In regards to the big-budget end-of-the-world action genre, Independence Day remains the pinnacle of the modern era, twenty years later. Independence Day’s combination of fun characters, practical special effects, humor and action meld together in a way that films from Avatar to San Andreas have failed to match as successfully. With so many imitators going for bigger action, funnier jokes and crazier special effects, they lose sight of the relative simplicity, spectacle and joy that made Independence Day so captivating.
With so many films trying to mimic its style, it’s a surprise it took two decades for Independence Day to get a sequel. But instead of succeeding in the ways that the original did, Independence Day: Resurgence falls into the same traps of its imitators, going full throttle and losing the magic of the original in the process.
Occurring also twenty years later, on the week of the “War of ’96,” Independence Day: Resurgence shows a world where we have rebuilt through the alien technology that we acquired after infecting the extra-terrestrials with computer viruses and attacking them with our nation’s finest Randy Quaid. Despite our upgraded defenses, like a moon base and alien guns, the aliens return with a more intricate plan, stronger determination to wipe out our entire world and bigger ships that we may not be able to defend against.
For those who interacted with the aliens twenty years ago, the past two decades haven’t been all flying ships and world peace. Former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is a heavily medicated crazy person who has visions of the aliens and is kept under heavy watch by his daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe). Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), who looked to be dead last time we saw him, has been in a coma and awakens once the alien ships appear and starts to write in their language. Meanwhile, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) has made his living investigating the aliens and has seemingly completely forgotten about the rekindled romance with his ex-wife in favor of his occasional one-night-stand Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg), an expert in the bond between human and alien minds.
As former President Whitmore states, their actions in the first film gave hope to the next generation, yet any sense of humor or interesting characteristics apparently was not passed down. Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) plays the son of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller, but any comparisons to the two are in name only, since the younger Hiller is a complete bore. Equally as bland are two soldiers on the moon base Jake Morrison and Charlie Miller (Liam Hemsworth and Travis Tope, respectively), whose primary characteristics are that they are orphans and/or rebels.
There’s a certain charm to the original Independence Day, where blowing up models of famous monuments pre-9/11 was exciting. Yet in the wake of so many ID4 clones, special effects have taken over for a desire to let action get as wild as possible. The original’s goals were quite simple: run away from explosions or shoot the aliens at its weak spot. Resurgence at times has all the clarity of a Transformers film in its action, and a fraction of the excitement. There are some compelling ideas within the battles, such as another alien race that could potentially be our ally, but so little is done with that idea and is only hinted as reappearing in a possible third entry.
But Resurgence just lacks the joy of the original. When these various characters unite under a common goal, it doesn’t have the spark one would expect. The attempts to go larger in every way almost always fail. At times the film will reference the original, such as Dylan Hiller slightly twisting catchphrases his father would say, or by having several rousing presidential speech, but it’s all Resurgence grasping at the original’s glory.
With films like Independence Day, 2012 and White House Down, director Roland Emmerich has proved himself as the slightly more effective version of Michael Bay, creating silly fun that makes you want to cheer along. But instead of trusting his instinct that worked so well with the original ID4, he goes for the world-ending explosions and constant action that he thinks the audience wants, when really the subtleties and character of the original are what makes that film so wonderful. Independence Day: Resurgence forgets its predecessor’s strengths and falls for its imitators weaknesses.