Released: 24 June 2016
Director: Roland Emmerich
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $165 million
Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, Jessie Usher, Jeff Goldblum, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Bill Pullman
It’s been twenty years since the Earth successfully defeated an alien invasion and, since then, humanity has reverse-engineered the alien technology to fortify their defences in anticipation of a second attack. However, humankind is overwhelmed when a gargantuan alien ship arrives and begins drilling into the Earth’s core, forcing the survivors to scramble to launch another desperate counterattack.
Independence Day (ibid, 1996) was a massive financial hit back in the day; the film was the highest-grossing movie of 1996, made nearly $820 million at the box office, and inspired a renewed interest in blockbuster disaster films. The film was accompanied by a slew of merchandise and helped catapult star Will Smith into a leading man in Hollywood. And how did 20th Century Fox capitalise on this success? By waiting twenty years to produce a sequel! To be fair, writer/producer Dean Devlin had been planning a sequel since as early as 2001 but, despite being inspired to write a sequel in response to the September 11 attacks, the project was ultimately abandoned when he and director Roland Emmerich were unable to hash out the story. The two finally settled on a treatment in 2011 and planned to film two sequels back-to-back, however Fox refused to meet Smith’s salary demands and his character was written out of the plot. The filmmakers resolved to further explore the alien’s society and take advantage of the time jump to tell a generational story, and aimed to outdo the destruction seen in the first film. After finally settling on a title, Independence Day: Resurgence released to lacklustre reviews and failed to match the success of its predecessor with its $389.7 million box office. Although Emmerich’s plans for a third film were thrown into doubt by this result, he remained hopefully that the final chapter would be produced someday.
It’s easy to forget just how big a deal Independence Day was when it first came out; it was massively hyped, accompanied by loads of trailers and posters and merchandise, and my friends and I often found ourselves watching the VHS time and again back in the day. Since then, there have been other, better alien invasion and disaster movies, for sure, and the film has probably lost a lot of its shine but it’s fun enough to return to every now and then for Will Smith’s charismatic performance, Jeff Goldblum’s trademark quirkiness, and Bill Pullman’s rousing speech (as well as the special effects and all that good stuff). However, I can’t really say that I was super hyped for a second film, especially one that took twenty years to be made; maybe if the sequel had come within five years of the first I might’ve felt more enthusiastic but, as it was, it just seemed like a waste of time and way too late in the day.
One element where the film really loses points is in the absence of Will Smith; obviously, these films are ensemble pieces and aren’t about any one character but Will Smith was a massive highlight of the first film and, while I like the idea of young, sexy newcomers having to fend off a new alien invasion, none of them have even half the charisma of the Fresh Prince. In his place, and largely supplanting all of the roles from the first film, are three youths, two of whom are grown-up versions of characters who were children in the first film: Lieutenant Jake Morrison (Hemsworth), his fiancée (and daughter of former President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman)) Patricia Whitmore (played by the gorgeous Maika Monroe), and Captain Dylan Hiller (Usher), and the stepson of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller. It’s revealed in the film that Steve died between films during a test flight and Dylan has followed in his heroic stepfather’s footsteps to become Captain of the Earth Space Defense; however, while these three had a tight friendship prior to the events of the film, there are lingering hostilities between Dylan and Jake after their competitive nature almost led to Dylan dying during a test flight with Jake.
The three are joined by Lieutenant Rain Lao (Angelababy), daughter of the Moonbase’s stern commanding officer, Jiang Lao (Chin Han), and Lieutenant Charlie Miller (Travis Tope), Jake’s best friend and wingman who immediately falls for Rain and serves as the film’s lovable, if goofy, comic relief who I was honestly surprised to see survive to the end. As before, a big part of the movie is concerned with following the efforts of the military in scrambling to answer the aliens’ renewed threat. Primarily represented by General Joshua T. Adams (William Fichtner), the military are absolutely overwhelmed when another alien mothership, this one even bigger than the last, arrives in response to a distress call sent by the invaders of the first film. Of course, Independence Day: Resurgence also features a number of returning characters; in the twenty years since the last film, Thomas Whitmore (still largely refereed to as the President or “Mister President” by other characters as a sign of respect) has been plagued and driven to near madness by recurring nightmares and visions of the aliens’ return. David Levinson (Goldblum) now commands a great deal of authority as the director of the Earth Space Defense and the American government’s leading researcher on extraterrestrial technology; although he reunited with his ex-wife in the last film, she appears to have died between movies and is replaced by a poor attempt at a romance between David and Doctor Catherine Marceaux (Gainsbourg), who is researching the telepathic link individuals such as Whitmore share with the aliens. David’s father, Julius (Judd Hirsh) also inexplicably returns, now a successful author, as does Doctor Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) who, despite clearly being killed in the first movie, is revealed to have merely been in a twenty year coma and who suddenly awakens as the aliens draw closer to Earth.
One of the primary aspects of Independence Day: Resurgence that never sat right with me is the idea that humanity was able to reverse engineer the alien technology to create clean energy, establish a space colony on the Moon, retrofit their iconic death ray into a defensive system, and basically craft a utopia for themselves in a mere twenty years. I have no doubt that humanity at its peak might have been able to accomplish some of this but the Earth was decimated in the first film; countless billions were lost, entire cities and infrastructure wiped off the planet, but yet this film expects me to believe that whatever was left of humankind was able to pull together enough resources to make space-capable fighter jets and all kinds of ludicrously futuristic technology that didn’t really exist in the first film? It’s pretty crazy and I think the filmmakers just got a bit carried away; utilising alien technology to improve our weapons and defences would have been much more believable but I guess if you’re gonna go big, you go all in! This ridiculous notion results in the reinforced Area 51 and the aforementioned Moonbase, which is populated by an international crew and who monitor space for potential threats. Naturally, Jake is the hot-headed, insubordinate pilot whose reckless actions initially see him initially branded as a liability but who ends up being instrumental in the eventual counterattack (of course, it also helps that he’s engaged to the ex-President’s daughter and is good friends with David). One aspect of the film that isn’t as prominent as it could have been is the idea that the alien invasion actually continued after the events of the first film; one of the alien ships landed and its inhabitants continued the war on the ground, where they clashed with Dikembe Umbutu’s (DeObia Oparei) forces for ten years and it is through Umbutu’s prophetic visions and drawings that the arrival of a mysterious sphere is first hinted at. This sphere arrives in our solar system via a wormhole and, fearing a possible alien attack, President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) makes the decision to pre-emptively shoot it down, unaware that it is actually there to assist humanity.
Independence Day: Resurgence seems to be trying a little too hard; it goes big, but maybe too big, in its attempts to not only recreate the hype and feel of the first film, but to surpass both. Independence Day was kind of like lightning in a bottle but the sequel seems like a shallow attempt to try and out-do its predecessor in every way. While a lot of this is reflected in the film’s far more bombastic scenes of global destruction and devastation, it’s also in some of the performances; try as Hemsworth and Usher do, they’re unable to recreate exactly the same witty dynamic as Smith and Goldblum. It pains me to say that Goldblum appears to have been let off the leash, turning David into a caricature of himself rather than naturally progressing his character thanks to the actor overindulging his trademark quirks and mannerisms.
Of course, the actual aliens eventually do make their dramatic and violent return to Earth; arriving in an outrageously titanic alien ship that allows the invaders to literally land on the planet, the aliens cause more destruction than ever before thanks to their ship exuding its own gravitational pull. This literally tears the surface of the Moon to shreds and upends London and China, turning skyscrapers, vehicles, and the very land itself into hazards that our characters have to desperately navigate through to survive. As much as I criticise the film for trying too hard, it’s hard to not be impressed when the mothership ploughs into Earth’s atmosphere and absolutely wrecks cities through its sheer mass alone. Additionally, their weapons technology is just as daunting as ever; their impenetrable shields alone continue to make them a formidable and nigh-invincible force and not even their own death ray is capable of getting through their shield as they simply destroy all of the Earth’s retrofitted satellite defences as if they weren’t even there. While much of the film is focused on the desperate attempts by the world’s military to fend off the alien invaders, there are a few scenes depicting Julius leading some kids through the wreckage and carnage that exists primarily to add further stakes to the finale. As before, the Earth’s attempts at a counterattack are initially futile, despite all their bluster and gung-ho enthusiasm to avenge their loved ones, largely because humanity repurposed all of the alien technology except their shield-generators for their fighter jets. This results in another doomed aerial assault that leaves Jake, Dylan, and Rain presumed dead after the alien Queen lures them into trap that leaves them stranded on her mothership before destroying the remainder of Earth’s satellites and killing President Lanford.
Yes, this time around the aliens aren’t just “locusts” who ransack world after world for their natural resources but are revealed to be under the control of a Queen and consist of an always-convenient hivemind. This results in a desperate final battle against the Queen, who is protected by her own personal energy shield, that ever-so-helpfully results in the invaders being destroyed once she is finally taken down. Although the alien prisoners rejoiced at the arrival of their Queen just as President Whitmore and Dr. Okun feared her presence, they reacted in violent fear of the sphere, which turns out to house an artificial intelligence (Jenna Purdy) that gives the aliens an anticlimactic name (“Harvesters”) and reveals that the invaders have destroyed so many worlds and civilisations that the sphere has amassed a veritable army of refugees on a distant world who are committed to destroying the Harvesters forever. A highly advanced intelligence, the sphere is the last of its kind and the primary target of the alien Queen, who bursts free from her ship in a massive set of battle armour specifically to get to the sphere and extract the location of his planet from its memory. In a desperate bid to protect the sphere and take down the Queen, President Whitmore sacrifices himself to lure the Queen out and put a stop to this latest invasion attempt. In the aftermath, Dr. Okun is thrilled to reveal that the sphere is so impressed by our tenacity that it wants humanity to head out into the stars and lead a massive counterattack against the Harvester’s home world in one of the most blatant and ill-advised sequel hooks I’ve ever seen.
Look, I enjoy a big, dumb sci-fi film as much as the next guy but Independence Day: Resurgence is just trying way too hard; the young actors are attractive and enthusiastic enough but the film just lacks the same star power and pizzazz as the first film. Since the sequel hits many of the same beats as the original (incalculable global destruction, a futile aerial assault, a rousing speech from President Whitmore, and a desperate final gamble), it’s nearly impossible to not make comparisons between it and the first movie and, despite being bigger in almost every way possible, Independence Day: Resurgence ultimately fails to live up to the standards set by its predecessor and the expectations of twenty years in Development Hell. Yes, the devastation is impressive and the special effects are incredible (the aliens in particular look more fearsome than ever…when they are actually seen) but the film just doesn’t land in the same way as the original. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the weight of expectation, maybe it’s the outrageous levels of destruction but it just feels like the magic is gone and all that’s left is a shallow attempt to recreate a blockbuster hit long after its time in the sun.
Could Be Better
What are your thoughts on Independence Day: Resurgence? Do you think that it lived up to its predecessor or do you agree that it was twenty years too late? What did you think to the far more devastating scenes of global destruction and the depiction of the far larger alien ship? Did you buy into the idea that humanity was able to so capably rebuild society after the first film and repurpose the alien technology? What are your thoughts on the changes made to the aliens and their hierarchy? Would you have liked to see more films continuing the story and what are your plans for Independence Day today? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment down below.