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Roland Emmerich’s 1996 sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day is one of those movies that people remember with more fondness than it probably deserves. If you go back and watch it now, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about at the time. It’s just silly popcorn disaster porn that had the bright idea of blowing up beloved monuments and the good fortune of catching Will Smith as his star was on the rise. But at least it was competent. The same can’t be said for its disposable and shockingly inept sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence.
Since Smith is too savvy these days (and too rich) to be seen anywhere near this mess, the endless first third of the movie is a role call of some old and new faces — and strap in, because there are a lot of them. There’s the stoic and unmemorable Jessie Usher as the heroic, flyboy son of Smith’s dead character; Liam Hemsworth as a cocky space pilot who so badly wants to be Tom Cruise in Top Gun that he should have “Maverick” stenciled on his jumpsuit; and Maika Monroe as his love interest, who also happens to be the daughter of the president from the first film (Bill Pullman, who also pops in long enough to get strangled by an alien’s tentacles). Arthouse darling Charlotte Gainsbourg also swings by as a Franglais-speaking shrink harboring a tense, romantic past with another character that’s forgotten as abruptly as it’s first suggested.
Representing the paycheck-cashing veterans of “The War of ’96” are Jeff Goldblum as the resident brainiac (doing that Goldblumian thing where he distractedly stares off in the middle distance and says some techno-hokey gibberish that feels profound), Judd Hirsch as his proud papa (who gets to gawk at green-screen tidal waves and say things like, “Oh, sweet Moses!”), Brent Spiner as the nutty professor who snaps out of his 20-year coma just in time to threaten to kick alien ass, and Vivica A. Fox (who’s so unimportant to the story she should be wearing a red away-team uniform). There’s also a female president played by Sela Ward (yay!) and Chinese actors Angelababy and Chin Han, whose presence doubles as an insurance policy to rake in some overseas bucks in case Resurgence goes belly-up stateside like Warcraft. Together, they try to figure out why the aliens who have been dormant for two decades are now waking up so grumpily and threatening humanity a second time. Sadly, no one says the line, “It’s like they’re…resurging!”
So yes, Earth is under attack. Former enemies must band together for the greater good. And tourist attractions get blown to smithereens. (Goodbye, London.) But this time around, there’s nothing spectacular about it. Independence Day: Resurgence has all the urgency of ticking off a to-do list. In the original film, Emmerich — the Teutonic P.T. Barnum of CGI destruction — made the White House blowing up feel thrillingly taboo, like a provocative act gone viral. In subsequent films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, he milked that formula over and over again. But at this point, there’s just no milk left, just a chapped teat and an angry cow. The money shots look cheap… and they’re a snooze. I can’t remember ever feeling less invested in the fate of mankind. The only mild chuckle in entire the orgy of wreckage comes when Goldblum cracks to one of the new cast members, “They like to take out the landmarks.” I said, mild.
Apparently, what these aliens also like is the magma at the Earth’s molten core. For some inexplicable reason, they want it. So naturally, there’s an arbitrary race against time for our heroes to stop them from wiping us out and getting their slimy tentacles on it. What? Why? Who? When? How? I realize we’re dealing in the realm of kill-crazy space monsters here, but Resurgence doesn’t make a friggin’ lick of sense. That, in and of itself, is not something I’m against. I’ll go with nonsense as long as there’s something else to hold onto — some shred or scintilla of smarts or spectacle to keep us entertained and distracted while we’re being condescended to. But Emmerich and his army of screenwriters (including original co-writer Dean Devlin) don’t even bother with that. Instead, what we get is a film whose idea of wit is having Liam Hemsworth take a leak on alien space ship while giving it the finger. Which, in a sense, is exactly what Independence Day does to its audience. F