INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (Fox)
Dir. Roland Emmerich, Script. Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner
Plot: In 1996, humanity defeated an alien race. Twenty years later, they fancy a rematch.
In case you don’t know quite who he is, let me give you a small introduction to Roland Emmerich – the German born filmmaker may not be known as an auteur in the same lists that Spielberg and Kubrick reside, but this man has not only forged his own niche in Hollywood, but did more to effect modern cinema than nearly anybody else. For Roland Emmerich is the king of disaster – the Cecil B. DeMille of destruction porn. In a world where Michael Bay is the puberty-ridden twelve year old given the switch to a fireworks factory, Emmerich is the conductor of computer-generated orchestras, with aliens, explosions, earthquakes and tsunamis working in perfect harmony. This is the man behind 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and of course the film that started the disaster movie genre as we know it, Independence Day.
Resurgence comes 20 years after its predecessor, an event movie which redefined what event movies were, and how much money they could make (adjusted for inflation, approaching $1.5bn). But, while two decades has allowed for huge strides in the technology behind event movies (and bloody hell does this film take advantage of them), Independence Day: Resurgence‘s main point of reference seems to be its predecessor. The references, nods and visual cues harking back to that first film are endless, and this probably works to the film’s detriment – despite the film advancing technologically, the style and narrative is almost unchanged, as if caught in a time loop.
Its a screenplay that has five writers, which historically doesn’t usually end well, and it shows. The narrative is scattershot beyond coherence, and while its admirable that Emmerich attempts to get a lot of characters and perspectives in there (and in a 120 minute runtime, which is tight by any blockbuster’s standards), we don’t get enough time with anybody. Sure, everybody in the film has their own story and motivation, but just when we start to care about somebody in particular, we’re whisked away to another narrative and another and another. The plot feels light as well, almost as if it doesn’t have any weight to it at all, despite the fact it revolves around the Earth being invaded by a mothership the size of an ocean (hilariously depicted as a military man advises Sela Ward’s President that “It’s touch down over the Atlantic – all of it”), which then proceeds to drill into the centre of the planet.
In fact, it’s actually stakes as colossal as that, stacked on top of each other, that ended up numbing me to the fate of parallel universe (it really is – much alien technology acquired by humanity is about) post-invasion Earth completely. The sheer number of threats is confounding, and all it does it make the entire film feel convoluted. Furthermore, despite there being about fifteen or so different characters that are given star billing (or so it feels), every single one of these things seems dependent on Jeff Goldblum, who after saving the world with a well-placed flash drive in the original film has been adopted as some sort of nerd Messiah, appointed and ordained with the pretentious title ‘Chief of Earth Space Defence’. Goldblum basically has to do everything in the film, occasionally with the help of pilot Jake (Liam Hemsworth), but even he only seems to help Goldblum overall, and any decision he makes leads more often than not to problems. The rest of the characters get a moment or two, but usually nothing more, and the fact that Goldblum doesn’t have much more screentime than anybody else reflects just how cluttered Independence Day: Resurgence actually is.
With that plot having far too many cogs getting in the way of each other, the large ensemble cast don’t have much time to shine – although, barely any of them take their opportunity. Although Independence Day: Resurgence swims in the ocean of its own nostalgia, the best performance comes from the new character played by Liam Hemsworth, who is assured and charismatic as maverick pilot and orphan Jake, but his character unfortunately does less than I expected him to do. The returning big names of Goldblum and Pullman phone it in for the most part, although Goldblum’s insane coolness makes him impossible not to enjoy when he’s on screen, and Pullman sells President Whitmore’s newfound struggle with ‘Alien Residual Condition’ (one of the many elements of this film that makes zero sense, but Emmerich films have never relied on sense, preferring to outright shun it) relatively well. There’s some re-casting too – Whitmore’s daughter is all grown up and played with conviction by It Follows star Maika Monroe, and the cute child of Will Smith and Vivica A. Fox has also reached adulthood. Once Smith told Fox he’d like $50m to reprise the role of Captain Steven Hiller, Hiller was written out and replaced by his son, played by relative unknown Jessie T. Usher, who will remain unknown on the strength of his display, which suggests he was open-cast by a group of blind people at an audition in which he was the only candidate. Usher offers absolutely nothing – he reads his lines like cooking instructions, his expression resolutely dull, and even when he does attempt to prove that he can emote, certain characters’ deaths hit him like a gentle breeze and he returns to being a doorknob within seconds.
All these things, granted, declare Independence Day to be pretty messy overall – but in case you forgot, this is Roland Emmerich directing a disaster movie. Emmerich is a man who revels in 3,000 mile-wide alien motherships which have their own gravitational field, and the Earth’s core being drilled into for the purposes of a petrol stop for our enemies. Somehow, the sequences of destruction tow that thin line between being completely and hilariously ludicrous and impossible to believe, while also being biblical in scope and invention. Cities are lifted into the sky (against the laws of physics that the film purports, which are already wrong) in such a manner that will drop your jaw and make you want to go to a confession booth in a Catholic church. His efforts to cover all of the characters aren’t too bad, and if two or three characters were cut he might have actually pulled the whole thing together. However, Emmerich doesn’t quite embrace the unbelievableness of the plot as he usually does, and instead goes for a more serious tone, although he can’t quite resist straying into 90s-trademarked cheesy dialogue at times.
While Emmerich is a saving grace, almost making the spaghetti of a script untie itself and somehow fall in line, Independence Day: Resurgence is a classic case of too many cooks spoil the broth. It’s a film in which five people have come together, with all of their ideas, and managed to create the ‘meh’ film of the year. The movie increases the stakes, and decreases the investment – same goes for the wealth of characters and the dearth of subplots. And despite the insane level of destruction on display, so colossal it took nine separate special effect companies to construct, the massiveness feels tired. Back when Emmerich blew up The White House in 1996, it was like nothing anybody had ever seen. Now as the aliens invade all over again, it feels like everything else.
BEST WATCHED: The flying buildings demand a cinema screen, but only if you’re prepared to sit through the rest of it.
While it’s not been officially announced, Independence Day 3 is more than in the works (the ending of this film pretty much sets up the premise of any future instalment), and Fox should green-light it barring financial issues with Resurgence (which doesn’t seem likely, as the film is tracking for a solid, if unspectacular, opening). Before that, Liam Hemsworth doesn’t have anything major lined up (maybe ID4 3 is sooner than we think?), Bill Pullman has a small role in a Lyndon B. Johnson biopic, Maika Monroe has about seven different small movies lined up, and Jeff Goldblum continues to be the coolest man in the world, announced to appear as the ‘Grandmaster’ in Thor: Ragnarok.