Bigger doesn't mean better
After a twenty-year wait, the sequel to Independence Day arrives and immediately falls victim to all the usual problems that plague modern films.The original Independence Day remains an enjoyable action-adventure that successfully combines an alien invasion with a disaster movie in landmark-destroying style. Director Roland Emmerich and his co-writer Dean Devlin fashioned an over-the-top sci-fi epic that wore its influences proudly on its sleeve (Star Wars, V, War of the Worlds to name but three) and wasn't afraid to mix patriotism with a hefty wedge of cheese. The characters were all stereotypes, some of which worked, like the cocky pilot, intelligent nerd or mad scientist, and others that didn't, with the camp gay boss and comedy Jewish father being the two most insensitive. However a reliance on practical effects and Will Smith's charisma helped deliver a film that had enough charm to paper over the obvious cracks in its plot.Perhaps one of the main reasons that it has taken twenty years for Emmerich and Devlin to deliver a sequel, despite Independence Day becoming the most successful film of 1996 is that it was a self-contained story. The aliens, who essentially were intergalactic locusts that went from planet to planet, consuming all the natural resources before moving on, were defeated. That victory may have been the result of convenient plot devices such as all the alien ships being controlled via a single mothership and Apple products being capable of interfacing with alien hardware, but it was complete and satisfying. The problem for the filmmakers is how do they move the story forward without simply repeating the plot of the first film and it's a conundrum that they never really solve.
Despite an initially promising start, Emmerich and Devlin (and three other writers) quickly resort to repetition along with the usual bigger is better mantra, so instead of a 150-mile wide mothership, we get one that is over 2,000 miles in diameter. The destruction is also on an even larger scale, with sights like the Burj Khalifa raining down on London, but again these sequences are so huge that they lose any emotional impact. The characters in the original film may have been obvious stereotypes but you did at least care about them to a certain degree. In Independence Day: Resurgence we get a mixture of new and old characters, with Liam Hemsworth, Jesse Usher and Maika Monroe leading the younger cast, whose job it is to carry much of the action. However there isn't enough time to get to know these new characters and some, such as Charlotte Gainsbourg, are simply annoying.
Usher plays Dylan Hiller, the adult adoptive son of Will Smith's character in the first film, but he's no young Will Smith; whilst Hemsworth plays the cocky pilot Jake Morrison, who is also the fiancé of Monroe's grown-up daughter of Bill Pullman's President Whitmore. The casting of Monroe was somewhat controversial since Mae Whitman played the part of Patricia Whitmore back in 1996 but, despite still being a busy actress, she was deemed not 'conventionally pretty enough' to play the same part in the new film. The filmmakers also cast Angelababy, a Chinese film-star and singer as one of the other fighter pilots and Travis Tope as Jake's best friend Charlie. In terms of other new characters we have President Lanford played by Sela Ward, General Adams played by William Fitchner and Catherine Marceaux (Gainsbourg).
The latter two work for the ESD (Earth Space Defence) which was set up using hybrid human-alien technology and now has a defensive network around the Earth and on the Moon. The alternative history that the film presents is one of its best aspects, with the events taking place after the alien invasion in 1996 and showing a world rebuilt using the same technology that had been used against humanity. The casting of Angelababy isn't the only attempt by the filmmakers to cash in on the lucrative Chinese box-office and a great deal of emphasis is placed on the important role China plays in both the rebuilding and the defence of Earth. This sucking up to China has become increasingly commonplace, especially as some international films have made more money in the China market than they have in the US.
After demanding too much money to appear in this sequel and a proposed third movie, the filmmakers quickly explain away the absence of Will Smith by saying that his character was killed whilst testing a new ESD hybrid space fighter. That leaves Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman to do much of the heavy lifting, with Goldblum's David Levinson now head of the ESD and Pullman's ex-President Whitmore suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after his previous encounter with the aliens in the first film. At times both Goldblum and Pullman look visibly embarrassed by the events of the film and the lines they have to deliver, with the two actors often phoning in their performances whilst no doubt thinking about their paycheques.
There's so much CGI that even the actors don't look real at times
Of the other returning characters, only Brent Spiner seems to be having any fun and he's clearly delighted to be appearing in a big budget film again. His Dr. Okun is the best character in the film, even if his presence is unlikely given he was apparently killed in the first film. However the filmmakers explain that away by saying that Okun has been in a coma for the last twenty years. Judd Hirsch also returns as Goldblum's father and Vivica A. Fox is back as Dylan's mum who is no longer a stripper but a hospital administrator. Robert Loggia appears in a very brief cameo, which was the final thing he filmed before his death last year. Strangely Margaret Colin, who played Goldblum's wife in the first film and was a major character, is nowhere to be seen and doesn't even get mentioned; with Gainsbourg playing his love interest instead.
The absence of certain characters and the fate of others suggests that the multiple writers were constantly changing the script and the result is a very uneven narrative. There isn't enough build-up, too many coincidences and the finale feels rushed. The plot contains some interesting ideas but also plenty of holes and lapses in logic, especially when it comes to continuity with the first film and the behaviour of the aliens themselves. The writers have tried to put a spin on certain famous scenes from the first film but they have also relied on some convenient twists to help save the day. However the alien force is so overwhelming this time around that you simply find most of it difficult to accept.
As you would expect from a modern blockbuster, Independence Day: Resurgence contains a massive amount of CGI – some of which is very good and some which is surprisingly poor. There are quite a few scenes where cast members have obviously been filmed against green screen and the backgrounds never look convincing. In fact at times you wonder if some of the cast members were created with CGI as well but that might just be the wooden acting. The emphasis on green screen and digital effects, robs the film of any sense of veracity, with not enough location work and practical effects to help the audience suspend disbelief. Instead we're left with insanely huge spaceships and a giant alien queen that rips off Monsters, Aliens and Emmerich's own Godzilla in equal measure.
It all ends with a very deliberate set up for a third film but that will very much depend on the success of this first sequel. The length of time that has passed since Independence Day won't help the film's chances at the box-office, nor will the over-reliance on effects and spectacle rather than character and story; whilst the ridiculous plot, ropey dialogue and patchy performances don't help either. There's a fine line between fun and silly but sadly Independence Day: Resurgence flies over it in a mothership the size of the Moon.
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