Independence Day: Resurgence is B-movie CGI disaster mayhem that is elevated, only slightly, by the few fan-favorite characters who return.
Twenty years since the events of ID4 (aka Independence Day), humanity has been preparing for an inevitable return of the malevolent extra-terrestrial race that nearly decimated our world in 1996. United by their brush with annihilation, nations around the world worked together as one people to rebuild what was lost - and establish agencies to plan for future attacks. As director of the Earth Space Defense program, MIT graduate-turned-cable technician-turned world-saving computer hacker, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), utilized crashed alien ships and systems to develop new weapons, detection systems, and defensive measures for protecting Earth from outside threats.
Unfortunately, following two decades of peace, Levinson's prediction comes to pass - as an even larger alien armada appears with sights set firmly on harvesting Earth's resources. Left with no more time to arm themselves, old allies, such as former U.S. President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and a new generation of young fighter pilots, including the late Captain Steven Hiller's step-son (Jessie Usher), all brace for war with the alien raiders - and, this time, it'll take more than a computer virus to destroy the invading threat.
Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich's Independence Day remains one of the most beloved summer films of the 1990s, thanks to a quality blend of big budget effects, a clever sci-fi story that borrowed from real-world history, as well as an entertaining ensemble cast - including a breakout blockbuster role for Will Smith. Interest in a followup remained high among fans, 20th Century Fox, and Emmerich, alike but, sadly, that sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, comes fifteen years too late - offering little, aside from familiar characters and bigger set pieces, in its attempt to make the sequel as engaging to modern audiences as the original was twenty years ago. Instead, Independence Day: Resurgence is B-movie CGI disaster mayhem that is elevated, only slightly, by the few fan-favorite characters who return.
The concept of humanity spending two decades co-opting alien tech is an interesting starting line for Resurgence and Emmerich peppers in several intriguing science-fiction ideas; yet, very little of the ID4 sequel is developed beyond its flashy outline - not the characters, not the plot, and not the world of this parallel Earth. Expansion of alien backstory is nonsensical and undermines the simple all-consuming force that ID4's locust-like creatures imposed. The original Independence Day was both creepy and exhilarating because it was set in a familiar world - allowing Emmerich to deliver a worst-case scenario underdog tale of ill-equipped humanity fighting back against a faceless and over-powered conquerer. Parallels to America's battle for independence weren't just a gimmick, they provided a meaningful through-line on which the story could evolve - specifically: the human spirit, not just the American spirit, should prevail in times of adversity.
However, in Resurgence, theme (much like everything else in the film) is nothing more than a shallow attempt at recreating ID4's success - this time with bigger explosions and wider alien ships. Fans of Emmerich's first installment should be able to follow the core narrative and will recognize several returning faces (though, not necessarily the ones they might be hoping to see); even so, Resurgence's story and returning characters violate the prime directives of any sequel - especially one that is intended to revive a dormant IP: do not convolute the franchise and do tarnish the memory of fan-favorite heroes.
In expanding the ID4 mythology, Emmerich gets lost in a whirl of elaborate tropes - introducing heady (but at the same time dopey) science-fiction that prioritizes outright zany universe-building over memorable character work. Where moments in the original Independence Day were over the top (and even silly), Emmerich spent enough time unfolding his alien mystery and developing his characters, as well as the stakes, so that every sacrifice, tragedy, and victory was impactful. In the sequel, beloved heroes are turned into cartoonish shells or swallowed-up in CGI pandemonium without a sincere send-off - much less a lasting effect on surviving characters. By the time Resurgence builds to a point where central players are in peril, an uneven mix of senseless destruction and disjointed humor, make it impossible for the film to earn its biggest sendoff. The film's climax, both in emotion and action, falls completely flat.
Established ID4 fans will likely be eager to see Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman reprise the roles of David Levinson and Thomas Whitmore, respectively. For his part, Goldblum gets to ham-it-up, which may be enough for Resurgence to entertain certain viewers at the most basic level, but the character's arc this round is void of relatable human drama. Emmerich gives Levinson a new love interest in Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) but the pair's connection has no effect on the ESD director or his story - and, their chemistry is par-for-the-course in a film where the other two romance subplots center on twenty-something fighter pilots. Sadly, Whitmore is even worse off - sidelined as a mentally disturbed and physically impaired shadow of his Presidential self for most of the film. Pullman manages to recapture a glimpse of Whitmore's charisma before the credits roll but too much damage is already done to match the character's significance in Independence Day.
The new generation of hot shot pilots, lead by newcomer, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Rain Lao (Angelababy), and Hiller's now grown step-son, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher not Ross Bagley), along with Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe not Mae Whitman) are serviceable lenses through which to view the various aerial combat sequences. That said, their performances and roles within the story are thinly-drawn at best and, often, downright melodramatic - paling in comparison to what Will Smith and Harry Connick Jr. were given in ID4.
It's worth noting that William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Joey King, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, and Deobia Oparei are also in the film but, with the exception of Spiner (who takes another spin in Dr. Okum's madcap shoes), these talented performers are stiff cogs in a machine, utilized for a joke or plot beat, and nothing else. Hirsch's part, in particular, is an unfortunate consequence of Emmerich's scattered vision - dusting Julius Levinson off for a completely disconnected misadventure that offers nothing of substance (and, frankly, takes time away from exploring characters who are more essential to this story rather than the last one).
Regardless of its shortcomings, Independence Day: Resurgence could deliver enough summer spectacle for viewers who are especially nostalgic about the original film or simply want to be immersed in brainless CGI visuals. The movie's trailers are pretty indicative of what the final film is offering in terms of special effects and disaster set pieces - with the added bonus of finally seeing how the ID4 aliens actually fight on the ground (not just in the skies). For that reason, viewers who want to invest in premium formats (3D and IMAX 3D) will see a minor boost to movie's best trait: onscreen effects. Still, since modern moviegoers have become desensitized to CGI destruction, the Resurgence action sequences will be (for many) pristine but tedious animated cut scenes - lacking in consequence or connection to human life. Buildings and planes are sucked up into the sky but, where ID4 kept its audience invested, thanks to crews of real-life extras running through iconic city streets, Resurgence paints with a lifeless digital brush - setting its battles in empty desert locales, underground hallways, and dingy ship interiors.
Where the real-time twenty-year gap between ID4 and Resurgence allowed ample time for Emmerich to reinvigorate the would-be franchise, the filmmaker ultimately delivers a convoluted sequel fifteen years too late. Independence Day: Resurgence has all the problems of Emmerich's less-successful ensemble disaster movies (such as 2012) - with the added baggage of a world, characters, and story that viewers are emotionally invested in. As a result, while Resurgence may be worthy of a matinee for fans who still want an Independence Day sequel (regardless of the quality) as well as moviegoers who simply want summer sci-fi escapism, most viewers should skip this film - and continue to savor their fond memories of ID4.
Independence Day: Resurgence runs 120 minutes and is Rated PG - 13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language. Now playing in regular, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Independence Day: Resurgence episode of the Total Geekall podcast.