‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ review

Aliens and explosions can't save 'Independence Day: Resurgence' from feeling like a stale remake

Without the heart of the original, Independence Day: Resurgence feels more like a stale remake than a smart sequel.

There’s something adorably earnest about the original Independence Day.From the meticulously orchestrated devastation and the battles that pitted good ol’ human technology against laser guns and spaceships, to the surprisingly sincere performances of the cast of actors caught up in director Roland Emmerich’s alien invasion story (perhaps too sincere, in Randy Quaid’s case), the 1996 film was an escapist adventure at its most cheer-worthy.

Now, two decades after audiences were treated to that iconic image of an extraterrestrial battleship blowing up the White House, Independence Day also has a sequel.

And yet, even with no shortage of aliens, spaceships, and familiar faces, Independence Day: Resurgence never quite captures the magic of its predecessor.

Even with all the devastation, the stakes never feel quite as high in Resurgence as they did in the previous film.

Set 20 years after the events of the original film, Resurgence has the aliens from the 1996 film returning to Earth with an exponentially larger invasion force and the intention to finish what they started. However, they return to a planet far different from the one their species first encountered. Humanity is now united for the common good in the wake of the first invasion, and the world is incorporating a mix of human and alien technology to protect the planet.

Directed once again by Emmerich, the film brings back several members of the original film’s cast, including Jeff Goldblum as computer expert David Levinson, Bill Pullman as former U.S. President Thomas J. Whitmore, and Brent Spiner as the eccentric Dr. Brakish Okun, head of research at Area 51. Conspicuously absent from the returning cast is Will Smith’s hotshot fighter pilot, Steven Hiller, whose presence is sorely missed (but more on that later).

The film also introduces a new, younger cast of alien fighters played by Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, Maika Monroe, and Angelababy (a popular Chinese model, singer, and actress who’s apparently referred to as the “Kim Kardashian of China”). Usher portrays the son of Smith’s character, who follows in his father’s high-flying ways, while Monroe plays the daughter of Pullman’s character. Like her father in the first film, she has left her pilot days behind when we first encounter her in Resurgence.

Independence Day Resurgence

It’s clear from the start that Emmerich and the Resurgence writing team intend for the film to serve as a passing of the torch, with the young stars following in the footsteps of the 1996 film’s cast, but the effort occasionally becomes a little too literal as certain legacy characters simply retrace the story arcs of characters from the first film. On one hand, this could be interpreted as some sort of deeper message about the inevitability of history repeating itself, but on the other, far more likely hand, it just feels a little too formulaic — like the film is a remake masquerading as a sequel.

In this and many other ways, there are few surprises to be found in Resurgence, and the few unexpected elements the film does offer up don’t do it any favors.

The hopelessness of humanity’s predicament in Independence Day is rarely felt in Resurgence.

Pullman, for example, does an admirable job of trying to get back into the character who delivered that inspiring speech in the 1996 film to what remained of humanity’s last, best hope for salvation. To his credit, he almost gets there at several points in the film, but his character always seems to fall just short of having that one epic moment this time around.

Goldblum also falls a bit short of recapturing his Independence Day shine despite getting quite a bit of screen time in Resurgence. In his case, however, it feels like his character’s failings have more to do with Smith’s absence than any problems with the script or his performance. In the spirit of not knowing what you had ’til it’s gone, Resurgence serves as a nice reminder of the great chemistry Goldblum and Smith had in the original film, and the sequel suffers for lack of the latter.

Still, solo Goldblum is always preferable to no Goldblum at all.

Unfortunately, the new additions to the cast do little to make audiences forget about the absence of Smith and feel entirely too generic. No one’s expecting an Oscar-winning performance out of the film’s cast, of course, but there’s still the expectation that the new faces will — at the very least — be as entertaining as the familiar faces.

Of the entire cast, Spiner seems to be the only person whose character has more of a presence this time around. Playing the mad scientist role, he’s responsible for some of the film’s funniest moments, and is one of the few pleasant surprises. And yet, the upgrade in his status just isn’t enough to make up for the other areas where the film takes a step back.

All of those flaws aside, if there’s one thing that’s done remarkably well in Resurgence, it’s what Emmerich does better than just about anyone in Hollywood: blow stuff up.

Resurgence offers up plenty of proof that Emmerich still knows his way around a disaster scene.

The original Independence Day was a groundbreaking (pun totally intended) film in a great many ways, not the least of which was the role it played in ushering in a new wave of disaster movies in the ’90s. The image of the White House being destroyed by the alien battleship in Independence Day has become one of modern cinema’s most widely recognized, iconic shots, and the sequences depicting the destruction of the Earth’s greatest cities and landmarks were unlike anything audiences had seen up to that point.

Resurgence offers up plenty of proof that Emmerich still knows his way around a disaster scene, and it’s fair to say that the sequel does indeed raise the bar when it comes to the sheer amount of devastation that’s heaped upon the planet by its would-be conquerors. Even the characters seem aware that the sequel is upping the ante, with Goldblum’s character remarking during one particularly destructive sequence in which London’s Tower Bridge is smashed to bits, “They like to get the landmarks.”

Despite all of that devastation, though, the stakes never feel quite as high in Resurgence as they did in the previous film. Independence Day did a nice job of making the aliens’ attacks feel personal — for both the characters and the audience experiencing the invasion through those characters — but Resurgence seems content to compensate for its lack of heart with an overabundance of computer-generated spectacle.

Independence Day Resurgence

Where the first film featured multiple instances of awestruck characters watching helplessly as their cities, homes, and famous landmarks were leveled by the aliens’ assault, the sequel favors sequences in which characters fly or otherwise navigate through debris-filled air and space, showing off their skills and engaging in witty banter as they swoop and dive through the remnants of human civilization. The hopelessness of humanity’s predicament in Independence Day is rarely felt in Resurgence, despite everything — from the aliens’ ship to the aliens themselves — being a magnitude bigger this time around.

It would be easy to rationalize the problems with Independence Day: Resurgence by dismissing it as just another simple popcorn movie, but doing so ignores the fact that its predecessor played a big role in revitalizing summer blockbusters and turning movies into events again. And it did so by offering audiences a film that had both spectacle and heart in equal measures.

Unfortunately, the world of Independence Day seems to have lost some of that heart over the last 20 years, and neither a glut of explosions nor a crowd of familiar faces do enough to make up for what Resurgence is missing.

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