Talking Movies: Independence Day: Resurgence

Talking Movies

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

The Plot:
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.

The Background:
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.

The Review:
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.

A group of young, sexy newcomers leads the fight against the renewed alien threat.

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.

Returning character are shocked to learn of the aliens’ return and haunted by their experiences.

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.

I find it difficult to believe that humanity was able to rebuild and excel as much as they have.

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.

The Nitty-Gritty:
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.

The destruction is definitely bigger but I wouldn’t necessarily say it was better…

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.

After taking down the convenient alien Queen, humanity is recruited into an interstellar war.

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.

The Summary:
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.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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.

Talking Movies: Independence Day

Talking Movies

Released: 3 July 1996
Director: Roland Emmerich
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $75 million
Stars: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, and Randy Quaid

The Plot:
When a series of flying saucers suddenly appear over and attack every major city across the world, United States President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman) is forced to mount a desperate counterattack alongside a rag-tag resistance, including ungainly MIT-educated satellite engineer David Levison (Goldblum) and gung-ho Marine F/A-18 pilot and aspiring astronaut Captain Steven Hiller (Smith).

The Background:
It’s easy to forget now but, back in the late-nineties, the writer/producer/director team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were a hot commodity in Hollywood, especially after the box office success of Stargate (ibid, 1994); in fact, it was during the promotion of Stargate that the two came up with the concept for Independence Day, an alien invasion movie that they intended to be based more around a large-scale, co-ordinated attack rather than subterfuge. Featuring cutting edge special effects to render the aliens’ devastating attack upon numerous iconic American landmarks, Independence Day (confusingly saddled with the subtitle ID4) was the highest-grossing film of 1996 and made nearly $820 million at the box office. Although receiving some criticisms, the film was generally well-received, won numerous awards, and kicked off a resurgence in blockbuster disaster movies, which quickly became the trademark of Emmerich and Devlin, before finally getting a long-awaited sequel some twenty years later.

The Review:
If there’s one thing Independence Day does really well, especially for its first half or so, it’s build up a great deal of tension regarding the alien invaders; we get a sense of the size of the alien mothership right away when it passes by the Moon and causes ripples on the surface. Almost immediately, the alien signal is picked up by the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (S.E.T.I.) and the American military begins to mobilise (more like scramble) to figure out what, exactly, is about to enter Earth’s orbit. Though the alien mothership, and the subsequent city-sized saucers, are somewhat simplistic and cliché in their “flying saucer” design, there’s a foreboding, ominous nature to their construction and you can tell, even before they start blasting away at major American landmarks and cities, that these E.T.’s are not here to make peace.

Despite his critics, Whitmore galvanises the nation, and the world, against the alien threat.

Naturally, the U.S. President is the figurehead for trying to calm the nation and sort out first a plan of communication and then, later, a plan of attack. At the start of the film, Whitmore is facing political backlash since he’s been forced to make a lot of compromises since being elected to office; with many in even his cabinet believing him to be a weak and ineffectual leader, Whitmore is eager to keep the peace and to not set off an interstellar war but finds himself caught completely off-guard when the aliens unleash their devastating attack. It’s an interesting leading role for Pullman, one that sees him having to juggle a myriad of conflicting emotions as Whitmore struggles to find a way to please everyone and hold together himself, his family, and the nation in the threat of global annihilation. It also, of course, results in one of the most iconic rousing speeches in all of cinema as Whitmore inspires the last remnants of humanity to strike back against their aggressors in a last-ditch attempt at survival.

David, a committed environmentalist, becomes the unwitting saviour of humanity.

Compounding matters is the personal animosity between him and David; some time prior to the film, David punched Whitmore after suspecting him of having an affair with his then-wife, Constance “Connie” Spano (Colin). David, who is something of a technological prodigy, is able to decode the alien signal and determine that they are planning a co-ordinated attack but, while he is able to ensure that Whitmore, the Joint Chiefs, and Connie are evacuated safely, his warnings come too late to actually stop the initial attack. David, despite being little more than a cable repair man, is constantly portrayed as the smartest person in the room; a committed environmentalist, David is driven to help others and to save the world despite his emotional attachment to Connie and his frosty relationship with Whitmore and, although he’s not a member of the Presidential cabinet, he quickly becomes an instrumental figure in figuring out how to outsmart and outgun the invaders.

Will Smith brings his charisma and sass to the film, which cemented him as a a leading man.

When the aliens arrive, the U.S. military is, understandably, put on high alert; as a direct result, Hiller finds his leave cancelled and he begrudgingly returns to his regiment; in many ways, the aliens’ arrival means big things for Hiller, who wishes to become an astronaut but had his application rejected, potentially because of his relationship with stripper Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox). Hiller enthusiastically joins the first counterattack against the aliens and is left the sole survivor from the campaign, which is doomed to fail thanks to the aliens’ superior technology and firepower. It’s important to remember that, at this point, Smith was still largely known for being the goofball Will from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990 to 1996) but Independence Day really helped to cement him as a charismatic leading man, especially in action vehicles such as this film. Though much of his gung-ho character is ripped from the likes of Top Gun (Scott, 1986), Smith brings a magnetism and down-to-earth likability to the role and his sass is, as always, especially on point to deliver some of the more entertaining, and quotable, moments of the film.

Russell, a dishevelled drunkard, turns out to be an unlikely hero.

While there are a number of female characters including in Independence Day, they are all largely there to simply support, and worry for, the men in their lives; even Jasmine, who is briefly seen as being a proactive and adaptable character, is quickly side-lined once the men of the film put aside their issues to formulate a viable counterattack. Compounding this is the fact that Independence Day is also bolstered by several additional characters, chief among them is Russell Casse (Quaid), a drunkard who claims to have been abducted by aliens some years prior. Russell, and his trailer park family, represent the normal, everyday people in a film largely made up of governmental, military, or other specialists but their story is perhaps the least compelling of all the characters in the film since, while it has a redemptive arc to it, they lack the magnetism and presence of the likes of Goldblum and Smith.

Despite how many characters the film has, there’s not a whole hell of a lot for the women to do.

Other supporting characters include General William Grey (Robert Loggia), Whitmore’s chief supporter after Connie, Secretary of Defence Albert Nimzicki (James Rebhorn), the cliché pushy politician who continually clashes with Whitmore and the others and advocates first for an immediate military response to the invaders and for the deployment of nuclear weapons, and Julius Levinson (Hirsch), David’s overbearing and pragmatic father and one of the standout supporting characters for his characteristic Jewish twang, the entertaining banter between him and David, and the brief injection of uncompromising faith he brings to the proceedings amidst all the chaos and technobabble. One of the more emotional sub-plots in the film involves the tragic death of Whitmore’s wife, Marilyn Whitmore (Mary McDonnell), which is one of the few named character deaths that is actually acknowledged and has a lasting impact since the film is full of mass death and destruction and the focus is generally more on soldiering through the tragedy rather than dwelling upon it.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Naturally, an important part of Independence Day is patriotism and duty; although other countries are briefly mentioned and even seen much later in the film, it is the U.S. who lead the fight against the aliens and the closest it gets to being any kind of diverse or multinational effort is the inclusion of a couple of Jewish and Mexican characters. Instead, the focus is solely on America and how they deal with the crisis; we only see American cities being attacked and other countries appear to be both clueless and leaderless until David is able to present a viable counterattack option and the U.S. rallies the remnants of humanity across the world into action.

Independence Day set the standard for disaster movies going forward.

Still, if you’re not American or much of a patriot, like me, there’s one main appealing factor to Independence Day that, even now, continues to impress and that is the depiction of wide scale destruction and devastation. As if having gigantic, city-sized spaceships wasn’t bad enough, the invaders also have impenetrable energy shields, massive Death Star-like cannons mounted beneath their crafts that can obliterate entire city blocks in a single blast, and a seemingly endless supply of smaller attack ships that are faster, heavily armed, and also sport their own energy shields. Thanks to a combination of miniatures, cutting edge CGI, and some clever camera tricks, Independence Day delivers some of the most devastating scenes of widespread destruction ever put to cinema, especially at the time; even now, the shot of the White House being blown to smithereens is an effective and iconic effect that every subsequent disaster movie since has attempted to out-do or replicate in some way.

The aliens are a frighteningly aggressive and highly advanced invading force.

Additionally, Independence Day features one of the most unique alien designs in all of cinema; far from the stereotypical “Grey Aliens”, these invaders are large, biomechanical warriors intent solely on conquering the world through brute force. For most of the film, the aliens’ appearance is, smartly, left a mystery; when they are first seen, they are a horrific mess of tentacles and sport a gruesome, skull-like visage. After the story moves to Area 51, we learn more about the alien’s physiology from Doctor Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner in a memorable, scenery-chewing role) and that they are, actually, just as vulnerable and fragile as we are but are heavily protected by their advanced technology. The aliens also exhibit incredible physical strength, durability, and a degree of psychic ability since they can speak through Okun and project images of their intended plans for the Earth into Whitmore’s head.

Their plan might be totally bonkers but the chemistry between these two is undeniably compelling.

So great is the alien threat that they are able to decimate a large majority of the United States (and, presumably, the world) in just a couple of days, reducing humanity to a rag-tag group of survivors with few resources and even fewer chances of survival. Thankfully, the survivors cobble together one of the most ridiculous and convenient plans in all of cinema history when Hiller volunteers to pilot a crashed alien spacecraft (the one from Roswell, of course!) up to the alien mothership so that David can upload a computer virus (using an Apple PowerBook, naturally!) to momentarily disable the otherwise-impenetrable alien shields. Even now, it’s absolutely bonkers and shifts the film from a desperate scramble for survival and into a massive military counterattack but it works purely because Smith and Goldblum have undeniable chemistry together; in fact, their characters are so enjoyable that it’s a shame they weren’t paired up sooner (though, having said that, it almost feels like the two should have given their lives to destroy the mothership as the film suggests purely because their scene in this moment is so poignant and it would have greatly added to the emotional impact of the finale).

The Summary:
Independence Day was a massive deal back in the day; the teasers and trailers alone were enough to hype it as the must-see blockbuster event of the year, to say nothing of the toys and various other merchandise made to promote the film. For my generation, especially, there had never really been a film like it; The War of the Worlds (Haskin, 1953) was a bit before our time and disaster movies had pretty much died out by the end of the seventies. Than, all at once, both of these genres came together in an exhilarating way; bolstered by charismatic performances by the likes of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum (always a personal favourite of mine), Independence Day may seem quite dated and trivial now but it was the real deal at the time and has easily become one of the most influential and memorable alien invasion movies in all of cinema thanks to it kick-starting a resurgence in disaster and alien invasion movies. Obviously, it’s a preposterous, almost nonsensical movie at times that asks for some pretty big leaps in logic and is far more about spectacle than substance but it’s still an impressive and entertaining film in its own right and easily the best production from the Emmerich/Devlin team even today.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Independence Day? Did you get caught up in the hype back in the day? Did you enjoy the mindless destruction and overly patriotic undertones or were you, perhaps, put off by the cliché characters and more questionable plot holes? What did you think to the performances of the lead actors and the depiction of wide-scale destruction? What are your thoughts on the aliens, their design and technology, and the way the film handled the invasion? What are your plans for Independence Day today? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment down below.