Before going to see Independence Day (Resurgence), the twenty years later sequel to Independence Day (1996), I made a point of watching its inspiration, Independence Day again. When it comes to movies, my mind is like a sieve so a refresher showing helped me remember who the characters were twenty years ago and whether my assessment back then (a pretty good movie) still stood.
So first a brief second look back at Independence Day, the feel-good 1996 blockbuster summer popcorn movie. Both this movie and the sequel of course required you to suspend disbelief. In 1996 though aliens taking over the earth, while not exactly a new idea for a movie, was at least an infrequent enough a theme where this movie was pretty fresh. And for 1996 the special effects we got were quite awesome. Independence Day had going for it its timing near the holiday but also some really fun acting, principally Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller, who nailed the role of a super-aggressive fighter pilot. They threw in an odd mash up of characters that managed to entertain us. These included Jeff Goldbloom as the quirky David Levenson, whose wife (Margaret Colin) just happened to be President Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman) chief of staff. Judd Hirsch showed up as his Jewish but not terribly devout father and Brent Spiner had something of an ancillary role as Dr. Okun, whose brain was quickly fried by aliens. Of course the world somehow united (via Morse code, if you can believe it) to defeat these alien invaders/harvesters. Millions died and our capital (including most major cities) was incinerated but in the end of course we won, with the help of a computer virus, Will and Jeff and a vintage 1996 Apple Macbook. There were staggeringly implausible coincidences throughout but who couldn’t cheer when the mothership came down thanks to good ol’ Yankee ingenuity? It was implausible as hell, but it was fun with just the right ingredients to make it engaging and entertaining.
Fast forward twenty years and you can see quickly where this review will end up. First of all, can you think of any summer blockbuster that doesn’t involve the earth or at least some major city like New York getting blasted by super forces? Pick any of the plethora of superhero movies out there and you will know that this plot is (to say the least) tired. Oh so tired. Granted, it’s even more visually stunning in 2016 than it was in 1996. Super special effects in 2016 though are no big deal. Even the cheaper movies can afford special effects, at least like those made in 1996. Trying to go over the top on special effects these days is nigh impossible. We’ve seen it all so many times that it’s a good thing that if we see this movie in a theater we don’t have a fast forward button to skip over them.
Many but certainly not all the characters are back from 1996. Unfortunately the ones who are missing were crucial to sustaining the first movie, principally Will Smith. Jeff Goldbloom is back and looks great twenty years later. Judd Hirsch doesn’t look like he’s aged much either. Brent Spiner is back too and gets more than a bit part. Dr. Okun must have gotten excellent physical therapy while in his twenty-year coma, because he’s hardly out of bed before he is bounding down the halls of Area 51 on his alien hunt. We also learn (or at least infer) that Dr. Okun is gay.
President Whitmore’s little daughter is now in the White House herself, as chief of staff, while her father suffers from what seems to be depression after his leadership saving the world. The earth is supposedly united and peaceful (kicking alien ass will do that to a species, especially when they are worried about a return visit), except possibly in Africa where David Levenson quickly encounters Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), and African warlord with enormous pectoral muscles and a hankering for alien meat. Needless to say from tremors on the earth and the moon along with hulking entities that mysteriously appear on radars … they’re back, they’re much bigger and they are pissed. Time for earthlings to come together and invent a new Corbomite maneuver. Unfortunately, there’s no Captain Kirk here, but there is David Levenson and the now fully restored Dr. Okun to puzzle through how humanity will survive this time.
There are new characters. Captain Hiller’s son Dylan in the first movie is channeling his absent dad (dead, but cause of death not quite described) as a fighter pilot like dad, played here by Jesse Usher. How the earth is governed is not quite spelled out but the U.S. president (Sela Ward) seems to have an oversized role amongst all this new brotherhood. Once the alien attack starts though out go our communications satellites. This time though we revert to a newer technology to keep in touch: yes, shortwave radio instead of Morse code!
The movie does move along at a brisk enough pace but the characters this time are far less engaging while the movie suffers from an overdose of alien attack syndrome. The supposedly scientific explanations don’t make much sense and at times troopers are so busy shooting at aliens that it reminded me of a slightly better version of Starship Troopers. In short, this movie may not escape a Rifftrax commentary in a few years. And if you enjoyed the many implausible encounters in the first movie (like between the First Lady and the fighter pilot’s fiancée), wow, buckle your seatbelts because there are heaps more here.
It won’t spoil the plot to let you know that we beat the bugs again, with the help of a little extraterrestrial intelligence. Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing the aliens win. At least that would have been different.
If your standards in popcorn movies are low, by all means go see Independence Day: Resurgence. It’s not a bad movie, just not nearly as engaging as the first one and so rife with cliché and stereotypical characters it’s hard to care if any of the major characters get blown up by bugs. Not many actually do, of course, which means there’s a good chance for another sequel, as the end of the movie makes clear. Maybe based on this experience I’ll wisely skip any next sequel.
2.8 out of four stars here.