INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE FAILS TO ADAPT TO MODERN MOVIE AUDIENCES OR EXPLOIT ITS OWN NOSTALGIA VALUE
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Judd Hirsch, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sela Ward, Patrick St. Esprit, Vivica A. Fox and Brent Spiner
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 2 Hrs.
There’s been a pretty strong wave of high priced nostalgia running through Hollywood lately. Last year we got Jurassic World over two decades after the original blockbuster as well as Poltergeist and Point Break remakes. Nostalgia was behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles renewal and most likely the culprit behind the new Ghostbusters (which Sony desperately hopes to turn into a lucrative new franchise). The fond childhood memories of an entire generation were the biggest engine to pull the new Star Wars gravy train out of the station. And now we have Independence Day: Resurgence, released almost twenty years to the day that the original Independence Day conquered theatres in 1996.
Video: 20th Century Fox
Resurgence’s story picks up on the eve of the celebration commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Earth’s victory over the invading aliens. The nations of the world have since come together, uniting for the singular purpose of preparing Earth for future alien attacks (there is a strong belief, especially among the survivors of the first invasion, that the aliens will inevitably return). David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) spends his time hopping across the globe and integrating alien technology into powerful new weapons. Former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is also on hand for the celebrations, although the retired Commander-in-Chief now wrestles with a variety of psychological problems as a result of his telepathic connection to the aliens twenty years earlier. His daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) meanwhile is all grown up and an aide to current President Lanford (Sela Ward).
But as the world prepares to celebrate the anniversary (which includes the opening of a new defensive base on the moon), a number of ominous events take place. People who had telepathic contact with the aliens the first time around begin experiencing troubling visions, alien prisoners who have been dormant for twenty years awake in hysterical excitement and there are troubling signs in the distant stars. Before the world can celebrate its victory, it’s plunged into a battle for survival once again, but this time the aliens are bigger, meaner and a little pissed off. Humanity finds itself relying once more on the heroes who saved it two decades ago as well as a generation of new ones.
When Independence Day captured the world’s imagination in the summer of 1996, everyone thought a sequel was inevitable. It broke new ground, not only with the sophistication of its special effects but with the sheer scale of them was well. Independence Day was also key in launching Will Smith, one of the hottest celebrities on the planet for years, into stardom. How could there not be a sequel? So when Resurgence was announced expectations were justifiably high.
Unfortunately, it misses the mark.
Make no mistake, the special effects are still great but other than the final battle scene with the alien queen, there’s not much we haven’t seen before. The first Independence Day didn’t really invest in story telling (aliens invade Earth in really big spaceships and are narrowly beaten by the courage and resourcefulness of our heroes while lots of stuff blows up in the meantime), relying on its mind-blowing special effects and the performance of its cast to carry it. But Resurgence’s story feels recycled and arguably stale (although it resolves itself with a little more intelligence then having a Mac power book bring a near omnipotent space faring civilization to its knees), failing to understand that it’s visual effects can no longer be counted on to carry the entire film.
Jeff Goldblum lacks the same kind of restrained, anxious energy that endeared him to audiences twenty years ago and he sorely misses Will Smith’s presence. He and Smith enjoyed great chemistry in the original, as Smith was the perfect balance for Goldblum’s focused neurosis. But not only is Smith and his charisma absent (a big strike against the film), but director Roland Emmerich and Resurgence’s producers fail to find anyone to pick up that slack and partner opposite Goldblum. While Goldblum and Liam Hemsworth may share a lot of screen time together, they share zero chemistry, denying Resurgence one of the biggest things Independence Day had going for it.
The movie offers little to no insight into it’s new characters, failing to give audiences reason to make any emotional investment and spoiling any attempts to generate tension. You wanted the President’s plane to escape the destruction of Washington D.C. in the original and you were rooting for the heroes to make it back from outer space. Now, you really don’t care. When you saw Independence Day for the first time, you probably had goose bumps; this time around there’s a good chance you might be bored.
Outside of the returning Goldblum, Pullman and Brent Spiner, the golden oldies are either given insultingly tiny nods of acknowledgement or ignored altogether. Vivica A. Fox is given a handful of lines before being shoved aside and while Will Smith is given a single line of dialogue and a portrait of remembrance, at least he is given some sort of acknowledgement. Other important characters from the original are completely forgotten. Randy Quaid and Margaret Colin’s characters, who played significant roles in the original, aren’t even mentioned.
Resurgence fails to understand that the audience has changed since 1996. Twenty years ago a movie could not only succeed as a result of imaginative, groundbreaking special effects, it could rule the box office. But these days, audiences want a compelling story and interesting characters to go with their visual effects. It’s obvious that Resurgence was also hoping to ride that aforementioned wave of Hollywood nostalgia, but it’s own disregard for some of it’s most important past is likely to alienate a sizeable share of its fan base. It’s as underwhelming as it is disappointing. In the end, Independence Day: Resurgence fails to adapt to the present and judging by it’s weak weekend box office, it’s going to be an expensive lesson.