Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) / Sci Fi-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language
Running Time: 120 min.

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Maika Monroe, Travis Tope, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vivica A. Fox, Deobia Oparei, Chin Han, Patrick St. Esprit, Angelababy, Nicolas Wright
Small role: Robert Loggia
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt

Review published June 24, 2016

It's a mystery as to why this film needs to be dubbed Independence Day: Resurgence, when it could have been more aptly named, Thanksgiving Day, given they're delivering quite a turkey for us all to feast on.  If only this turkey weren't so bereft of flavor.

Not that the first film was great, or particularly good, by most objective measures, but it was a whole lot of dumb fun as a quintessential popcorn flick, something that Roland Emmerich (White House Down, The Day After Tomorrow) must have forgotten in his attempts to become a more serious filmmaker in the two decades of interim projects.  Based on this too self-serious attempt to toss in some gravitas to the sci-fi adventures, it seems that Emmerich has been under the impression that state-of-the-art special effects and massive visions of buildings and landmarks disintegrating are what draws people to these kinds of movies, and not goofy characters, hokey dialogue, and semi-camp story elements.  The difference is that visual effects are so sophisticated now in this era of massive sci-fi extravaganzas, star-studded superhero flicks, and Pixar photorealism, that giving us a some interesting visual elements amid flat characterizations, past-their-prime character actors, a dull plot, and dimly lit cinematography overloaded with green-screen backdrops just won't make it stand out from the pack in any form or fashion.

Not to mention the fact that the success of Independence Day ushered in a host of films that imitated its style, from contemporary films like Stargate, Armageddon, Men in Black, and Mars Attacks! all the way up to more recent efforts like Battleship, Battle: Los Angeles, Cowboys vs. Aliens, and Transformers.  There's been no shortage of inane Earth-under-alien-siege destructo-porn for twenty whole years.

Twenty years after the first war for Earth between humans and their would-be alien exterminators, Earth has made light years of advancements in adopting things they've learned from the remnant alien technology, which they've not only used to rebuild their destroyed cities, but also to jump far ahead in terms of air and space travel, including to the moon. Those who helped save the planet have become heroes and celebrities, all of them had an aching feeling that they haven't seen the last of their newfound enemies in the universe, and with the long-dormant alien specimens and tech they've gathered since the battle seemingly coming to life in would appear that another battle must be imminent. Turns out they are right.  A rag-tag crew of returning heroes and their offspring are not leading the charge to defend the Earth yet again against an ultra-powerful alien force unlike anything they've ever seen before (well, they have a bigger ship this time, and a bigger boss alien), who, according to this movie, want us out of the way so they can get to Earth's creamy magma center.

Since most of the jokey joys of the first film have been replaced by a lot of drudgery, and the most appealing actor of the original, Will Smith, wisely priced out the studio and passed on reprising his role as air force pilot Captain Steven Hiller (he's replaced by the comparatively uncharismatic Jessie T. Usher (When the Game Stands Tall) taking over the role of his son Dylan), there's not a great deal here to recommend beyond its occasionally arresting battle sequences, and an unhinged comic turn by returning player Brent Spiner (Superhero Movie) as crackpot doctor Brakish Okun, who has been in a coma for twenty years only to, quite conveniently, awaken in time to try to save humanity again.  While he's fun to watch, there's just no one here with the kind of personality to take over a film the way Will Smith could do in his hey day; the new characters have almost no discernable traits to attract our attention compared to the old ones.

Despite clocking in nearly a half hour less in its run time than the 1996 original, Resurgence feels too overstuffed with plot (there are no less than five screenwriters credited), not only having to get us up to speed on what happened to all of the older characters, but also introduce us to the new family, as well as set up for the conflict of this movie, then have the chutzpah to give us something to come back for in the proposed third entry in the franchise.  But what's most striking about this follow-up is that it feels so much like a pilot to a basic-cable TV show, even with $200 million to spend on some well-rendered effects. It loses much of the mammoth scale of its cinematic extravagance that propelled Independence Day to become the biggest eye-candy spectacle of 1996.  That one was worth paying admission just to see for the effects work, while this one is barely worth paying our attention to tolerate.

Despite its intention to continue the series, and contrary to President Whitmore's 'rousing' speech before the final stand in 1996, Independence Day will go quietly into the night, it will vanish without much of a fight, it isn't likely to go on, and isn't likely to survive.  There's just not much to celebrate with this Independence Day..

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo