“We had twenty years to prepare. So did they.”
“We always knew they’d be back.”
“The last attack was just the first.”
Finally, a movie that knows how to tagline!
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, William Fichtner, Sela Ward, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deobia Oparei, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, Angelababy and Travis Tope
Twenty years after the 4th July defeat of the alien invasion, Earth is putting the finishing touches to its hybrid-tech defence grid when a new threat appears in a mothership that puts down over the Atlantic like a planetary beret and tries to drill out the planet’s molten core.
Following the deaths of the President (Ward) and Dancer-turned-Nurse (Fox), and the loss of all international communications in the initial attack, it is left to General Interim President (Fitchner), former President Bill Pullman (Pullman), Jeff Goldblum Science Guy (Goldblum), Mad Science Guy (Spiner), Congolese Warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Oparei) and a group of young pilots including Pullman Jr. (Monroe), Will Smith Jr. by adoption (Usher), Asian Hotshot (Angelababy), and tug operators Jake Manly (Hemsworth minor) and his hetero lifemate Charlie Sidekick (Tope) to save the day.
Oh, and an accountant (Nicholas Wright).
What’s wrong with it?
There is an awful lot of assigned reading for this movie. While it’s fairly easy to work out that Fox’s character has retrained as a nurse, the alien psychic signals, the offscreen death of Mrs. Jeff Goldblum Science Guy and JGSG’s subsequent interactions with Angry Hot Science Lady (Gainsbourg), and the fact that a ship landed in Africa and tried to drill into the Earth’s core, and that after the destruction of the mothership it stopped leaving its crew to fight a bloody and protracted guerrilla campaign in the Congo are harder to accurately infer. I only knew that last bit from reading up on the oft-panned tie in novel, War in the Desert, in which the British pilots from the original movie team up with some African royalty to take on the landed aliens, although it seems the movie canon moved the ground conflict south a ways.
There’s also a hell of a lot going on between scenes, including a dozen apparently doomed pilots not dying by ejecting inside the harvester ship offscreen, and most of those pilots disappearing post escape from the mothership, presumed dead, but who knows.
Sadly, while the novels were accepted as at least deuterocanon, there is no indication that the Radio 1 tie-in was so treated, thus failing to cement celebrity astronomer Patrick Moore lamping an alien in the face into canon.
Given how much of the film was built on recurring characters and actors twenty years down the line, the omission of Mae Whitman (the original Patty Whitmore) and Ross Bagley (original Dylan Hiller) was odd.
The casual viewer only finds out that there’s a base on Rhea, one of Saturn’s moons, after it is destroyed by something that substantially disrupts the planet’s rings, which the world blithely assumes to be the tiny sphere that pops up over the moon and gets shot down in a surge of hoorah!
There’s a sphere that pops up which turns out to be a transorganic intelligence trying to organise a resistance against the aliens. It’s mostly a macguffin and a hook for the next movie, but takes up a lot of the movie being opened up like a Russian doll.
Crazy Science Guy and his sidekick (Harvey Fierstein) turn out to be an unspoken gay couple… and then the sidekick gets killed. Similarly, the first female President is killed off early in the invasion, leaving a man of action to lead the resistance, and the non-US sector of the so-proudly unified global community reduced to Dikembe, Angry Hot Science Lady and Asian Hotshot (she’s actually called Rain, which I originally assumed to be a callsign.) It’s like they knew they were supposed to make the effort, but had no idea how to actually integrate characters of different races, female leaders or homosexuals. (HINT: Basically just like any other character.)
You know how in the first movie, Judd Hirsch’s character was basically pointless until his one critical moment? And how there was that family who vaguely represented the mass of humanity, but were mostly there so Randy Quaid had some higher motivation? Well, this movie has the same, except without the critical moment or Randy Quaid, as Julius Levinson takes in first an orphaned family and then an abandoned school bus full of kids, as if he’s expecting to be the doomed hero of a much more downbeat film.
Dikembe Umbuto, machete wielding, alien hunting warlord, is probably a horrible stereotype, although it’s hard to think ill of him when he’s so awesome.
Jake distracts the aliens by peeing on the floor of the mothership. Classy.
I’m seriously steamed that they kept the irritating accountant around for the whole movie, while ditching Ryan Cartwright as JGSG’s assistant.
Brexit. Not the film’s fault, but an unfortunate coincidence.
What’s right with it?
The film gets points for trying to be more inclusive, although not enough to balance out those lost for failing. It’s particularly good to see two of the five surviving hero pilots be female (and one Chinese.) There was a moment when I thought they were never going to get Patricia Whitmore in a plane and that would have been an epic fail. As it is, I’m tempted to tag Patty vs. Queen as the film’s designated girl fight.
Naturally, it’s damned pretty, although the gloss-black surface of the harvester ship initially makes it look a hell of a lot like much cheaper CGI.
It’s impressive to see so many of the old cast return, and look so actually old. Also a little depressing for those of us who felt young watching the original.
There’s an irrepressible sense of fun about the proceedings, which makes some scenes – like Jasmine falling to her death while her son watches – a little jarring, but overall carries the movie on goodwill.
While Rain does get snared as designated sidekick love interest, I liked that her response to his suggestion that they get in on the current trend of kissing was ‘Dinner first.’ It’s not often the sidekick gets anything between eye rolling rejection and sudden onset nymphomania. As painful as some of the writing was, I also kind of liked that the socially awkward sidekick made several attempts to speak to the object of his affections instead of hovering back and waiting to be rewarded for being such a nice guy.
How bad is it really?
Independence Day: Resurgence is basically Independence Day turned up to eleven, with half-alien space planes battling souped-up saucers and a mothership larger than the continent of Australia. It abandons the somewhat absurd computer virus ploy (itself an homage to The War of the Worlds) for a more explosive Trojan horse, and the Death Star run at the firing array for a King Kong style assault on the Queen’s giant battle suit. It’s big and loud – every flyby rumbles in your chest, even if it’s in space – and kind of confusing, but the two hours pass quickly enough, and it’s good fun while it lasts.
The shame of it is that, despite the increased scale of the spectacle, there is nothing that wows the way that the original film did on its release. The sense of awe is missing. Maybe I’m just jaded, but it is also possible that the bar has just gone too high.
Best bit (if such there is)?
As the harvester returns automatically, we see the wasteland beneath it, with the Eiffel Tower left standing as a surprisingly generous nod to the oft-flattened France.
What’s up with…?
- The President’s final words? Faced with twelve-foot tall alien battle suits marching into her ‘impregnable’ bunker, she announces “There will be no peace.” They really weren’t asking.
ETA: Okay; it’s a quote from WH Auden. Having now read the poem, it makes a lot of sense, although since the aliens are harvesting resources their cause is actually pretty upfront.
- The salvage crew? In place of scenes showing the harvester drilling into the molten core for that precious white hot iron, we get shots of a crew of drunken Irish salvage divers watching an ancient monitor.
- The missing scenes? The film hops from set piece to set piece, basically leaving the audience to fill in the blanks.
- Brian Aldridge? According to the prequel novel, Crucible, Dikembe Umbuto had a friend in Oxford named Brian Aldridge, which my Radio 4 saturated mind can not take but as a hint that Independence Day exists in the same universe as long-running agricultural radio soap The Archers.
Production values – Technically brilliant, and yet still somehow lacklustre. The film also suffers a little from just everything being kind of grey. 7
Dialogue and performances – There is a lot of talent in this film, giving their all to a script that at times verges on self-parody. It’s hard not to giggle when Umbuto tells the accountant that he has ‘a warrior’s heart.’ 14
Plot and execution – This film is so literally a series of set-pieces that there are several occasions in which the linking sections are actually omitted. 13
Randomness – Alien psychic links. Dead wives. Congolese ground wars. Giant, shielded Queenzilla suit. 12
Waste of potential – Independence Day was, in many ways, the ur-specimen of the megabudget B-movie, wildly successful beyond its deserts, it set the bar for spectacle; a bar that this movie badly needed to, but did not, clear. 15