It's taken 17 years, but Fox has at last dated Independence Day 2 to hit theaters during (when else?) the Fourth of July holiday frame in 2015. The sequel will pick up in real-time, some twenty years after the first movie. However, co-writers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (the latter is returning to direct) have revealed that ID4-2 takes place in an alternate present-day reality, where humanity has spent the last two decades harvesting the alien technology featured in the first movie.
Cast-wise, Independence Day 2 is expected to bring back characters from the first film - like former U.S. president Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and MIT graduate-turned cable repairman Dave Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) - but Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) won't be among them. Similarly, the cast will be half new characters, some of whom may become more prominently featured in a third installment (assuming the first sequel is a satisfactory box office hit).
Devlin and Emmerich had mapped out the ID4 sequel as a two-part narrative arch, under the working title ID Forever Part I & II. The latter has informed Collider that "I think [Fox] decided to only do one first" for the time being, and has set James Vanderbilt (the writer for Emmerich's White House Down) to polish off the script.
That's understandable, given that Emmerich's disaster blockbuster formula isn't so fresh nowadays (following ID4, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012), and the self-contained nature of ID4 gives all the more reason to wonder if demand for a sequel is so high after many years. Not to mention, the number of alien films released in recent years - a handful of which proved to be mediocre or worse - make it harder to get enthused about yet another blockbuster that feature extraterrestrials in an apocalyptic scenario (the end-of-the-world sub-genre is, likewise, starting to feel over-saturated at this point).
As for Smith's lack of involvement, Emmerich told the NY Daily News:
"Will Smith can not come back because he's too expensive, but he'd also be too much of a marquee name. It would be too much. We have like maybe half of the people that you know would know from the first film (in the script) and the other half people who are new."
What's funny is that Smith has made it known that he doesn't want to turn into "the sequel guy," and yet many of his oft-rumored upcoming projects are followups to his previous tentpole successes (Bad Boys 3, Hancock 2, I Am Legend 2, etc.). While M. Night Shyamalan's After Earth - which stars Will and his son Jaden - has performed below expectations, the sci-fi film has still managed to take in $172 million worldwide; meaning, the ex-Fresh Prince's ability to get projects green-lit probably won't take that big a hit (and it won't change his mind about not becoming the go-to guy for sequels).
Moreover, Will Smith's recent performance in Men in Black III was lacking and felt almost phoned-in; it's no surprise that he's not interested in making a fourth movie right now (in my opinion). That's to say, his focus appears more on tackling challenging dramatic roles at this stage in his career anyway, along the lines of those from The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds and the upcoming Winter's Tale.
Maybe Smith would come back if Emmerich were developing Co-Dependence Day instead?
Independence Day 2 invades theaters on July 3rd, 2015.