Independence Day: Resurgence Review - The Fourth of July lights up with a lot of spark but little substance
Twenty years ago Independence Day (1996) delivered one of cinema’s grandest and noblest moments, as President Whitmore stood outside an Airforce hangar, megaphone in hand, briefing a crowd of troops that knew they were about to fly off to what would most likely be the end of their days. There Bill Pullman uttered one of Hollywood’s most unforgettable speeches, remarking ‘We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. This is our Independence Day!’ Sadly, this film’s scrappy sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), does little to convey the same enthusiasm or heart. Instead the now-retired President delivers a dismal drawl about unity and resolve to but a handful of soldiers, flipping back and forth between the strong and stern leader of old and today’s PTSD-crazed old man. If only the deadpan delivery ‘They like to get the landmarks’ didn’t ring as true for the famed film itself as it does within the story.
This time round the plot is as complicated as it is convoluted, picking up twenty years after the events of the original film. Earth has adapted well in the wake of the War of 1996, with David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) using the time to prepare the world for the alien’s retaliation, developing the aptly titled Earth Space Defence Program and recruiting a bunch of orphaned youngsters to take up the mantle as soldiers. As expected, things don’t quite go to plan as a spaceship the size of the Atlantic Ocean returns to rain down chaos and devastation. There’s also something about another alien race that left their physical bodies thousands of years ago for a virtual one, as well as a surprisingly super-sized beast, but for the most part it’s a lot of red-herrings and unnecessary side-plots. Like the off-kilter characters, the scriptwriters don’t quite seem to know where they are going, meaning by the end of the film’s two-hour-run we are left thinking that Levinson’s statement ‘We never stood a chance,’ was directed more at taunting the filmmakers failings than developing the plot.
If one redemption can be magically pulled from the movie though, it is in proving Liam Hemsworth worthy of his leading man status. Confined to background roles and pushed into the shadow of his older brother, the young Australian finally proves his mettle. Sadly, the women of the film don’t fare quite as well. Yes, they take prime position as some of the strongest professions, including Presidents, Doctors, and Fighter Pilots, however, when it comes to saving the day that duty goes to the self-sacrificing, legacy laden men. Maika Monroe does her best with the older version of Whitmore’s daughter Patricia, the female lead to Hemsworth’s hot-headed Jake Morrison, but we never see her truly connect with her heroic father, not even in the final climactic battle. In fact, despite the film constantly bombarding us with the notion that Earth has become a united people, we never see any of the characters truly connect with each other. The closest we ever come is an African War Lord remarking that a once shy and socially awkward man has the heart of a warrior, and even that feels contrived.
Equally, one can’t argue that it’s not a rollicking ride though, full of the same intense action sequences and sporadic moments of genuine humour. Roland Emmerich might wander onto the same treacherous ground as his dreaded Godzilla (1998) at times, as rampaging monsters run riot and cities crumble under his constant desire to crush things, but he does deliver on his first sequel, for the most part due solely to Judd Hirsch’s magnanimous father Julius. While his son stands in as the ubiquitous bridge between the younger generation and the old, serving little purpose outside this role, Levinson Senior delivers the same charm and comic timing as he did in the first film. Similarly, Emmerich’s action sequences are full throttle on the popcorn crunching genre, escalating the exploits of the first movie as swarms of fighter jets take to the skies and a descending space-ship leg creates a thrilling tsunami. He may destroy everything, but at least Emmerich knows how to create genuinely imposing visuals in the process.
For those cinemagoers expecting a well-rounded and scientifically plausible movie, then this is not the one for you. Like the first film, there are a lot of questions regarding the lack of logic present in a film that builds itself up on its ability to ‘quantify’ its science. Like how Singapore ends up in London, or how World Peace ensued in the aftermath of the War, instead of squabbles over the rights to the fallen flight-machines. Even plot devices like having old Levinson adrift at sea as the alien encounter begins, just doesn’t quite add-up. Where the first movie bounced off its absurdity through wit and willpower, ending on an emotional high, the follow-up delivers a preposterous finale, which sadly sets-up another sequel, as smoothly as if it has already been signed-off on by the studio.
What’s most disappointing about Independence Day: Resurgence is the way the picture treats its legacy. Yes a tonne of new technology has been developed in the aftermath of the War and yes they’ve given young orphans purpose as some of the world’s top fighter pilots. But with a new generation of stars, the 1996 veterans are dismissed. The previous President is now a crackpot old man, David Levinson begins to feel like a supporting character and Will Smith’s hero is dismissed in the briefest of mentions. And that’s all before one character is so severely mistreated, you’re forced to do a double take after their early-onset death, because what writers could possibly be so callous? No dramatic build-up. No tension. Here one minute, gone the next. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. A little bit like the movie itself.
Rating: 3 Destroyed Landmarks out of 5
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