From the metallic shell of the 1996 smash Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich has pulled a seriously lousy sequel, dripping with alien goo and incoherence.
I take no pleasure in reporting this news, folks. I’ve been a lonely, half-mad defender of some of Emmerich’s cheesiest cheese, including 10,000 B.C. But Independence Day: Resurgence is the Emmerich movie his fiercest detractors always said he could manage, if he put his mindlessness to it.
Will Smith, star of the original, passed on the sequel. Smart move. The list of performers who thought, instead, “Oh, what the hell, it’s money, and how bad can it be?” include the beloved Jeff Goldblum, back as scientist and alien-defense expert David Levinson, but this time pushed into strained panic-reaction shots throughout.
Bill Pullman, now the ex-president (Sela Ward plays the current U.S. leader, at least for a while – spoiler alert!), is haunted by visions of a second alien invasion. Judd Hirsch returns as Goldblum’s dad, who commandeers a school bus full of orphaned preteens. Brent Spiner boomerangs back, in long gray wig and finally roused from a 20-year coma (“How long was I out?” he says, in the film’s sole amusing line), as Dr. Brackish Okun, obsessed with alien technology.
Then there’s a fleet of calculatedly diverse 25(ish) hotshots, spearheaded by brash, uninteresting (here, anyway) Liam Hemsworth; Jessie T. Usher, portraying the son of the original Will Smith character; Maika Monroe as the former prez’s jet pilot daughter, engaged to Hemsworth’s Top Gun-inspired maverick. They’re joined by, among others, the Chinese actress Angelababy as Rain Lao, who plays another pilot hanging around the defense base established on the moon. Soon these pups are pressed into dogfight service, while the sound effects go “Ptew! Ptew!” and the audience wonders: Honestly, is this the best human/alien aerial dogfight ya got?
The aliens suck entire cities into the sky, and then plop them back down. A kid rescues a puppy. The queen-bee alien (it’s a she, so that someone can call her a b—- during the climax) chases the little yellow school bus, like an angry commuter running after the 146 down Michigan Avenue. The tonal switchbacks from camp to action to wisecracks to exposition to action again could give you whiplash, and so little of it clicks you wonder if screenwriters Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, James Vanderbilt and Emmerich ever read each other’s drafts or versions of scenes before spitting out a revision.
There’s a new, bigger UFO, 3,000 miles in diameter, which is just dumb. When your UFO is 3,000 miles wide, your movie threatens to lose all sense of dramatic scale. Watching Resurgence, a subtitle better suited to the Divergent franchise, it’s clear straight off: You can up the ante all you like, and wipe out major world landmarks. But if your witty asides aren’t witty, and your digital effects look like so much else you’ve seen the last few years, and your editing (Adam Wolfe takes the blame) juggles the various plotlines so ineptly … then you have a movie like this one. Characters keep talking about comas and boredom and how tedious reunions are, and you know exactly what they mean.
What I remember best from the first Independence Day are two things: the alien autopsy scene, icky and startling and suspenseful, and, in the final confrontation, Goldblum and Smith taunting the alien like a couple of kids. Those scenes I remember. I saw Resurgence an hour and a half ago, and I feel like an alien wiped my memory clean already.
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch.
Director: Roland Emmerich.
Screenwriters: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 120 minutes. Vulgar language, sci-fi mayhem and destruction. Playing at area theaters.