It takes a special kind of stupid to make a movie like Independence Day: Resurgence happen, so pinning down its source is a special challenge. Is it Roland Emmerich, co-writer, co-producer, all director, all hack? How about Dean Devlin, Emmerich’s enabler, the devil on his shoulder for pictures like Stonewall, Anonymous, 10,000 BC, The Day After Tomorrow and, of course, the original Independence Day? Is it the studio system that inexplicably still gives Emmerich money to make movies and, perhaps more inexplicably, agrees to distribute them for public consumption? Or is it Hollywood’s foolish over-reliance on franchising and branding as its new, viscous lifeblood?
Maybe it’s one of these, or all of them, or some combination of the four. If anyone can dodge blame for Independence Day: Resurgence’s conception, creation and release (aside from Will Smith, who 20th Century Fox decided wasn’t worth paying for in pre-production), it’s fans of the first Independence Day, an indisputably dopey movie that nonetheless works as an explosive bale of cotton candy. They’re innocent in this, because even the most enthusiastic among them didn’t ask for a follow-up. Why would they? What is there to follow up on? The end of Independence Day left little to be examined beyond the slow process of rebuilding the planet after a global alien invasion. Is there an interesting movie in that aftermath? Possibly. Forget “interesting,” there might even be a good movie there.
But is there a spectacle in that aftermath? Not at all, which is why Independence Day: Resurgence goes overboard to top its predecessor. This is the true nature of “part twos.” They must be bigger, louder and more obnoxious than their “part ones.” We expect more from our sequels, so the demand for extravagance is partially our fault. But Independence Day: Resurgence ignores the fundamental questions of blockbusting as much as it tries to answer them, and when it does answer them, it’s usually wrong, or perhaps idiotic. The film goes so big that characters are given dialogue to speak its bigness aloud, in case it isn’t clear to the audience that an alien spaceship whose dimensions span the Atlantic satisfies baseline size requirements.
All the computer-generated business is a thin cover, though, for the fact that Independence Day: Resurgence is, for all functional purposes, the same goddamn film as Independence Day, sans the execution, the excitement and, worst of all, the Smith. It’s a two-hour rumpus of winking and nudging that tries to replicate what’s great about Independence Day via carbon copying. Once again, we tour around Earth meeting various people involved in various government agencies at varying levels of access, and once again, all of those people are caught with their pants down when vicious conqueror aliens burst into our solar system packing laser cannons and bad intentions. The major difference is the passage of time. (Also: One of those aliens is tall as an office tower. Where’s a Jaeger when you need one?)
Independence Day: Resurgence never misses a moment to remind us that 20 years have gone by since these aliens first attacked Earth. Characters separated in that period reunite and marvel at how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other, or remark on each other’s appearances. If there’s no organic way to express the elapse of two decades, the writers drop in nods to 1996 through one-liners. Don’t be offended by the obviousness. Remember: It’s a stupid movie. It isn’t a masterclass in finesse and elegance. It’s a window into Roland Emmerich’s zany psyche, caught in a perpetual sugar high (possibly among other highs). You’re not here as a witness to nuanced, economical screenwriting or expertly crafted spectacle. You’re here to see national landmarks go boom, humans go splat and Jeff Goldblum go full-Goldblum.
The quality of Goldblum—because all Goldblum is quality—is a saving grace here, and he isn’t alone. If you’re the type to rush to trashy movies starring people you like, Independence Day: Resurgence might be your jam. Goldblum’s a good time. Brent Spiner is an even better time, reprising his role as that hippie scientist we thought died in the last movie, but survived in a comatose state. You’ll want to be in whatever movie he’s in. (It isn’t Independence Day: Resurgence, that’s for damn sure. Where’s the movie teased in TV spots, where Creedence blares in the background amid whirling aerial battles?) You’ll also want to be in the same movie as the amazing DeObia Oparei. After being denied the privilege of seeing him do badass things in Game of Thrones, seeing him do badass things here is a sweet, unexpected catharsis.
Want is the film’s common theme. Like so many modern tentpole pictures (say, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Independence Day: Resurgence devotes too many minutes laying foundation for a future installment that honestly sounds pretty awesome. Will it be awesome enough to justify Emmerich taking his viewers, his cast and his crew through the motions of getting there? Probably not, and by the time the film ends you’ll likely wish you could have sat through that movie instead of this one. Why does Independence Day have to be a saga? It’s a silly saga, sure, but even silliness gets old in films that operate in one gear. The best advice is to savor the good stuff when you can. Even Liam Hemsworth is a one-note, burly joy playing the “troublemaker” hero template.
The rest of the film’s substantial troupe is less well handled. Returning players like Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox and Judd Hirsch, and newcomers like Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Angelababy, Maika Monroe, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jessie Usher don’t have much to do or be. Take your pick in arguing who is most underserved. This is what happens when you cast too many actors and give them no purpose outside of chewing on exposition, or fretting, or flirting, or psycho babbling, or—in Hirsch’s case—driving a school bus full of children into a bombing site. This actually happens, not because the movie needs it to but because Emmerich desires it.
That sentiment applies to Independence Day: Resurgence as a whole. It’s a product of sheer force of will. Independence Day dazzled through pacing. That film built up to something before destroying everything. By contrast, Independence Day: Resurgence rushes to get to the latter as fast as possible. The film pushes you along as it pushes itself along, and in that pushiness there is an inescapable sense that the film doesn’t care about the pleasure of the journey. It just wants to drop Asia on top of England. That’s fine, Independence Day: Resurgence. You do you. As for us, we’ll wait for the ride to stop so we can get off—assuming we get on to begin with. What a pixelated, jumbled, chopped-up mess. Look at it this way: We’ll always have ’96.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Jessie Usher, Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, Bill Pullman, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vivica A. Fox, Angelababy, Travis Tope, Judd Hirsch, a painting of Will Smith
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65 percent craft beer.