGI has got to the point where we’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see. How do you make a sequel then to the film that more or less invented the modern disaster movie? The answer, according to Emmerich – throw everything you’ve got at the screen, and hope that some of it sticks.
Set two decades after mankind’s triumph against the alien invaders of the last film, Independence Day: Resurgence unfolds during a happier time on Earth. There is peace, but we’re much better prepared to handle similar attacks, having taken that alien technology and developed more sophisticated spacecraft and weaponry. Most of the survivors of the original film return, with former president Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) plagued by visions of the aliens’ impending return, and former cable guy David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) bumped up to the top job at the Earth Space Defence. Even Dr Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) has woken up from a 20-year coma.
Conspicuous by his absence however, is Will Smith’s character, Captain Steven Hiller, who died while testing Earth’s first fighter jet based on alien tech…although it could be from reading this script, who knows! In his place we get Hiller’s son Dylan (Jesse Usher), who has none of Will Smith’s charisma. He plays a fighter pilot, alongside Jake Morrisson (Liam Hemsworth) and Jake’s fiancée Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the ex-president’s pretty daughter. The young ‘uns are entrusted with firing back at the dastardly critters when they finally show up…this time in larger numbers, with more ammo, and in a single mothership so massive it spans across the entire Atlantic Ocean.
Expectedly Emmerich fires on all cylinders when it comes to sheer spectacle. So it’s not enough to merely uproot and upend major landmarks like Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, they’re dropped like matchsticks upon other landmarks like the London Eye and the Tower Bridge. It’s the film’s most audacious set-piece, and it’s meant to be thrilling stuff, intended to make you giddy with excitement. But it’s hard not to drown in the sea of pornographic destruction when the film throws out disaster after disaster, barely pausing for you to get your breath back.
There are also plenty air-bound skirmishes – dogfights in the skies – but very quickly you’re consumed by an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. Only Goldblum gets a few moments of wisecracking dialogue in what otherwise feels like a soulless, deeply cynical film, whose makers typically don’t bother with showing us the repercussions of such widespread global destruction. It feels as if no one really dies or is hurt despite half the planet being completely savaged.
The younger cast, they just don’t have the presence to match Will Smith’s hotshot pilot from the earlier film. We also don’t get one clear hero to root for. Apart from a few impressive bits of sheer CGI spectacle, the film is sorely lacking in memorable moments and ends up feeling like a slog. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Independence Day: Resurgence. It doesn’t even deliver on the promise of dumb fun. For that, it needed to be a little less dumb and a lot more fun.