Independence Day: Resurgence
by Philip Price
There is a bit of trivia on the IMDb page for “Independence Day: Resurgence” that talks about how, after the success of the first film, 20th Century Fox paid screenwriter Dean Devlin a large sum of money to write a script for a sequel. The story goes though, that after completing the script for what would have been the original sequel to 1996's “Independence Day” Devlin decided not to turn it in and instead gave the money back to the studio. The trivia goes on to state that Devlin did this because he felt the story didn't live up to the first film. As we are now 20 years removed from that original film and have now seen what an “Independence Day” sequel looks like this course of action only seems to beg one question: how bad must that original sequel script have been? Could it really have retreaded the beats of the first film as much as ‘Resurgence’ does? The only thing that differentiates the first film from this new one is the passage of time and how that has changed earth's technologies and defense systems while having what cast returns look a little older. The IMDb page goes on to say that it was only 15 years later, when Devlin met up with director Roland Emmerich to try again, that they felt they had finally "cracked" a story for a sequel. Though it is difficult to be downright negative toward a film story and character development certainly aren't ‘Resurgence’ strong suits and may even be the most laughable aspects of a movie that tries really hard to be funny. One can't help but feel that, in this scenario, "cracking" the story only meant they were offered a lot more money than before. If ‘Resurgence’ does indeed deliver the story that Emmerich and Devlin thought more justified the existence of a sequel to their 1996 feature it can only now be concluded that they were only going to repeat themselves more with the scrapped screenplay. While ‘Resurgence’ certainly finds moments of dumb fun and some rather spectacular action sequences given special effects have improved greatly in the last two decades it is more or less a retread of what we saw in that original movie in terms of ensemble cast and humans versus aliens. Granted, the question easily posed in response to that statement is, "what did you expect it to be?" and the answer to that is that they at least try to find a new way into that same old story.
In trying to find light in the darkness we'll talk about the pros of the film first. Fair warning: there aren't many. The first thing that happened in the movie that actually made me sit up and pay attention was the performance of Bill Pullman. The man who played President Thomas Whitmore in the original has largely been plagued with bad dreams and psychological breakdowns since what is now referred to as "the war of 1996" occurred. While we only get a brief glimpse of the man's mentality initially when the film finally comes back around to Pullman's character the guy sells it. There are a number of performances in the film and overall the movie suffers from a lack of development for any certain clique of characters by virtue of the fact it's trying to spread itself too thin while remaining inside a strict, two hour box, but despite having a limited amount of screen time and despite the fact he could come off totally insane if not played correctly it feels as if this was at least one of the more interesting places Devlin and Emmerich (along with three other screenwriters) decided to take one of the original characters. And all the way through, Pullman's performance sells it. Sure, they replay his iconic speech and sure, they try to give him a new rousing moment, but these aren't the moments you'll remember this time around-more it is the admiration and loyalty his appearance inspires and the courage he still holds that Pullman plays like a badge of honor that has plagued him for 20 years. All of this to say, there seems to have been genuine effort on Pullman's part whereas Liam Hemsworth (who is supposed to be the new Will Smith of the movie even though they have a new kid playing Will Smith's son from the original) is more or less doing his best Maverick impression. Next, there is the final battle sequence between a massive alien running around in a desert landscape with alien warships, school buses, and the weapons that have come out of the fusion of human and alien technology since the War of '96 all masquerading around together in a beautiful storm. It is legitimately breathtaking on the big screen. And while Brent Spiner returns as Dr. Brakish Okun with some degree of pleasure and joy his character feels more shoehorned in than anything while everything else feels like what we expect from conveyor belt summer blockbusters: empty spectacle.
And so, let us talk about the cons. Though it is depressing to imagine how long the numerous creative minds in the art, sound, and visual effects departments toiled away on this $200 million B-movie that finds its rhythms more in non-stop action beats than the character moments that made the original so heartening despite its obvious dumbness the worst part is that Emmerich has crafted a film that feels lazy despite the no doubt extended hours put in by those aforementioned artists. One could easily find merit in the rather breezy pace of the movie and the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously, but in that ‘Resurgence’ is still trying to be “Independence Day” this sequel feels more like a sequel made by a fan of the original who remembers that film through rose colored glasses rather than a sequel made by someone who worked on and understood the caveats that made the original more than a piece of spectacle, but something movie-goers from all walks of life could unite behind and have fun with. ‘Resurgence’ is not fun. One could argue that at least it's not boring, but that doesn't make it fun. There are no thrills to be had in watching Hemsworth's Jake Morrison live on the edge and break all the rules and there isn't a single spark between he and his onscreen fiancée, President Whitmore's daughter Patricia now played by Maika Monroe rather than Mae Whitman, that inspires viewers to root for their survival. There is no time given to Jessie T. Usher to develop his character of Captain Dylan Hiller much less become as charismatic as his movie father, but worst of all is the fact ‘Resurgence’ absolutely destroys any of the affection the audience once had toward Jeff Goldblum's Dr. David Levinson as this new movie essentially turns him into something of a hotshot asshole whose head is now bigger than the spaceship that takes over our planet. Also returning from the first film is Judd Hirsch as Levinson's father, Julius, whose relationship kind of defined a fair portion of the tone of that original film. This father/son camaraderie was executed in a fashion that wasn't typically seen in big Hollywood blockbusters and thus gave a level of credibility to an otherwise loud and mindless movie. That ‘Resurgence’ makes Goldblum's character this hotshot head of alien defense that has seemingly made him too good to speak to his father or treat women with any kind of reverence kind of ruins the whole experience. Granted, I don't have a special bond with the original, but in having re-watched it just before seeing the sequel you notice these things.
And so, yes, confession time: I didn't watch the original “Independence Day” until three or four years after it was released. It was good fun and I can understand now why I should kind of regret missing it on the big screen. The point is to relay I wasn't at a stage in life where I was able to comprehend the cultural impact the original established in 1996 and despite obviously coming around to see the movie a few years after the storm had settled-it was never a film that defined a large part of my adolescence. And so, the thought of Emmerich and Devlin resurrecting the movie in hopes of creating a new franchise for 20th Century Fox always felt more desperate than anything else. There was never going to be a satisfying way to make a sequel in the fashion they have tried to do here. Bringing back a large chunk of characters from the original while at the same time introducing a roster from the new generation relegates the first hour of the film to pull double duty in not only re-establishing where all the old characters currently are and how all the new characters got to where they are, but also in having to move a narrative forward. The film goes from President Whitmore, to Patricia who is now working in the White House as it explains that she and Jake are engaged as well as friends with the deceased Captain Steven Hiller's son despite tension between Dylan and Jake to the introduction of a new (minor) character in General Joshua Adams (William Fichtner) who runs the Earth Space Defense organization from its Area 51 headquarters for the sake of showing that the aliens Earth kept from the 1996 battle are beginning to wake up after an apparent twenty year coma. Oh, and by the way-Jake is stationed on a moon base as a kind of first line of defense if the aliens are in fact to return where the movie gives him a best friend in Charlie (Travis Toth) who develops a crush on their General's niece who is also a pilot. The film then jumps to the re-introduction of David Levinson in a scene meant to inform viewers that only one ship remained on earth after the '96 attack and has been unreachable due to the fact a warlord controlled the area it sat on. This scene also tells us Levinson will have a new love interest in the form of Charlotte Gainsbourg and that it will try to create more (unnecessary) comic relief from a bumbling assistant played by Nicolas Wright. In all fairness, this scene also introduces us to warlord Dikimbe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) who is one of the other few pros Resurgence has to offer. All of this and we haven't even seen Hirsch's Julius, Spiner's Okun, or Vivica A. Fox's return as Jasmine Hiller yet much less have a grasp on what the main conflict is. By trying to do too much “Independence Day: Resurgence” ultimately accomplishes nothing which is summed up perfectly in its final scene that sets up the what is likely a never to be seen third film confirming that what we've just watched wasn't really a movie, but rather one long, extended trailer.
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