There’s an old adage that applies to a surprising amount of things in life: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s prevalent in nearly every aspect of the everyday grind. You stick with your same job because you know you can do it, you vacation to the same places because you know you can unwind there. Or, to use a more personal case, you continue to drive the same battered-up 2004 Toyota Matrix because you know it’s cheaper than buying from that Maserati showroom down the road (hey, one can dream). Simply put, it’s comforting to settle in with what you know, because what you know never changes - it always stays warm, familiar and most importantly, enjoyable.
Hollywood, in its current era of refurbishing practically every single movie franchise for another run, employs a mild alteration on such a phrase: if it ain’t broke, stick a facelift on it anyway and make some money. Oddly enough, it’s continuing to work - this practice of giving the old a new set of duds and shoving it back out into the light of day has continued to rage on for some time now. Sometimes this has worked out pretty well - Planet of the Apes and Dredd are two prime examples of IP renewals that were handled brilliantly. But the norm for many of these revivals is that they simply didn’t need to happen. Nobody needed another Elm Street movie for example. We most definitely didn’t need yet another Ninja Turtles return either, and the new Ghostbusters was already riding an acidic wave of dissent to its existence months before it even got released. And - count them - a total of FOUR Transformers movies, with a fifth on the way, is probably about as asinine a historical legacy to film as Donald Trump’s upcoming presidency is to.. well, anything. But hey, who thinks of the necessities for a cultural medium, especially when there’s yet more toys to make money from?
Similarly, there absolutely was no need for a sequel to Independence Day, and certainly not one as ludicrous as Resurgence is. For all of its pristine CG and moments of hi-octane dogfighting and shootouts, it is a movie that is both predictable in nature and just plain stupid in delivery. It follows a plotline so telegraphed you’d think the re-animated corpse of Samuel Morse wrote the screenplay. It even has a scene with Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and a group of terrified kids attempting to outrun a monstrous alien queen in a school bus, and it still manages to be boring. Its predecessor was never exactly the most intelligent movie in the world, but the 1996 effort was - and still is - an incredibly fun sci-fi epic. Resurgence is just a regression on the ideals that its ancestor has provided for it, and ultimately, winds up as the 2-hour movie equivalent of a tired, idea-starved Hollywood exec digging their own grave, all the while mumbling to themselves, “We really shouldn’t have tried to fix it.”
At least it gets off to a reasonable start: 20 years have passed since humanity repelled its first alien invasion, and it has reaped the rewards of this victory primarily through the ultra-advanced technology they’ve managed to salvage from the spoils that their attempted conquerors left behind. Anti-grav technology is a thing now, as are the massive steps forward that mankind has taken into the Solar System: there’s a big ol’ defense base on the Moon now, and it’s at this rather spiffy space camp for the ‘hoorah’ crowd that our main protagonists reside. Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) is one of them - he currently spends his time there employed as a heavy lifter pilot, working with his buddy Charlie (Travis Tope) on whatever kind of tasks that Earth Space Defense require of him. There’s also a pretty good reason why he’s not serving with the military base there too - his potential career as a fighter squadron pilot was eventually scuppered by his constant recklessness towards both authority and out in the field. Specifically, it nearly got his fellow flight academy graduate and the son of famed, yet now-dead Stephen Hiller (Will Smith’s role from the first movie, in case you forgot), Dylan (Jessie T. Usher), killed during a routine training exercise. Since the incident, the two could not have had greater diverging paths - their friendship is most certainly over, and Jake gets the reward of a glorious menial labour job carrying things from one moon dune to the next. Dylan meanwhile fully serves the base’s prestiged Legacy Squadron and gets to do all the PR work, like meeting the President and leading the squadron’s ceremonial planetary fly-over to celebrate the 20th anniversary of humanity’s original victory.
So yeah, there’s that. Oh, and there’s also the subtle coincidence that Jake’s fiance, Patty (Maika Monroe), is the daughter of former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman, reprising his role from the first movie). She mostly spends her time missing Jake (boo hoo) and attending to her now-sick father, who has clearly become mentally and physically weakened since the time of the last war - and, for some curious reason, still incumbently dwells in the White House where current president, Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward), takes office. So there’s connections, you see. Lots of offspring from the previous movie’s characters coming together again, like it was all fated to happen exactly 20 years on. Never mind that they don’t even bother to flesh out these characters to make them as interesting as their parents were, but more on that later.
Anyway, once the setup’s been established, aliens happen. Yup, in yet another bizarre coincidence that I’m fairly sure defies mathematical probability, it has taken exactly 20 years for the news of the first movie’s failed alien overlords to broadcast their message of defeat back to their brethren, and for said brethren to get pissed enough over it so they can come back to our Solar System for revenge. One can only wonder what kind of awful weaponry, what nefarious tactics they’ll use this time to teach us insolent humies a lesson. After all, Independence Day was all about how ludicrously inept and frail our civilization was under the shadow of a vastly superior alien race. Surely Resurgence’s nemeses would be even more terrifying and even more omnipotent than the last?
In Independence Day: Resurgence, they have a bigger mothership than the last one. And that’s pretty much it.
This would probably be okay though if Resurgence still gave a solid reason to invest in all of its banalities and derivity - but it doesn’t. It pitches itself in exactly the same way that its predecessor did - as the human race’s desperate battle for the survival against insurmountable odds. The first one already told us how that ended though, and Resurgence doesn’t even bother to switch the same story from twenty years ago in to any other direction, or offer up any kind of surprise. Worse still, it drops all of the personal arcs, the subtle human touches and the side-plots that the original had - you know, all the other reasons that made that movie so good - and replaces them all with a generic, unsatirical version of Starship Troopers that comes complete with a lot of hammy dialogue and needless cameos. And stupid. Lots and lots of stupid.
How much stupid? Well, if this sequel following the exact same storyline wasn’t bad enough, how about reiterating the fact that the aliens haven’t learned anything from the first go-around? How about each major character losing a loved one at the exact same time in the movie? How about them all responding to these losses in a manner that screams less of heart-wrenching grief, and more of, “Better sound like I’m trying, I’m getting paid for this”? How about President Whitmore suddenly, and with NO explanation, losing his half-crippled physical afflictions and suddenly becoming as fit as a fighter pilot, ready to fly to war? How about characters making sacrifices to fly suicide missions by carrying nukes into alien warships (again), even though the story’s world has anti-grav robots to do that now? How about inexplicably inserting an African warlord into the proceedings for no reason at all? How about everything being so ridiculously overplayed emotively, and so shockingly under-thought logically, that the movie promptly stops making sense after about 30 minutes and sums the entire array of folly that it continues to toss into the mix with a sighed explanation of, “Because aliens”?
I could go on, but I try to keep these reviews under 2000 words - and even with this final version I’ve managed about 200 over that. Resurgence isn’t just an unworthy sequel to the original Independence Day, it’s the kind of sequel one would make if they’d only heard about the first movie over a phone call - if the phone call was being made by an elephant and the receiver was a goat. It is a spiritual successor in name and setting alone, and it baffles me just how incredibly director Roland Emmerich, who also presided over the first movie, dropped the ball on this one. That is, if he was even given the ball to begin with. I imagine that the final product is really the result of a bunch of stakeholders looking at the screenplay, before shouting, “NAH” in unison, tossing it aside and then brainstorming a different storyline that involved all the elements of Independence Day number one, a few mumbles about Pacific Rim, ways in how not to convey drama and then, because fuck it, Beasts of No Nation (that’s the only way I can fathom why Deobia Oparei’s warlord character, Umbutu, shows up in this thing - though he does the make the best of things in an admittedly ridiculous situation).
Throughout all the idiocy though, there are some glimmers of light and a little enjoyment to be had. The CG is pretty stellar - as good as any other current action movie can currently tout, if not better - and it does do a lot in raising a viewer’s level of attention. This is particularly the case during the eventual invasion scenes, where this time London gets levelled in fantastically apocalyptic fashion (and I’m FROM there). The ship-to-ship dogfights are also eye-catching and surprisingly well-directed, for a film that largely seems to hinge on a sense of clueless guidance. Even if Resurgence’s world of an ultra-tech Earth feels like an unnatural future that the ending of the first movie disappeared into, there’s been great attention-to-detail put in place on the multitude of alien ships and fighter jets as well, which all pay good reverence to its predecessor. Thematically, Resurgence might be an awful mess - but stylistically, it has retained the right design ideas.
There are also some decent moments when the team of Jake, Charlie and Dylan, joined by Chinese squadron pilot Rain Lao (played by HK model-actress Angelababy - no, that’s not a username), take it to the alien mothership to kick extra-terrestrial arse by both ground and air. All of them are utterly bland individually; in particular, Dylan’s bad blood with Jake isn’t given the emotional depth that it’s due, and neither Usher nor Hemsworth seem like they really give two shits about their roles. Rain meanwhile, fulfils Hollywood’s standard Asian Chick stereotype - she’s pretty, she’s only given a mere handful of short lines, and she’s practically worshipped by the other remaining white guy of the pilot team, Charlie (whom Travis Tope at least instils some workable comic value into). Still, when united as an alien-hunting unit, they insert some much-needed dynamism into the movie and keep it watchable for those moments. Unfortunately, these joint scenes are either constantly interrupted by whatever the film tactlessly decides to fling into the plot next, or are just too bloody short. They could have been the justification for the whole thing - instead, they’re just brief mentions of good in a eulogy of bad.
Jeff Goldblum returning as David Levinson is really just Jeff Goldblum, and doesn’t feel like the same character of the first film. Still, at least both he and Hirsch, who also returns as his on-screen father Julius, appear to enjoy their roles despite the tornado of nonsense relentlessly spiralling around them. Same too goes for another reappearing pair - Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) and Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), who at least add some manic energy and a few adequate gags into the whole thing. But my goodness, none of these things stop Independence Day: Resurgence from being a dumb, pointless movie. If it isn’t a prime candidate for why America’s film industry needs to stop bloody rebooting everything, then I am a monkey’s billionaire uncle. And if I was a billionaire, I’d also make sure Hollywood didn’t keep trying to pull this shit - like maybe lobby for an act that prevented film companies from re-doing franchises they’re already making money from with Bluray sales anyway. Maybe I’d even bankroll a Dredd sequel instead. Or another Planet of the Apes movie - ‘cos you know, it might make my monkey nephew happy, or something.
Just do like Will Smith did: stay away.