We’ve seen a slightly different trend appear in the in franchise-dominant 21st century blockbuster market recently; that of the sequel to a long-gestating property that essentially acts a reboot but also stays within the same timeline. I’ve heard a few terms for these including “rebootquel” and “requel” but the one I like best is “legacyquel”. We got several of these last year, Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens fit the bill. Independence Day: Resurgence is clearly another example of a legacyquel, but it’s coming at it from a different perspective to every other one I can think of.
All the ones listed above and more were always franchise properties, they all had multiple films in their series already, Independence Day was not like that, it was a single, self-contained film. I have to admit that I have a great deal of affection for Independence Day, what can I say? I was the right age when it came out and saw it countless times. Another reason I find it interesting to revisit now though is that it represents, along with the likes of Titanic and Armageddon, the last period where the biggest studio movies could be concept-sold disaster movies with practically zero franchise potential. And a disaster movie is what Independence Day is, even if its disaster has a sci-fi cause.
In that sense, revisiting the world of Independence Day twenty years later, in real life and on-screen time, gives Resurgence the chance to explore a scenario we haven’t really seen before; the long-term effects of an unsuccessful alien invasion. In its opening act, the film appears to be doing just that, though not very imaginatively. We learn that mankind has rebuilt and remained at peace with one another, and that the alien technology has been incorporated into machinery and weapons used by people now. Nothing surprising there. We also get plenty of expository dialogue inserted with the blatant purpose of catching the audience up.
There is one considerably more interesting sub-plot though; when we first meet David Levinson (a returning Jeff Goldblum), now the head of some government agency relating to the aliens, he’s in central Africa where we learn that one of the 1996 spaceships actually landed, and the local population, headed up by warlord Dikembe Umbutu (DeObia Oparei) was forced to fight a 10-year ground war with the aliens. The small amount we see from this demonstrates more thinking than most of the rest of this movie, and it’s a shame this angle is not examined further.
The film doesn’t jump right into the massive destruction director Roland Emmerich specialises in, building up over its more character-centric first act. It does all move rather quickly, to the point of feeling rushed, taking place entirely over the course of one day. Once the new invading spaceship arrives, Emmerich unfortunately opts for the bigger=better approach and has his new monstrosity cover “the entire Atlantic ocean”. The CGI-filled destruction that follows lacks the power of the original’s record-setting work with models and pyrotechnics, and there’s nothing here to come close to the iconic shot of the White House exploding (though it tries a comedic riff on that). Instead we get to see London obliterated for what feels like the umpteenth time.
At least the film doesn’t insult the audience’s or its’ characters’ intelligence by having anyone acting shocked or wondering what is going on. We all know, and the rest of the film is concerned with finding a solution to the alien invasion.
Alongside Goldblum, a number of the original characters return to mixed results. Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore is now a bearded recluse paranoid about the alien’s return and only gets the briefest of exchanges with Goldblum. Also prominently re-appearing is Brent Spiner’s bizarrely named comic relief scientist Dr. Brakish Okun, who’s been in a coma since the first movie but gets to have some fun here. Most notably absent however, is Will Smith, who turned down the movie and subsequently his character was written to have died in the interim.
Instead our new young lead, who is also a young engaged pilot out to prove himself, is played by Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth. Hemsworth here is essentially the antithesis to what Will Smith was in the nineties. He brings absolutely nothing to the movie, he’s bland, he’s boring, and he completely lacks any discernible sense of charisma or enthusiasm. He’s not solely to blame though, the grown-up son of Smith’s character is also a fellow young pilot, played by Jessie Usher who on the evidence of this could rival Hemsworth in the charisma vacuum stakes (incidentally, the two characters are rivals in a fairly useless subplot).
More disappointing is Maika Monroe (It Follows, The Guest) as President Whitmore’s daughter, who also not-so-coincidentally happens to be Hemsworth’s fiancé. I imagine many non-horror fans won’t have seen her before and might well come away thinking she’s a bad actress. The romantic subplots are mostly lifeless, though a cringe-worthy one involving Hemsworth’s best friend and a star Chinese pilot is thankfully not dwelt upon.
Considering these new generation stars are given the spotlight here, it’s a shame that Randy Quaid’s children, particularly Miguel (played by James Duval in the original) aren’t mentioned or featured at all. What became of them? The older actors generally fare a bit better, Jeff Goldblum is more of a supporting role than I’d hoped but is great as always, while William Fichtner offers solid support as a no-nonsense General who finds himself, in one of the film’s more audacious moves, in an unusual position. Bafflingly, Charlotte Gainsbourg also turns up, which was quite the surprise.
The movie is filled with poor dialogue that the actors often can’t make much of, but it is at least self-aware and attempts to thread in humour throughout the proceedings. This is a deeply silly movie, and it knows it, a fact demonstrated by choosing to open with clips from Independence Day’s most roundly mocked moment – the president’s cheeseball speech. Unfortunately a lot of this doesn’t land at all, there’s even an entire section involving David’s father (Judd Hirsch) driving around a bunch of abandoned children that could be excised entirely.
While the events displayed are literally bigger than those in the first movie, Resurgence somehow makes them feel like a less significant event. I’m not saying the movie should have been longer, but its pacing could have been adjusted to give a little more weight to the disaster on hand. We get little sense that the end of the world is imminent. In fact, it initially appears that the movie is over prematurely, but then it morphs into a different kind of sci-fi movie that’s amusingly welcome. I doubt anyone would have predicted what the final set-piece of this movie is.
Still, it almost completely lacks the corny sense of triumph and awe that the original possessed. I think part of this may be due to the absence of composer David Arnold, who hasn’t worked with Emmerich since 1998. There are a few hints of his memorable themes but the new score (by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander) is totally forgettable, and when the original’s end credits fanfare hits, welcome as it might be, it feels a little unearned.
Independence Day: Resurgence is for the most part, a very silly, poorly written and blandly acted blockbuster, but I had a big smile on my face for a good deal of it. A lot of this is to do with my affection for the original I’m sure, but it’s a fun enough summer movie. At the same time, it is devoid of any factor to make it stand out and endure the way the original did and has. To be honest the only noteworthy aspect of it is it casually featuring a gay relationship in the middle, a commendably unusual move for a film of this size. Otherwise it succumbs to the exact opposite of what I’d begun by saying about the original, obviously setting up a further instalment. In 1996, Independence Day was, like it or not, a record-setting landmark movie. In 2016, Independence Day: Resurgence just feels like one of a long line of current big sci-fi/action movies, disposable entertainment and nothing much more.