Independence Day: Revenge... uh, Independence Day: Reckoning... no, that’s not right. Retaliation? Requiem? Retribution? Ah, Resurgence, that’s it. Some suits in a boardroom must have combined their brainpower for that one. I’ll save you some time, guys: Independence Day 2.
Independence Day: Resurgence comes twenty years after its predecessor, a patriotic alien invasion film. I’m surprised it took them this long, considering how much money the first one made. Roland Emmerich is back with a resurgence (sorry), to do what he does best: blow things up.
The aliens are back too, predictably with a bigger ship. The story is exactly what you’d expect, and makes use of a few major locations, among them the White House, the desert-borne Area 51, and a moon base. Yes, we have a military base on the moon now.
Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman reprise their roles as a stammering scientist and (the now former) president, and a few other familiar faces also return. Joining the party are Charlotte Gainsbourg in a curious casting choice – von Trier to Emmerich is a big leap – pilot Liam Hemsworth, and Maika Monroe as his girlfriend. Conveniently, she’s also a pilot, and even more conveniently, she’s the former president’s daughter. All the characters in this film seem to know each other, and oh are there a lot of characters.
First, the good. Emmerich knows exactly what he’s doing and the film plays to his strengths. It is overwhelmingly action-heavy, and the special effects reflect the gigantic budget. The sequence where London is obliterated by a warship is particularly spectacular, and it isn’t alone in its destruction. If Emmerich likes one thing, its annihilating major landmarks in gratuitous detail. It’s also a good looking film, if a little derivative of the too-slick visual style that has come to define science fiction cinema in the years since the first movie.
So Emmerich can shoot an action movie competently enough, sort of like a lobotomised Spielberg, but can he write one? He doesn’t seem to think so because he recruited four others to help him out. Five writing credits; and it shows. There is so much going on, and there is such an over-abundance of characters that the otherwise straightforward plot becomes a little incomprehensible. In addition to the characters I mentioned earlier, the film establishes about fifteen more of what could be considered major players. New characters are still being established halfway through the film’s two-hour runtime. It’s like the writers refused to cut any of their contributions so they just left it all in there.
This wouldn’t be a problem, except that when you have so many major characters (not to mention the myriad supporting ones), you can’t have any one of them dominate the screen time, or it becomes unbalanced. So instead, Goldblum and Pullman don’t have a lot to do, disappearing for stretches of the film. It’s even worse for newcomer Hemsworth and especially Monroe, who are hastily developed so yet another character can be introduced in the next scene. The end result is that you don’t feel anything when they are in peril, because you don’t know enough about them to care.
My only other problem with a film that I’m surely over-thinking, is the logical consistency of the story world. Now, I try to judge a film on its own merits, but Resurgence frequently makes reference to the events of the first film. There’s a photo of the presumably deceased Will Smith hanging in the White House, and the “events of twenty years ago” are mentioned numerous times. This means I have no choice but to follow the logic of the original which, ignoring the obvious exception of the Earth being attacked by alien spacecraft, was a relatively realistic film. At the very least, the human characters had only the resources of 1996 at their disposal. In this film, ostensibly set in the present day, those humans possess an armada of futuristic fighter jets and weapons, and a military base on the moon, complete with a laser cannon. A space laser cannon. This is explained in some throwaway dialogue about us having “hybridised” the alien tech left behind. All that in just twenty years? I don’t think so. The ace pilots that command this inexplicable fleet are called the International Legacy Squadron. Yes, someone actually says those words, in that order. I want to know which of the five writers came up with that one so I can personally high five him. Was it you, Roland? I know it was you.
If you can get past the fact that so many less interesting characters leave Jeff Goldblum with a pittance of screen time, Independence Day: Resurgence is a lot of fun. The explosions and SFX are positively Emmerichian, the heroes are easy to get behind, and Maika Monroe confidently makes the step up from indie thrillers to the big budget blockbuster. Also, Bill Pullman has a totally radical beard which is worth the ticket price alone.
Alex Marsden studies film at Monash University by day, and watches movies all night.