Back in the wild ole days of 1996, two movies came out that essentially changed the genres they owed their existences to. One of them was ‘Scream’, which gave the tired ‘slasher’ franchise a much-needed jolt of energy, while the other was ‘Independence Day’. I remember the summer that it opened and it was BIG shit! It came off like a perfect Summer Tentpole Blockbuster ‘popcorn movie’, that took the expected tropes of the alien invasion genre, that have been around since The 40’s, and infused them with a Big Budget mid-90’s sensibility…and it worked like a friggin charm! ‘ID4’ made an absolute shit-load of cash and cemented itself in pop culture history. I was about 18 when this movie hit the small-town theatre that I frequented in those heady days and, being a firmly established sci-fi loving Geek even back then (surprise surprise, I know), it hit the spot. Now, even then I couldn’t help but to acknowledge that in among the cool suspense, the comic book-level characters, and the practically-realized ‘large scale’ scenes of sweet destruction…there were a lot of moronic story elements, clunky and blatant exposition, and one dimensional acting rounding everything out. That being said, I still enjoyed the hell out of it…back in The Day. I recently went back and checked out the Extended Cut again and while some elements have held up pretty well in the last 20 years, some now fall flat on their faces…almost to a hilarious degree.
SO…when I heard that 20th Century Fox was jumping on the current, kinda cool ‘nostalgia bandwagon’ that seems to be making the rounds these days, with a decades late sequel to ‘ID4’, (probably as a panicked reaction to losing the ‘Star Wars’ franchise to Disney), I just kinda shrugged. I wasn’t overly thrilled by the notion, but nor was I disgusted. I was somewhat intrigued, especially since original director Roland Emmerich was going to be back in the saddle, and I wondered what a romp back in THAT universe could be like, with the leaps and bounds that have occurred in visual effects technology since the original’s release. Then it touched down. I checked out about 6 or 7 Youtube reviews to try and get a grasp on the ‘feel’ of the audience reaction and it mostly it seemed to be ‘middle of the road’, aiming slightly toward the negative. So on a ‘need-to-get-out’ Saturday afternoon, I took a break from finding old shit to throw out or recycle (moving soon…yay!), and bopped on down to our local cinema. After turning my brain off in the parking lot, I settled into the air conditioned darkness and set my expectations to LOW.
‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ opens on the 20th anniversary of the ‘War of ’96’, in an alternate future where the survivors of the first alien invasion have appropriated fallen alien technology and back-engineered it to suit our needs, both as a society and as a measure of defence against the chance of another attack from the stars. We’ve altered our weapons to harness their energy and have established military early-warning bases on several planets in our solar system, including the moon. As the movie gives us an introductory walk-through and a ‘catch up’, we meet up with our characters, both old and new. ‘David Levinson’ (Jeff Goldblum) is now the director of the Earth Space Defense force and has stumbled upon one of the crashed alien ships, somewhere on the plains of Africa, that has suddenly turned itself on, emitting what appears to be a distress call into deep space. Not long after this, a mysterious and cosmic event takes place (that looked surprisingly awesome!), and an alien ship appears near the moon base. Acting as humans probably and shamefully would, we lay out a demonstration of our newly-acquired fire power…and blow the strange and thus far benign sphere out of the stars and all over the surface of the moon. As ‘Levinson’ and his ad hoc crew of misfits, including a stereotypical ‘maverick’ pilot named ‘Jake’ (Liam Hemsworth), embark on a mission to assess the destroyed craft, trouble arrives in the form of a HUGE muthafuckin alien ship that sneaks up and ‘Pearl Harbors’ the moon and the Earth, using little more than the intense gravity field it generates to waste numerous cities and landmarks (of course). From that point on, ‘David’ and the oversized cast of familiar faces race against yet another proverbial clock to ensure the survival of our species.
I’ll admit it…I had a great time watching this flick! I didn’t think that I would, but I found myself grinning in the darkness, behind my 3D glasses, as the spectacle unfolded on the screen. Was it a good movie? Shit no. A lot of what plagued the first one rears it’s ugly head again, but there was just enough cool stuff going on that I was able to forgive MOST of it. A fair number of critics have come out and been rather venomous toward this movie, and some of thier critiques are COMPLETELY justified, but this is a movie that does NOT require a shit-load of pondering or depth…just like the first one. It’s a Big Budget B movie that mostly does exactly what it sets out to do. Could some of the plot been a bit more clever? Definitely. Were there sequences that had me scoff out loud and chuckle AT the movie as a result of either a flat-as-hell line delivery or some ‘Roland Emmerich’ example of unapologetic cheese? Hell yes…especially in the 3rd Act. Were there too many unnecessary sub-plots that could’ve been dropped? Totally…looking at YOU, ‘Treasure Hunter Ship’, ‘African Warlord’, ‘David’s father and Vivica A. Fox! But with all that said…I still had a good time with this one.
One of the first reasons, for me, was the 3D. Not going to lie…I liked the use of the gimmick with this story and I feel it helped elevate my experience while watching. It had some sweet depth that helped accentuate and ‘layer’ Emmerich’s usual ‘wide screen’ approach. It wasn’t the ‘poke-your-eye’ type either, just the immersive variant, like ‘Avatar’, ‘Prometheus’ or ‘The Martian’. I found myself looking at the details in the depth and wondered if I would’ve enjoyed it as much had I opted for the earlier 2D showing.
One reason the 3D charmed me the way that it did was that there was a good deal of solid visual effects sequences, especially when it came to the aerial encounters with the huge ship and it’s compliment of fighters, or a scene in the barren openness of the Nevada Salt Flats, involving a large marauding creature. I liked how many of the sequences took place during the day, where we could clearly see the detail in everything, while also lending to a sense of grandeur in being able to see the hazy horizon extend out into the distance beyond the action. The color pallete, be it the pinks and golds of the sunrise backgrounds or the stark white and greys of the moon base, backdropped by a twinkling field of stars, was attractive, dynamic and pleasing to behold. This movie LOOKED good.
There was nothing really awesome or revolutionary in the narrative…it was pretty much what one would expect a sequel to ‘ID4’ to be. There was some definite plot holes and scenes that felt rushed in editing (yea, Final Climax Scene!!) and they coupled with some truly horrendous dialogue and line deliveries, but again it’s worth remembering that Emmerich and Co. were not trying to make ‘Citizen Kane in Space’ with this one. Mostly, they just wanted to entertain us dumb masses and feed into our current appetite for pop culture nostalgia (while yoinking $12 out of our wallets)…and I’d say they succeeded with a success margin of about 70%.
If I had to pick on some decidedly negative aspects, I’d have to say that, at an even 120 minutes, this story probably could’ve benefitted from another 15 or so minutes of tension building, specific scenes of iconic destruction (they’re kinda random with very little suspenseful buildup here), and world establishment. They also could’ve definitely removed at least 4 of the useless subplots (like the ones I mentioned earlier) that only added bloat to the movie where it wasn’t needed.
The cast was serviceable…again no need for anyone to have Oscar ambitions with this production. Returning from the first flick, we get Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Viveca A. Fox ( in basically a cameo), Brent Spiner (in a meatier-than-expected role), and even a couple shots of a very sickly-looking Robert Loggia (this was the last thing he worked on before he passed away in 2015). Of course everyone knows that BIg Willy Style Will Smith bailed on this easy paycheque for some reason, so they killed him offscreen, ceremoniously slapped his picture up somewhere as a reminder, and dismissed him in about one sentence. New to the show are Liam Hemsworth, William Fichtner, Jesse T. Usher, Maika Munro, and Sela Ward…among others. There’s no great acting here…despite the presence of some great acting talent…only just enough to propel the story to the next effects sequence. That being said…there are some lines and deliveries thoughout that are laugh-out-loud awful. I think those just go with the territory though.
While many of the effects and designs were really cool, there were a few that could’ve used another pass. There’s a Queen alien in this one…that looks like a Queen Alien…as in the iconic Xenomorph bitch from 1986’s still superb ‘Aliens’. It was a blatant and shameless rip-off of the design that I let go because it looked cool as it fought and chased in the open space and broad daylight of a salt flat. There’s also another species that turns up this time around that just didn’t work for me. It was mostly just seen as a white sphere (acutely reminding me of the sinister drones from ‘Oblivion’) that spoke in a lazily realized North American woman’s voice. I laughed at that part…as it seemed that they didn’t know how to make it unique and just threw up their hands and said ‘Fuck it!’. A bit more effort here, guys. Not asking for much.
All in all, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ is a sequel that I don’t recall anyone asking for, but we got anyway. I had a surprising amount of fun with the 3D version and found myself entertained and able to overlook that dumber aspects of the film…the existence of which I freely admit to acknowledging. It’s not a good movie, per say…but it is largely a big ‘dumb n fun’ spectacle for the eyes and ears (forgot to mention the kick ass sound design…flick sounded wicked!) that doesn’t set out to break your brain with too many ‘smarts’. There’s definitely some imagination at work visually and much of the money is there onscreen (even though some of the ‘green screen’ work in a few shots is shockingly poor). Will it change your life in any way? Gawd no. If you opt to check it out in the theatre, I recommend scoping the 3D version after you check your brain at the door and grab your overpriced, buttered popcorn. That’s what this one was made for…and in that…I think they succeeded. Mostly.