Matthew Kresal always knew they'd come back...
Twenty years ago, the summer blockbuster movie season was changed forever. Independence Day's tale of human perseverance in the face of an overwhelming alien invasion became one of the highest grossing films of the 1990s thanks to a combination of memorable characters and iconic special effect sequences. It was also a film that felt quite standalone with a definite beginning, middle and end to it. Yet Rolland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (who scripted it as well as respectively directing and producing it) came back for more. Moving forward two decades in time, the film promised to build on the first by showing a rebuilt world taking on the threat of renewed invasion. Needless to say, expectations were high. Did it live up to them?
The short answer: not at all.
Independence Day: Resurgence often feels like it's simply re-treading over old ground, only on a much bigger scale. Many of the iconic moments of the first film are done here from shots of the lunar surface, aerial battles, infiltrating an alien space ship, the destruction of landmarks and much more. Even the film's big threat is really just a much larger version of the ships from the first film (this time an even more improbable 3,000 miles in diameter). Or take the ending which combines the ending of the original film with the duo's first project post ID4. Though the film finds the occasions where it subverts those moments (such as with the original film's most iconic scene), Emmerich and Devlin don't seem to have brought much new to the table here.
What they bring instead is the attitude that “bigger is better”. From the rebuilt cities we glimpse in the opening moments to the oversized alien ship, all the film can seem to do is take what came before and give it to us again on a larger scale. Yet despite the two decades that have passed and all the apparent advances in special effects, those featured here are less impressive and less convincing than their 1996 counterparts. Whereas the first film relied on the physical as well as CGI, this film seems to make almost extensive use of CGI throughout, including with the aliens themselves. Gone is the sense of reality and physicality that made the first film's effects so effective, replaced by a kind of CGI blandness that could make this film fit in with any other number of would-be disaster epics that came in the wake of the original Independence Day. It's as if Emmerich and Devlin forgot what made their earlier work so memorable.
That extends to much of the rest of the film as well. Whereas the original was populated by memorable characters with witty dialogue, this film lacks that completely. We're given a handful of characters from the original film twenty years on, primarily in the form of Jeff Goldblum's David Levinson as well as Bill Pullman's former President Whitmore and Brent Spiner as Doctor Okun, plus cameos from others who really don't add much of anything to proceedings (most especially Vivica A. Fox), though none of them feel like they're anything but caricatures of their original selves. The new cast of characters are scarcely memorable, from the recast roles of Dylan Hill and Patricia Whitmore (played by Jessie Usher and Maika Monroe) to Liam Hemsworth's pilot Jake to Sela Ward's President Lanford and William Fichtner's General Adams, all of whom are written so blandly that no actor in the world could have found a way to make them more memorable. Like Emmerich's White House Down three years ago, he managed to put an impressive cast into an otherwise unmemorable film.
Indeed, the word “unmemorable” describes the end result of Independence Day: Resurgence. Despite its pedigree, the return of both the original filmmakers and some members of its original cast, not to mention twenty years of advances in special effects technology, the end result is a film that isn't half as good or half as memorable as the original. Instead it's a bland piece of work, filled with what should be eye-catching special effects but instead remind of us of just how much better the original film was.
All of which leads me to ask a question. Rolland, Dean: you had twenty years to prepare. Was this really the best you could come up with?
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.