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Not Again

Jeff Goldblum
Jeff Goldblum
20th Century Fox
 120 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Roland Emmerich 
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum
Independence Day Resurgence

The original Independence Day, which became the second highest grossing film of all time when it was first released, was very much a product of its time. Director Roland Emmerich applied the storytelling method popularized in 70’s disaster epics like The Towering Inferno to a considerably larger landscape. No longer was a mere building or even a single city threatened with destruction; now it was the entire planet Earth. Emmerich cast a shrewd mix of hammy character actors like Randy Quaid and Jeff Goldblum along with rising star Will Smith (the first time a black actor headed a blockbuster project like this). Add in some over-the-top corny but highly patriotic dialogue that somehow worked and the best money shot ever in a disaster film, the destruction of the White House by a giant flying saucer, and Emmerich had a huge hit on his hands.


Of course, things change over the course of 20 years, and every single change that affected the viability of an Independence Day sequel was for the worse. Emmerich relied primarily on traditional special effects and miniatures far more than the relatively young CGI technology, and the effects were eye popping for 1996 audiences. In 2016, nearly every superhero film made winds up destroying half the planet, and Emmerich’s Oscar winning visuals now seem quaint. On a more serious note, the idea of destroying major landmarks, which seemed preposterous escapist hokum in 1996, became all too real only five years later. Still, where there’s a will there’s a way, and Emmerich finally got to make his sequel, only without its Will, Mr. Smith, who bailed on the project for reasons still somewhat unclear. Could Emmerich, whose own career has been in a nosedive in recent years, make lightning (or aliens) strike twice? Not surprisingly, the answer is no.


Independence Day: Resurgence takes place in a variation of the present day, some 20 years after the alien invasion that was thwarted in the first movie. With the aid of alien technology recovered from the wreckage of their spaceships, Earth’s scientists have improved the planet’s defense systems (thanks to a giant cannon located on the moon) as well as transportation in general, with rocket flights to the moon and beyond becoming commonplace. But the aliens have been busy as well, building a new mothership, one that’s much larger and more powerful than before.


Once again, Jeff Goldblum stars as David Levinson, now in charge of research at Earth’s defense facility at Area 51, and still the voice of gloom and doom when it comes to the aliens. In the absence of Will Smith, the hotshot fighter pilots, who now whiz around in space ships rather than traditional jets, are Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) and Dylan Hiller (Jesse T. Usher), son of Will Smith’s character from the first movie and Morrison’s obligatory rival. Bill Pullman is no longer the President; instead, his character babbles about the visions he has, while his daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) is Jake’s girlfriend and a pretty good pilot in her own right.


Another addition to the cast of Resurgence is the Alien Queen, who seems to be played by the same “actress” who played the Alien Queen in Aliens. That’s right, with all the new technology at their disposal, the filmmakers decided to go even further back in time and recycle a classic monster from another science fiction movie. The Queen is a rather poorly thought out construct by the film’s five credited screenwriters. Since the chances of humans destroying a spaceship that’s hundreds of miles long seem somewhat slim, the writers concocted a backstory that links all the other aliens to the Queen, so that by killing her, the invasion chugs to a halt. Not only that, but, instead of remaining in safety in the far reaches of the solar system, the Queen winds up in the Nevada desert where the various pilots have a fighting shot at destroying her (I half expected Sigourney Weaver to show up dressed in full BattleBot gear).


Even by dumb summer disaster movie standards, Resurgence is exceptionally dumb, recycling nearly every old cliché from the first film, plus a host more from everything from the aforementioned Aliens to Top Gun to Starship Troopers to Jurassic Park, with Goldblum cautioning the powers that be, including the President (Sela Ward) against making every dumb mistake that they then immediately proceed to make. Resurgence does feature CGI effects that are, well light years ahead of what Emmerich had at his disposal 20 years ago, and the effects work is impressive by 1996 standards, but extremely routine today. Instead of destroying the White House, Emmerich attempts the equivalent of heaping Pelion on Ossa, as the aliens manage to levitate the world’s tallest buildings like the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and have them rain down on London Bridge and the London Eye (which seem to get destroyed in half the movies made nowadays). The only thing he accomplishes is to give the audience a greater appreciation for what he managed to accomplish 20 years earlier.


A few things do get better with age, namely old pros like Goldblum, Judd Hirsch (as Goldblum’s father), and Brent Spiner (as a wacky scientist who, we learn, was not killed in the first movie as we thought but had only been in a coma). They easily steal the show with deadpan banter and, in Spiner’s case, some suitably wacky overacting. Of course, there’s little competition here, since Hemsworth and Usher combined have less charisma than the Alien Queen. Hemsworth even manages the seemingly impossible task of making his brother Chris look good in comparison.


By the time Independence Day: Resurgence was over, what truly surprised me was that I wasn’t as upset as I thought I would be. It’s certainly not a good movie, and the shtick from old pros like Spiner and Hirsch can only go so far. But when Emmerich stops trying to destroy the world and, instead, turns the finale into a race-the-clock duel in the desert to kill the Queen before the Earth’s core is destroyed, the film does become somewhat entertaining on a basic level.


In the category of completely unnecessary remakes and sequels (a category that grows by leaps and bounds every summer), Independence Day: Resurgence ranks near the top. It also demonstrates that merely supplying more of what worked before won’t cut it with audiences that have become far too jaded in the interim. A couple of good lower scale action sequences and some lively supporting performances make the film tolerable but not worth wasting the price of admission on. Instead, audiences should declare own their independence from lame sequels like Independence Day: Resurgence.

In this scene, Liam Hemsworth and Jeff Goldblum try to avoid the debris as the alien mothership launches an attack against London. 

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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) on IMDb