The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

 Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13)

The alien species that nearly ended humanity in 1996 returns with bigger ships and a badder leader in Independence Day: Resurgence, the two-decades-later sequel to possibly the greatest cheesy summer movie of all time.
You’re going to say something about Star Wars or Jaws or something about one of the umpteen superhero movies of recent years. But the best of those movies were, to some degree, actually good, with fun writing or smart direction. Independence Day had no nutritional value and was pure popcorn fun. It was all crackling action and big explosions with just enough “nobody is taking anything seriously” goofballness to make it all work.
Now, 20 years later in both our time and the movie’s time, a lot of what made that movie such a ridiculous pleasure has faded. First and foremostly, Will Smith’s fighter pilot Steven Hiller is gone — dead in a training accident, according to the exposition. His stepson Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) is now a star pilot of the international Earth defense force. Jasmine Hiller (Vivica A. Fox), formerly the exotic dancer, is now some kind of medical person. Dylan is still buddies with Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the daughter of former President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman). Though trained as a fighter pilot herself, Patricia now works for current President Lanford (Sela Ward), a job she took to be close to her father, who is ailing.
Patricia is engaged to another fighter pilot-type, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). He and Dylan have a beef over some pilot school incident in which the reckless Jake acted recklessly and caused Dylan to crash or something — in a movie crammed with thin and often ultimately irrelevant backstory, their fight is one of the most “backstory to be filled in later” elements of all. Jake works on the moon with his buddy Charlie (Travis Tope), who becomes besotted with the newly arrived Chinese pilot, Rain Lao (Angelababy).
Meanwhile, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is in Africa trying to figure out why a crashed alien ship has recently powered up. With him are Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a scientist whose main role seems to be to serve as someone to flirt with David (who apparently ditched the ex-wife he reunited with in the last movie? I recall no mention of her), and Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), an African warlord who fought a long ground war against aliens even after their mother ship was defeated.  For reasons I don’t really understand, David’s father Julius (Judd Hirsch) is also in this movie and for a while becomes caretaker for a group of kids — I think this is supposed to be comic relief? 
As the world is about to commemorate the attack of 20 years ago and all the progress in both world peace and world defense since then, new alien ships show up. The first one is small and different from the look of the old aliens but President Sela Ward and co. decide to blow it up, just to be safe. Before they can spend too much time second-guessing this questionable decision, a second alien ship shows up, this one looking very familiar but bigger than any ship they’ve ever seen before. It settles over the Atlantic Ocean (wiping out cities on both sides of the pond as it does so). Quickly, the humans realize this new alien ship will not be deterred with an Apple-laptop-created virus and some Fruitopia. Once again, only a few plucky humans and some cobbled together tech will be all that stands between humanity and complete annihilation.
Ah, 1996, such an odd time to look back on — post-Cold War, pre-War on Terror; post-introduction-of-internet but pre-The Internets; post-Fresh Prince of Bel Air (the show ended in spring 1996), pre-After Earth. Though in many ways it wasn’t so long ago, in other ways it feels like I’m talking about the 1920s: the war to end all wars was over, the stock market was on an eternal rise and it was nothing but Studebakers and flapper dresses as far as the eye could see. As long as we made it through Y2K, the future would be awesome!
Which is to say, some of what made Independence Day such a cheesetacularly wonderful summer movie is a set of circumstances that was unique to its time. It got into the Will Smith business at exactly the right point, giving the movie a likeable, energetic lead. Action movies didn’t have to be about anything — no allegories about drones or unintended blowback. And every summer movie didn’t feel like it had to set up a franchise. 
In Resurgence, no amount of telling us that Liam Hemsworth “plays by his own rules” is able to turn him into Will Smith, and Hemsworth is as close as this movie gets to a compelling character. Nor does the piling on of characters and plot lines substitute for one or two really appealing leads and interesting stories. In the manner of kids dumping a bin of LEGOs on the floor, the movie splats out all the old characters that it could afford/convince to return and then dumps a bunch of new characters on top and then points to the pile and says “stakes!”  
Also on the list of this movie’s underwhelming elements: The world-wide destruction is ho-hum and feels fairly crassly designed to appeal to international movie-goers rather than to move the plot forward or impress us with the power of the aliens. We aren’t, thankfully, subjected to terrorism parallels, but the world is also woefully underwritten. We get a few interesting ideas about the post-1996 world — that there are oodles of orphans, that one region of Africa fought an extended ground war against the aliens, that we borrowed their technology to improve our defenses and create what looks a bit like a nascent Star Fleet — but none of them are really fleshed out enough to be interesting. 
Instead of having a story idea, the movie feels like all it had was a marketing idea — the aliens are back! — and then jammed in a bunch of old and new characters, some of whom have very little to do in the actual plot, to keep us busy and see if this thing has enough juice to get us to an Independence Day 3. (According to Wikipedia and as evidenced from the final minutes of Resurgence, plans for No. 3 are in the works with a plot that sounds pretty similar to the final seasons of Falling Skies, the aliens invade TNT series that ended a year or so ago.)
I had low expectations and high hopes for this movie, I wanted it to be good and I had a very low bar for what “good” would mean. In some ways with my fond memories of the original and my general enjoyment of popcorn fare, I am exactly the market for this movie. But Resurgence does nothing more than offer some nostalgia bites while ignoring all the elements that made the first movie such a blast. C- objectively, D- for how annoyed I am with it.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction and for some language. Directed by Roland Emmerich with a screenplay by Nicolas Wright & James A. Woods and Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt, Independence Day: Resurgence is two hours long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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