A lot can change in twenty years. During the War of 1996 – that’s how the alien attack of the original Independence Day is now described – the Earth looked like the one in which we all lived. It was recognizable and relatable. When those ludicrously massive alien spaceships hovered over major cities of the world, casting giant, dark shadows and looking like a meteorologist’s worst nightmare, it still looked like our world.
Of course, we know what happened next. Destruction on a global scale, but we won. Despite all the odds and all of that alien technology used against us, once President Whitemore (Bill Pullman) gave that rousing, patriotic July 4th speech, we rose to the occasion and won. On independence Day. Now it’s twenty years later, present day, 2016, and the Earth as we knew it no longer exists. As presented in the sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, the rebuilt nation’s capital with its new, unblemished White House and all the gliding, futuristic transport seen floating around looks as though we’re on a different planet. Or a parallel one. It’s a sci-fi world of a long distance future. Plus, there are populated outposts built on the moon and Mars, and Area 51 has become the Earth’s Space Defense headquarters. That’s a lot of accomplishment in just twenty years. Exactly where and how did they build all of that stuff?
A lot has changed for a few familiar faces, too. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) was a tech at a TV cable company, now he’s a director of Earth Space Defense (ESD), naturally. Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox) is no longer a pole dancer in an L.A. nightclub; she’s now a hospital administrator. Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) has written a book called ‘How I Saved The World,’ while President Whitemore (Pullman) has grown a beard and is having nightmares. And, in case you’re wondering, there’s no Will Smith. Evidently the actor wanted too much money, so the writer’s promoted his character to that of a colonel and killed him off, though you can catch a glimpse of his portrait hanging in the new White House.
And there are several new faces. Many. Too many. The sequel is considerably shorter compared to the epic 1996 original yet it feels longer and crams in so many new characters, each with their own character conflicts to overcome that it’s practically bursting at the seams. There’s a new President (Sela Ward), Whitemore’s grown daughter (Maika Monroe), a new scientist providing a love interest for Goldblum (Charlotte Gainsbourg), warlords, new young pilots, all kinds of military generals, and several assorted school kids driven around the desert by Judd Hirsch. Even the whacky Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) is revived and immediately ready for action after he awakens from a twenty-year coma; atrophied muscles evidently not a problem. And we all thought he died.
Unlike the first film where situations were established with more time, more humor and a lengthier buildup to all the action – if you remember, the first laser blast from those enormous ships didn’t occur until somewhere around the forty-five minute mark – this sequel has no time to establish anything. It zips from one setting to another, throwing in new faces along with the old familiar ones at such lightning speeds you keep forgetting where you are and who is supposed to be who. And once the alien’s start attacking on this return visit, the spectacle and destruction is mind-bogglingly enormous. But the problem is, nothing connects. It’s too much of everything.
What makes Independence Day: Resurgence doubly disappointing is that the ’96 original was so much fun. It was genuinely exciting. That first half with the countdown ticking away that lead to the eventual destruction of our major cities gripped. It wasn’t just a matter of overcoming conflicts, it was enjoyable story-telling. And visually the film looked good, as most of the Roland Emmerich directed films do. Those models and miniatures of the Empire State Building and the White House blowing up in enormous clouds of flame blew audiences away. It really was the perfect popcorn sci-fi disaster. Now, with nothing but animated CGI replacing the creativity of a special effect, things may look bigger, more spectacular and even weirdly real, but it lacks what’s needed to truly engage. It lacks life.
Like many computer generated imagery movies of late – X-Men: Apocalypse is a good example – Independence Day: Resurgence is yet another in a long line of examples where stuff simply happens and keeps happening until we’re numb. There’s no excitement, no sense of involvement, and without that emotional connect, there’s rarely a concern for someone if they die in a fight or not. There’s not even a decent story. The need to make something bigger and more spectacular than before has resulted with a lack of anything that can now impress. And nothing is more crushing than going in with all the hope of repeating the fun of what entertained before and coming out with little more than a sense of relief that it’s over.
There was no advance screening for the press. Now we know why. If they want to avoid negative reviews they should make better films and not rest on their CGI laurels. Enough. A sci-fi disaster indeed.
MPAA rating: PG-13 Length: 119 Minutes Overall rating: 3 (out of 10)