The original Independence Day was loud, daft, and full of cheesy flag waving fun; but it also had heartfelt sentiment and counterbalanced its levity and knowing humour with an undercurrent of urgency, awe and menace.
Most of that has been lost on the way to Independence Day Resurgence, and that’s a real shame given the 20 years they’ve had to make this long-awaited follow up. The first casualty are the characters, who are mostly dull, flat, forgettable and superfluous. Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson is the best of a weak bunch, but his role is limited this time round and his love interest from the original film (Margaret Colin’s spirited Constance Spano) has been replaced here by a completely wet and useless character played by (the usually superb) Charlotte Gainsbourg. Bill Pullman’s Thomas Whitmore and Brent Spiner’s Dr Okum are also brought back, and the latter gets far too much screen time (probably because he was cheaper than the other returning characters); his over-the-top mad scientist routine might distract the audience from the dullards elsewhere in the cast, but it gets tiresome quickly. The new cast members are ok-but-forgettable; Liam Hemsworth and Maika Monroe do their best with the material, and are perfectly fine; Jessie Usher’s character seems to fade into the background as the son of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller; while sexy Chinese star Angelababy and Game of Thrones actor Deobia Oparei provide extra cast diversity. With a bit more character development, and script they could work with, these could have been an interesting bunch.
But it’s the way the film is paced and edited that is most frustrating about Resurgence. Independence Day was brilliantly structured; from its opening shot it built momentum and tension to the aliens’ arrival and attack. Our heroes were soundly thrashed; then they regrouped, and came together for a crowd-pleasing showdown. For all its absurdity, it was executed flawlessly. In Resurgence the pacing is all over the show, chopping from one boring scene to another and not giving any weight to the drama.
The aliens themselves are simultaneously exciting and disappointing. In the original film, the spacecraft were already preposterously huge; yet in true ‘one-louder’ style, the aliens in Resurgence arrive in an even larger vessel: one big enough to cover the entire Atlantic Ocean and hold it's own gravity. It's arrival over the moon (which it dwarfs) is spectacular as it flies through the debris of the earlier mothership; pieces crashing into its shields causing ripples of blossoming energy. Moments like this (of which there are several) almost save the film. Needless to say the mothership's arrival at Earth causes cataclysmic damage to the world's cities, but curiously these scenes are brief; leading to a baffling hiatus that deflates any tension. The newly introduced alien queen provides a fresh -if silly- antagonist for the closing act; she’s got formidable firepower yet, quite literally, can’t hit a bus. The sequel-baiting conclusion to the alien menace is also a bit flat compared to the fist-pumping bombast of the original, and the closing dialogue scene is just stupendously naff.
Special effects are pretty spectacular throughout (they would have been mind-blowing in 1996- how spoiled we are) and for fans of sci-fi fantasy there is plenty to enjoy with some terrific Earth/alien hybrid tech, moon bases, laser cannons, and immense dogfights around the monstrous alien mothership. There’s also a potentially exciting subplot featuring a third faction, a world-building plot development that sets the stage for an even wider conflict to be explored in future sequels. However the execution of this crucial subplot could have been so much better if Emmerich had reigned in his tendency to dumb everything down (presumably deliberately) for fun. Every time the movie threatens to become the engaging science fiction epic we want, it’s dragged back down by stupidity and truly infantile dialogue.
In conclusion then, ID4:R is as bad as a modern action blockbuster can get, whilst still retaining some visual thrills for science fiction/ space fans and offering some unintentional hilarity courtesy of one of the worst scripts ever written. The first film knew when to be serious and when to embrace it’s inate silliness. You laughed with Independence Day; you can only laugh at this forgettable sequel.