Somewhere—most likely buried in an urban dictionary or muttered under the breath of millions of geeks worldwide—is the term “Dumb Fun”, followed by nothing more than a still picture of a gigantic disc hovering over the White House, impaling its blue ray of death upon the architectural representation of America itself. 1996’s Independence Day is a staple of “checking your brain at the door” cinema, and nothing in this movie is particularly articulate. Aliens attack Earth and a gaggle of heroes assemble the most random assault in the history of film, ultimately succeeding by tapping into alien wifi and uploading a computer virus into their network. No, Independence Day was not smart, but it was an absolute blast that still elicits giddy high-fives among film buffs worldwide to this day. Fast forward 20 years later and director Roland Emmerich – the Monet of mindless destruction – returns with the next chapter in the now-franchise, Independence Day: Resurgence.
We live in a different world, one where alien technology has afforded us an advantage in preparedness, and countries from around our planet have remained united after our previous tussle with the extraterrestrial terminators. America remains the superpower, apparently, as this story once again ditches global storylines in favor of keeping the lens focused primarily on characters from the good ol’ USA. When a warlord summons our returning alien expert, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), to investigate the recent activation of a long-dormant ship from the previous invasion, he quickly surmises that trouble is on the rise. A first-contact of sorts is attempted and we decide, against David’s better judgment, to play a little offense this time.
Unfortunately, not far behind is the real threat: a massive, virtually globe-spanning alien ship with the capability of completely altering Earth’s gravitational pull. This time we are not witnessing a few random landmarks being decimated, no sir. In this day and age of wanton cinematic destruction, we get to ride shotgun as the alien vessel essentially drops China square in the heart of London. It’s a magnificent sight to see, and does an admirable job of raising the stakes for our latest invasion.
Obviously, it wouldn’t be “Independence Day” without random character coincidences and insane happenstance – this series has a formula, and common sense has no business being part of it. Both former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner – yes, he’s still alive!) are jettisoned back to sanity after being psychologically alerted to an incoming invasion. Jake (Liam Hemsworth) is a loveable pilot with a habit for breaking the rules – Emmerich’s version of Han Solo – and happens to be in love with Whitmore’s pilot daughter, Patricia (Maika Monroe). Don’t forget that Jake is in a stand-off of sorts over a failed test mission years prior with another pilot in Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher, given the unfortunate task of filling in for an absent Will Smith), Captain Hiller’s son from the first film. One more thing: Jake has a random connection that puts him square in the sights of David because…oh yea, did I mention it already? Coincidences. They’re everywhere.
I don’t mind ridiculous – not if you can make is as positively joyous as ID4 – and this story is bonkers, but if so much of this movie is such a direct descendant of the original, why did it have to be so damn boring? This thing is a visual fiesta of destructive delights, and even runs nearly 30 minutes shorter than the previous entry, yet it just…drags…on. The brilliant wonder of ID4 was how it magnificently weaved numerous plotlines and absurd story threads into the tastiest American cheese we could snack on. It was absolutely delicious. Resurgence duplicates so much of that template it is three inches shy of a remake, yet it never once recaptures the goofy fun of punching an alien in the face or the thrill of Randy Quaid sacrificing himself as he dealt the final blow straight up that alien keister.
How do you have one of the most enigmatic and quirky actors of his generation in Jeff Goldblum, and then give him absolutely nothing interesting to do except babble off random exposition and stand stoic for the camera? How can you have the balls to fill the role of the son of Will Smith, and this kid fails to have even an ounce of Big Willy’s style? And are you REALLY going to play snippets of one of the greatest movie speeches in Whitmore’s original address, only to then give another talented actor a stab at a similar speech that just happens to be written by a 3rd grader? Don’t even get me started on a battle strategically timed down to the minute, and somehow manages to last at least an hour after the clock expired. When the best thing about your enormous invasion opus is the blandest Hemsworth brother wailing ‘AHHHHHHHH!’ every time he jams his ship through a tight crevice and a ‘did you pee your pants?’ joke, you’re doing it wrong.
The final 30 minutes does right some of these wrongs, as the plot accidentally stumbles on cleverness and even a bit of fun bleeds through. Unfortunately, it’s not enough of a resurgence to squash the very worst possible outcome a modern-day sequel like this could have: I just wished I was watching the original. If the safe, squishy blandness Independence Day: Resurgence is any indicator of the quality for the inevitable sequel, I hope the aliens win next time.
Welcome to nerf.