[Pictured above: the short term ramifications of the Brexit]
Independence Day: Resurgence bears the distinction of being one of the dumbest films I’ve seen that still technically does everything right. There was never any need for a sequel to the eminently 90’s ID4, yet here we are with a film that somehow manages to be even bigger and more explody than dozens of city-wide spaceships annihilating all of the world’s major cities.
The special effects are fantastic. They are in service of the most absurd and cliché of concepts, but they look really good. The cinematography oscillates wildly between natural daylight and so dark that it’s hard to see what’s going on. Sometimes the camera gives a clear idea of what’s happening, and sometimes it’s so overwhelmed by chaos that it’s impossible to tell what part of the screen we’re supposed to be focusing on. One could assume this was director Roland Emmerich’s intention. This certainly isn’t his first rodeo of chaos, and there’s a certain visceral fear that the disorientation invokes. But the confusion often comes with no build-up and the bounce between character perspectives makes it even more difficult to determine what we’re supposed to care about on the screen.
And that, of course, leads us to an even bigger problem with the movie. There are a lot of protagonists in this film, far more than were remotely necessary. Some of them, like a random African warlord who arbitrarily joins Jeff Goldblum’s party, feel like they only exist to check off a box saying “This country’s people group has been represented in humanity’s last last stand.” But then there are characters like (John Oliver-lite) Floyd Rosenberg, who seem to exist only as the peanut gallery; constantly exclaiming that things are dangerous, or weird, or unsettling… just in case the audience couldn’t figure it out for themselves.
Which leads to another technically correct, but in practice, absurd, element to the film. Nearly every speaking character has an arc. They’re all exceedingly dumb arcs, but they’re there. Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) has a strained past with the deceased Steve (“We-Couldn’t-Get-Will-Smith-to-Return”) Hiller’s son. Jake’s girlfriend, Patricia Whitmore, is played by Maika Monroe in this movie, taking over the role that 7-year-old Mae Whitman played in the original. (Despite having grown into a talented, charismatic actress who can carry a film, 20th Century Fox clearly didn’t think Whitman was hot enough to return and date Liam Hemsworth.) Patricia gave up the demanding life of a fighter pilot for the demanding job of a White House assistant so that she can better care for her ex-president dad (Bill Pullman). Former President Whitmore has grown crazy and bearded since The Great Alien Attack of ’96. Hemsworth’s buddy, Charlie Miller (Travis Tope), just wants to meet a hot girl, and whaddaya know, the apocalypse delivers him one! Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) must deliver a bus full of school kids to his son (Jeff Goldblum) at the heart of the battle at Area 51. Why? Because nothing adds stakes like a bus full of school kids!!!
Shallow arcs and ridiculous plotlines demand a level of acting charisma that only Jeff Goldblum is truly able to keep up with this time. None of the vanilla pilot characters are charismatic enough to pull off the line “Get ready for a close encounter, bitch,” but Will Smith could have. Bill Pullman’s functional over-intensity worked well in ID4, but this time the actor seems drunk the whole movie, stripping any empathy from the role. Brent Spiner makes a surprising return as the not-actually-dead Dr. Okun. His relationship with husband Dr. Isaacs is both funny and touching, and awkwardly manages to garner as much screentime and plot focus as the deaths of half the world’s population when the entirety of Asia is dumped onto Europe.
Independence Day: Resurgence is a passably entertaining spectacle. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t amusing to look at for two hours. It’s occasionally great in a so-bad-it’s-good way with a few laughs that were actually intentional. But it has nowhere near the charm that made the original a classic Schlockbuster. This franchise belongs in the 90’s, especially with a soundtrack heavily featuring R.E.M.. Resurgence promises another chapter to round out the trilogy, and that’s just fine, though unlikely considering it’s current box office take. But if Roland Emmerich manages to pull off that impossible feat, Jeff Goldblum is going to need some backup in the charisma department for this iteration of mankind to survive.
3D Recommendation: This conversion is legit masterful. Unfortunately, it’s often muddied by frequent, incredibly dark scenes. But if you’re gonna watch Resurgence, there’s no reason not to see it as big and poppy as you can.