They Didn’t Stop To Think If They Should
A Film Review of Independence Day: Resurgence
First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe 4th of July. It is a great time to reflect on this wonderful country of ours despite its flaws with friends, family and barbecue. Having said that, few films in Hollywood’s history inspire as many chest-pounding, fist-pumping moments of pure ‘Merica on screen than the original ID4 back in 1996. Us Yanks didn’t put it to the Russians, Communists, Chinese, terrorists or even Nazis, but an entire invading species from outer space. We welcomed their intergalactic hostility with a fist in their face and a tactical nuke up their mother ship’s … tail pipe. And of course, there was that speech by President Bill Pullman, er … Whitmore.
As far as blockbusters go, mega-disaster films aren’t complicated beasts to tame. The overall plot is straightforward, most characters are trying to survive in some unified effort and very rarely do the protagonists get completely wiped out without some definitive victory of hope to survive, endure, rebuild, etc. The story is simplified as much as possible to allow more screen time to be filled with immense set pieces of incomprehensible destruction. Director Roland Emmerich has decimated planet Earth so many times that one would presume that returning to the franchise that spring-boarded his career for a sequel would have been an explosive walk in the park. If there’s one thing that recent Hollywood productions have taught us is that there is no such thing as a sure thing.
Yes, Will Smith is not in this film. Sure, the public demand for a continuation of this story has more or less fizzled. Absolutely, the returning cast looks better suited to be signed on for another sequel to Cocoon rather than a sci-fi action film. Yet, none of these significant handicaps are the true culprits for why Resurgence is doing about half as well as ID4 did at the box office after 11 days even with today’s exorbitant ticket prices. In a nutshell, the real reason this movie didn’t work is thanks to stereotypical Hollywood obtuseness: “the sequel has gotta be bigger because bigger is better!” No. Sometimes “bigger” just means “more” as in more explosions, characters, action and (convenient) twists and when studio executives become obsessed with this train of thought “more” quickly turns into “too much.” Independence Day: Resurgence is a film determined to fill out its runtime with so much of everything that the main plot is obscured by an ever expanding fog of inconsequential subplots. This film tries so desperately to be a jack of all trades that it couldn’t be bothered with attempting to master anything.
It’s not so much that Resurgence is a “bad” Hollywood blockbuster, but rather a completely unfocused story that is strung together by a cavalcade of subplots that simply go nowhere and is supported by characters that are ostensibly all sidekicks with no main protagonist to rally behind. Adding to the confusion is the fact that a ton of really important plot points to the mythos of this saga like Captain Hiller dying, the benefits of applied alien technology to all aspects of human civilization and the achievement of world peace thanks to a universal threat all happens off screen, before this movie even begins and is barely touched upon during its runtime.
Unfortunately, the story of “the aliens are back with bigger ships” is just not as interesting as exploring any one of those previously mentioned plot points and the characters that take us there redefine the concept of flatness. Character development is an afterthought as precious few scenes are allowed to endear anyone to the audience. It is as much the fault of poor writing and production planning as it is performance that leads to characters and by extension, circumstances that no one cares about.
Like the original ID4 the majority of the action comes in the form of aerial combat and mass scale digital destruction. Some laser/plasma gunplay is featured too, but not nearly as visually dynamic.
Roland Emmerich makes sure the frame is moving, shifting and expanding enough to capture as much scale of destruction and combat as possible. It is much easier to do all this when most of these sequences are created digitally.
Were there any leads in this film? I guess Liam Hemsworth’s Jake Morrison technically qualifies as some random rival to crack ace Dylan Hiller played by Jessie Usher who apparently was given specific direction to copy every possible nuanced mannerism Will Smith produced in ID4 to more easily identify him as his son. Neither was particularly inspiring as a leader, a hero or a character.
Too many to list and they were all inconsistent. Judd Hirsh as Julius Levinson was charming and comedic, but his scenes were awkwardly placed and annoying speed bumps to the action. Jeff Goldblum was solid, but as a primary architect of this new world, needed to be featured more. Maika Monroe’s Patricia Whitmore is the President’s aid, a combat pilot and the primary love interest and has zero time to do any of that. Bill Pullman reprising his role as former President Whitmore had a couple of decent moments that were instantly countered by odd moments. Every tertiary support character was more painfully unfunny than Jimmy Fallon.
A decent job done here, but the music is not used as effectively at exposing massive screen reveals as the original.
Explosions tend to blur into an avalanche of rumbles and the pew, pew, pews between plasma rifles and aircraft cannons are a bit indistinguishable. The aliens sounded pretty cool though.
“Moving” = 20/33
All spacecraft and future tech on Earth and the moon looks pretty great. The scale of abandoned alien craft on the planet is intimidating, but not nearly as much as the new inbound threat. No complaints. Well done.
With so much of the visual effect burden being hoisted by digital composites and CG there wasn’t much left to be shown practically with simple pyro and miniature work. Still, any scene featuring human/alien combat face to face required some kind of wire work.
Not particularly inspired designs for any clothing, but especially flight suits of the future which is interesting seeing how drastically alien technology improved society; the clothing with which we interacted with it seemingly didn’t have to? Seriously, not even some kind of power armor for foot soldiers?
Hair & Makeup
The Robert Loggia cameo looked like a silicone Kardashian job gone horribly, horribly sour. Whitmore’s scraggly beard looked better on him than shaved off. Were they trying to make Jeff Goldblum’s character look older than his father?
The digital moonscape looked great. Africa looked like it was clearly thrown together on a soundstage. Future D.C. looked decent and the dessert around Area 51 is as desolate as before.
A vast improvement in the set design is reflected in every interior scene during this film production. Excellent diversity is displayed within regular spaces to military bases to space platforms.
“Picture” = 22/33
The aliens are pissed and they’re coming back to finish the job. Really? And it’s somehow more difficult having exponentially increased our planetary defenses over the past 20 years? So we’re basically playing the same gags one more time?
There wasn’t enough internal conflict to parallel the obvious external threat of the aliens to make it as interesting as the first film. Giving the audience more scenes from the aliens’ perspective would have amplified the effectiveness of this sole source of conflict.
Apparently there is a larger struggle in the galaxy thanks to a subplot that’s shoehorned in paying no immediate dividends in this film, but clearly meant to setup another sequel providing Resurgence makes enough money globally. The battle may be won, but the war goes on.
Does a good job in getting the audience up to speed as to what’s going on in this newly advanced world, but does a poor job building camaraderie amongst its characters nullifying any sympathy we have for them or the challenges they face.
This film presumes an audience that has seen the original. Understanding what’s happening now is dependent on understanding what happened then which, by the way, does not get revisited in any meaningful way. What the hell happened to Will Smith’s character again? This is not the main character you are looking for.
First we have the cocky smart ass vs. by the book golden boy. Then we have the underappreciated scientist. Finally we have the sacrificial icon. As far as blockbusters go, these are as unique as mud.
Again, due to a complete disregard for character development, there are few moments of relatability with the audience save for the tried and true families of combat veterans angle desperate for their safe return.
“Story” = 12/34
Overall MPS Rating: 54/100
Independence Day: Resurgenceis one of those film productions that beg the question “why” on so many levels all of which can only be answered by cost effective dollars and cents. Form the business perspective of the entertainment industry, this film makes sense in every textbook example of “the formula” at work. From the enjoyment perspective of an audience, this film delivers “been there, done that” moment, after moment, after moment. Simply adding Will Smith (and the rumored $50 million dollar pay day he was supposedly demanding) to this movie exactly as it stood would not have flipped the switch for this film. However, if he were always part of the production from the very beginning, the story would have been vastly different with a “dollars and cents” focus on his character arc with everyone else towing the line in support. Then at least, the audience would have had an unquestioned hero to get behind.