To say that Roland Emmerich is a completely one trick pony might not be necessarily fair, but it feels true. He makes disaster movies, more or less exclusively, and every tentative step he’s taken out of that genre has failed miserably. His bad history movies, like 10,000 BC and Anonymous, always get referenced when talking about his worst movies, despite the bloated awful mess of Godzilla in his rearview mirror.
But, no matter how many bad movies he’s made, he’s always had the shining example of Independence Day to point to, whenever anyone compares him to hackier directors like Michael Bay and Bret Ratner. And, with the monumental critical and financial failure of last year’s Stonewall, it makes sense that he would return to the comfort zone of his most well tread genre, and the even more comforting zone of his most well loved movie.
The movie kicks off 20 years after the aliens initial attack in the 90s, with the conceptually interesting addition that Earth has been irrevocably changed by the attack. Humanity has united for preemptive defense, they’ve begun incorporating alien tech into human tech, there have been running battles against the aliens in Africa for years, and children of the heroes from the previous wars, including former First Daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) and son of Steven Hiller, Dylan (Jessie Usher) being major celebrities and flying in “Legacy Squadrons.”
But all is not well in post-invasion Earth, and soon enough the world is under invasion again, by a much, much larger ship. And when their fancy new tech completely fails, it’s up to a crack team of our original cast (Jeff Goldblum’s David and Bill Pullman’s former-President Whitmore most notably) to team up with some younger people like Liam Hemsworth’s Jake, a hotshot flight lieutenant, to save the day, even as they investigate a strange symbol they keep seeing, and different kind of alien that arrived in advance of the invasion.
As I write that, I realize that all of it sounds interesting, so let me inform you, it is not. Independence Day: Resurgence is a film of many sins, some of them common to basically of Emmerich’s films (such as casual racism and a weak script) but one thing that it is that almost none of his disaster movies have been before is boring. It is an incredible, unbearable bore to sit through, to the point where, despite being 20 minutes shorter than the original film, it feels infinitely longer.
The biggest problem is the pacing and structure. The movie plods along for what feels like an hour establishing its universe and either introducing its characters, or reintroducing them from the previous movie, and it’s just lands with a thud. None of the new characters are interesting enough to hold up their subplot (more on that in a moment), Goldblum is sidelined to exposition and hanging around the margins and Bill Pullman is barely in the movie. Meanwhile the new cast are either charisma-less or pushed off to the edges of the screen (can we exchange all of Liam Hemsworth’s screentime for Angelababy’s?). The movie is crying out for someone to step into Will Smith’s shoes, but not one person is up to the task.
Once the second and third act finally kick in, any momentum the movie might have is kneecapped by its constant hopping from subplot to subplot, each one less interesting than the last. The absolute nadir is a subplot involving Jeff Goldblum’s character’s dad wandering across the country with some rascally children (none of whom were introduced before the end of the first act) but they’re all bad, because they all undercut each other, leaving the movie just treading water for its entire runtime.
Robbed of any momentum or character’s worth caring about, all the movie can do is lurch forward ungainly until it hits its climax, which is also shakily put together. The finale has so many balls in the air that it basically can’t help but drop some of them, so its decision is to drop all of them. By the time the movie had rolled past its natural end point, into a second climax and on to its big obvious sequel hook ending, I had completely stopped caring. The only emotion I felt when the credits rolled was the sheer shamelessness of its sequel hook (seriously, the MCU would balk at being this shameless about its sequel bait).
That leaves the movie leaning on its action beats and setpieces to sustain itself, which is always a tenuous ledge to be standing on, but I was shocked at how unoriginal they were. And its not like Roland Emmerich is putting his own spin on other directors concepts, most of them are blatant attempts to one up his own work. Whole scenes seem to be recreations of similar scenes from his other movies (mostly the original Independence Day and 2012, but I sensed some Godzilla in the finale too) but with laughable attempts to crank them up to 11, and none of it works. Who cares that they’re in a space ship instead of a car and its London having…Asia? dropped on it, instead of LA falling apart, the gist of the scene is still the same as the one from 2012.
Which is a shame, because I feel like a lot of blockbuster films could use Emmerich’s touch more. He still has a preference for clean, easy to see visuals, no shaky cam or dark lighting here. And while, unlike the original, most of the attempts at humor fall flat, it’s nice to see him trying. Not that I don’t like my serious movies, but it’d be nice to have some more fun in our blockbuster movies. Of course a movie that opens its second act with the entire Eastern Seaboard getting wiped out might want to be a little somber, but still.
There are other minor things I like: Goldblum is still fun to have around, and I wish he was in the movie more. Brent Spiner also returns, with a bigger role, and while his subplot basically goes nowhere (except for what I think was an excuse to kill a gay character for no reason?) he’s fun and an enjoyable presence on screen. And while I’m on the subject of characters I wish were in the movie, DeObia Oparei’s alien-hunting African warlord is both a great and well acted character, and a wasted opportunity (why isn’t the movie about a 20 year war against aliens in Africa? I would watch the shit out of that movie).
Independence Day: Resurgence is a movie that comes with enough expectations that far better filmmakers than Emmerich might have buckled. The original is a 4th of July classic, all of its flaws and issues disappearing under the light of everyone’s love for it. The sequel is a quick and shameless attempt to kick start a franchise, and a boring waste of two hours to boot. Its minor good points are buried under the weight of its negative points, and I can’t really recommend you spend any money to see it.
Elessar is a 26 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks White House Down was actually pretty decent.
– action is visually clean and easy to follow
– solid special effects
– I like seeing Jeff Goldblum in things
– really really really really really boring
– so many subplots that there doesn’t seem to be a main plot
– new characters are awful or shoved off to the side
– did I mention it’s boring?