Oh, Fuck Off.
Warning: This review discusses what some will call the plot. But if you never see the film, there’s no spoilers.
Half the UK is now in a state of shock in the wake of a vote to leave the European Union. Desolate “Remainers”, who polling data suggests are disproportionately young and university educated, have been quick to brand “Leavers” as stupid, nostalgia-driven patriots. A caricature perhaps, but the decision of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper and Vote Leave politicians, who double as fans of the 20th Century Fox owner, to invoke both the title and imagery of the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day as a slogan for their argument, since regurgitated by the victors, hasn’t done the movie’s imbecilic reputation any favours, nor made Leavers look intellectual by association. Independence Day was a surprise smash hit back in its day (while the notably more irreverent and interesting Mars Attacks was not), despite being one of the most idiotic films of the ‘90s. It was shamelessly jingoistic, populated by broad, one dimensional characters, juvenile attempts at humour, and execrable dialogue. It’s a mystery, then, why the Leave camp thought to use it as shorthand.
But if you’re a fan of Independence Day, and someone must be as it’s currently the 39th biggest hit ever at the US box office, adjusted for inflation, then there’s good news. Its stock is set to rise. Resurgence, released almost exactly 20 years later, and set just so, is one of the stupidest, nonsensical blockbusters of all time. In fact, it’s the most Cletus-like summer movie since its predecessor. But whereas Roland Emmerich’s “original”, itself a bastardisation of many superior sci-fi movies and TV shows, had structure for dummies, with each act clearly labelled by date (July 2nd, 3rd and 4th) and the story built around a dead simple aliens attack, humans regroup, humans counterattack paradigm, this one-tooth, lazy-eyed sequel trips itself up trying to lay the ground for something like a franchise, or an Independence Day universe, or something no one in their right mind could want.
The movie’s only interesting idea, that in the wake of the “battle of ‘96” – that’s the events depicted on screen, not the audience’s attempt to engage – humankind has leapt forward using hybrid technology, engineered from what the aliens left behind, and has evolved to become a single, cooperative global order with a shared sense of purpose, is nothing but preamble. The world may be more enlightened, but with the same brain trust writing the movie, it’s still populated by groups of boring, flat characters, designed to operate in clusters as the plot demands; simpletons trading in infantile jokes, mild sexism, stock traits and a clunky tendency to bring up aspects of their backstory in conversation – information the characters in the scene already have but the poor and disinterested audience doesn’t. Five men wrote the screenplay, but they couldn’t work up a single dynamic scene between them. You remember lines like, “our only chance is to die”, and the spectacle of an alien queen running after a school bus full of kids in the Nevada desert, but only because they defy belief. Next to this, Randy Quaid destroying a ship the size of Washington with the nose of a jet fighter seems reasonable.
When material’s this thin, the last thing you want is a movie that adheres to the modern standard of existing to set up another movie, but in keeping with Emmerich’s derivative philosophy, that’s what you get. The changes to alien tactics amount to variations on a theme – they now drop bits of one torn up city onto another using a 3,000 wide ship with its own gravity. The real point of differentiation for the sequel, is the introduction of a 2nd species and the Earth as a front in an ongoing interstellar war. But to get to the scene where the sentient alien sphere that sounds like a teenage girl, modelled on the Discovery’s ball module from 2001: A Space Odyssey, explains all this, you have to nod yourself awake during scene after scene of monotonous destruction, dogfights, pensive generals staring at screens, and characters, whose conflicts and/or dynamics with each other, have been sketched in the lightest of terms, going through their story advancing motions.
Bill Pullman’s twitchy and stoic, Brent Spiner’s wired, there’s a kid who wants to fuck a Chinese pilot who exists to court their growing box office, Liam Hemsworth and his girlfriend, Pullman’s daughter, are looking for a house (“it’s still there” he assures her, in one of the movie’s flat jokes) and there’s a pen pusher who admires the warrior code of, er, an Africian Warlord, who becomes his role model. These are your heroes. Well, them and Jeff Goldblum. His reprise of the thankless character of yesteryear keeps everything moving; he always knows what to do. It would generate more intrigue if he didn’t, but the maestro behind this movie didn’t get where he is today by making the audience work.
So Independence Day: Resurgence delivers big setpieces without first building to them, and asks you to cheer for characters who play like a sketch troupe’s parody of the real ones. After muddling along for the best part of two hours, filling your head with more questions than you’ll remember by movie’s end, Emmerich, in the abrupt final scene, slots in the setup for the next one – a visit to the alien’s home planet for some reciprocal planetary destruction, and some would say, hypocritical genocide. “We’re gonna kick some alien ass!” cries a trying Brent Spiner, who once played TV’s most measured intellect on a show about tolerance, diplomacy and universal understanding. Emmerich probably imagined cutting to black and hearing cheers rise up from cinemas around the world. Instead he’s made a movie that induces groans and the sincere hope that Part 3 will never be made.