There’s quite literally no room in the credits of Independence Day: Resurgence to fully name every special effects compositor, match-mover or pre-vis supervisor. Column after column includes a handful of mere first names and last initials.
It makes sense given how director / co-writer Roland Emmerich’s sequel similarly abbreviates much of the entertaining brawn of its 1996 forerunner and blunts the identifiably iconic stamp placed upon it by him and co-writer Dean Devlin.
Here, Emmerich and Devlin are two of five (!) credited writers on a film that throws together at least three disparate drafts and, to be honest, many more competitors (including Emmerich’s own 2012) into a blender. By shotgunning the concoction down your gullet, they hope you’ll pay no mind to the non-nutritive substance and simply enjoy the flavor.
Perhaps you just might by the final act, which finally moves Round 2 of mankind’s battle with genocidal aliens into a place of strategy and ’splosions while throwing everything at you — up to, and including, a school bus of endangered young’uns.
Two decades have passed since we barely survived a close encounter with aliens trying to pummel, plunder and then put an end to our planet. Today, the Earth Space Defense system presents a rainbow coalition of the willing — monitoring the stars to unilaterally protect our now politically utopian, conflict-free planet from further attack. (The outposts stretch as far as Saturn.) We’ve also strip-mined tech the aliens left behind, making society more convenient, travel easier and Earth safer than ever.
Perfectly timed to a global victory celebration, the intergalactic bullies return — with a mothership so large it boasts its own gravitational pull. Why the aliens don’t just yank everything on Earth skyward rather than just plopping most of Asia onto the United Kingdom is one of many nagging inconsistencies. See also: Why couldn’t we anticipate the assault? On a planet purportedly free of petty differences, one African warlord somehow blocked all access to a downed alien ship sending a distress signal. Or why, if the aliens can seize control of their tech, they don’t simply turn systems we’ve stolen from them against us. Or why, if our alien POWs are celebrating, they would offer up any intel through that human-as-marionette thing they do.
To much “or, or, or” gets in the way of “more, more, more.”
“They like to go for the landmarks,” quips David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), one of many familiar faces pulled back into the fray. Once a satellite technician, David is now the head of Earth Space Defense. He has fared better than former U.S. President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman). Once rousting the troops and flying beside them, Whitmore has become a doddering, disoriented shell due to debilitating visions from his long-ago psychic connection to the aliens. Pullman gets another crack at a St. Crispin’s speech, but his usual wackadoo nuances just feel too crisp-y instead.
Will Smith’s character is absent, killed off as payback for actorly disinterest. But Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, John Storey and the late Robert Loggia all return as well — one with respectful brevity, one with unbelievable luck, one with a callously quick death, one with a hilariously overwrought death and one who finds just the right hints of levity.
As for Independence Day: The New Class, all incoming characters of note are uniformly terrible. To a man (and woman), they all turn out to be pilots, and the only traits of interest for some, however tenuous, are connections to characters we already know. Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) is the stepson to Smith’s character and Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) the beleaguered President’s daughter.
Of those without famous family ties, Rain Lao is played by Angelababy, a Hong Kong model seemingly cast for her Q Score with the Chinese crowd. It’s one of many ways Resurgence cravenly courts that critical audience, complete with a plug for digital message service QQ and a custom set piece a la Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Then there’s top-billed Liam Hemsworth, stretching for the swagger with which Smith so skillfully taunted the aliens … and pulling plenty of muscles in the process. In his Jake Morrison — your standard-issue Pilot with an Attitude® — the concept of leading-man charisma suffers an extinction-level event.
Here are highlights of what these pilots say: “Make them pay.” “We all lost someone today.” “No one else dies today.” “It’s July 4th. Let’s show ’em some fireworks.” It makes “Welcome to Earth” seem comparatively majestic. All of the other new faces seem like the start of a joke to which Emmerich can find no punchline: “So a warlord’s son, a psychiatrist and a beltway bureaucrat walk into a spaceship …”
While it’s a logical leap for us to have coopted alien technology, Resurgence is too lazy to envision what that world might look beyond weapons of war. And aside from a boilerplate beef between Dylan and Jake (whose names you’ll likely forget halfway through the movie), far too little is made of a remark about “royalty versus orphans” — sons of those who saved the world versus those avenging the fallen.
Thank goodness, then, for a late plot contortion that elevates the stakes to involve planets unknown to us. At that point, Emmerich embraces the cheerful lunacy of the original’s third act — a kitchen-sink display that leaves nowhere to go but Intergalac-dependence Day.
But whatever enjoyment you find is more of an OK-fine white flag than a willful surrender to masterful spectacle. Though consistently slick, the visual effects in Resurgence boast all the awe of a software upgrade. Nothing approaches the original’s Lady Liberty laid low like a drunk sleeping off a bender, the greatest White House explosion of all time or the tidal plumes of hellfire rendering cities into dust.
Miniatures, mattes and perspective manipulation forced Emmerich into resourcefulness 20 years ago. Here, he has foolhardily outsourced too much of the wonder to folks like Stephen K.