The first Independence Day is a watershed film for the mid 90s. Many a blockbuster in its wake ran with the film’s regurgitation of Star Wars style dogfighting and Irwin Allen level destruction. The latter even became the trademark of director Roland Emmerich for a while, to the point where Independence Day: Resurgence gives returning star Jeff Goldblum a meta nod to the fact that the aliens always aim for the landmarks. Now, in the wake of 90s nostalgia coming in at full force with hits like Jurassic World, Independence Day: Resurgence is attempting to squeeze a few million dollars off the potential interest in a long delayed follow up to the 1996 hit. Emmerich’s film does take advantage of this passage of time, mainly in allowing Earth to utilize the older alien tech for personal use and allowing a chance to revive older characters to fight alongside our younger heroes in true recent “legacyquel” fashion that show some promise when introduced. They even managed to throw in the late Robert Loggia in as a cameo that’s merely there to remind us how old and brittle he was. However, it doesn’t matter if the star is young or old in this bloated blockbuster, because either way every person gets lost in the shuffle of mayhem and destruction.
The first Independence Day – for its many many problems – managed to have a solid build up to its admittedly repetitive alien destruction, helped tremendously by the star making turn from then-up and comer Will Smith. Smith doesn’t make a return in Independence Day: Resurgence, instead being taken over by the two-for-one combo of Jesse T. Usher as his character’s son grown to be a pilot and his frenemy Liam Hemsworth. Neither manage to carry the proceedings despite how much both are clearly trying to emulate Smith’s cocky delivery and wisecracks, including a callback to a Close Encounters of the Third Kind reference Smith originally made that feels about as much like a copy of a copy as the rest of Independence Day: Resurgence ultimately does. Their rivalry is one of many plot lines stuffed into the running time of Independence Day: Resurgence, mirror the original’s lack of economy with its storytelling. Still, at least the first film had forty more minutes to try and develop these characters. Independence Day: Resurgence elects to keep things at a 120 minute clip that lays out the basic character dynamics with a slog during the first hour and rushes towards the finish in the second. Caught in the middle of all this are performances like Charolette Gainsborough or Goldblum that rush out exposition with the passion of someone waiting off screen for their check or those who seem game to perform yet aren’t given a thing to do like Brent Spiner or Judd Hirsch.
A major problem with the original Independence Day was a true lack of innovative style in its designs. The spaceships and aliens felt like rejected mixtures of H.R. Geiger’s designs from Alien and more elaborate versions of generic flying saucers from any number of 50s sci-fi films. Now, despite 20 years of time to develop some new twist or evolution of these extraterrestrials, Independence Day: Resurgence elects to simply make them bigger. No less than twice during the run time, characters mention that the mothership featured is “bigger than the last one.” It’s one of many examples of how Independence Day: Resurgence insults the intelligence of its audience with its dialogue, pointing out things blatantly obvious to anyone who isn’t literally blind as if they forgot. Yet, one couldn’t blame them for forgetting in the splurge of cliche character arcs and endless mass destruction that feels even worse than the average Roland Emmerich picture that’s guilty of all of these things. Independence Day: Resurgence is Emmerich on autopilot, regurgitating his old tricks (that were already repeating older techniques in the first place) in a cold calculated fashion. It’s spelling things out for those hoping to find a solid follow up to a film they loved, assuring them that this has a reason to exist simply because the ships and aliens are “bigger.” Not “better,” not “newer,” just… bigger.
By the time Independence Day: Resurgence gets to Bill Pullman‘s attempt at a new speech at the end of the second act, one can tell how low things have sunk. Even as someone who finds the original Independence Day overrated, that original speech is still a massive highlight that deservedly earns a place as a great popcorn movie moment. Here, it’s an obvious wink that exists not to genuinely rally the pilots or give Pullman a true connection with his daughter Maika Monroe, but instead to look at the camera and say “remember when we were great, folks?” It’s a shame that I have to keep bringing up the original movie in comparison, but it’s a comparison Emmerich and his crew directly make constantly. Independence Day: Resurgence feels like an exercise in a cheap quick modern blockbuster with 90s nostalgia tinges. It never tops the original, but it also doesn’t even try to expand on those ideas in an intriguing new way. It just ends up being a whimper of a return hoping to rope enough interest from what came before. Nothing illustrates this more than the MacGuffin/sequel hook device known as The Sphere, a MacBook esque modern looking alien device that desperately tries to tell people to come back again for an even “bigger” adventure next time. Unfortunately, it seems like Roland Emmerich and 20th Century Fox might have made a film that was far too big for its britches.
Rating: 1 out of 5 Alien Spheres