'Independence Day: Resurgence' Review

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
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Independence Day: Resurgence is an even longer in the making sequel than last week's big one in Finding Dory. But while Pixar ultimately did show there was good reason to keep telling the story of Dory 13 years later, director Roland Emmerich has no such luck with his second Independence Day in 20 years. In fact, the biggest thing he accomplishes is to make his first one look even better, which really doesn't speak well for him in the present day.

In this alternate reality, there are actually no more human wars or divisions since the "War of 96" united humanity against alien invasion. David Levinson is now director of the Earth's new defense system that incorporates alien technology, while former President Whitmore's daughter works at the rebuilt White House, her fiancee Jake is working at a moon base, and the now late Captain Stephen Hiller's son Dylan is carrying on the family name as an Air Force pilot. While mankind has rebuilt, so have their alien harvester enemies -- who send one giant 3,000 mile long ship this time around to crush half the planet and prepare to finish off the other half. All that stands in their way this time is the new generation of heroes, some of the old, and some potential help elsewhere as well.

Independence Day was one of the biggest and most easy to mock movies of the 1990s. Nonetheless, there was legitimate spectacle involved from Emmerich's breakout film, with destruction that was legitimately chilling and unforgettable, halfway practical effects that still hold up today, the star power of young Will Smith and the iconic support of Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, and a go-for-broke epic/cornball scale that bombards all logic.

Unfortunately, Emmerich seems to have lost his touch on virtually all these elements 20 years later, at least in this franchise.

Emmerich has never really topped Independence Day since 1996, but The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 showed that there is still almost nothing like him in his most bombastic, over the top and world destroying mode. Even his comparatively modest action films like White House Down have their delights in their madcap destruction and idiocy. And yet for the sequel to the biggest film Emmerich ever made, none of that kind of madness, inspired lunacy and even heart has carried over.

There is no real intrigue, tense build up or jaw dropping payoff in the opening act like there was in Independence Day, as the wait for the new mother ship to get there is more boring than anything else. When it finally comes and brings destruction that was already completely spoiled in the trailers, it reinforces the sad truth that nothing in the overcrowded CGI wasteland of Hong Kong and Britain's annihilation comes close to matching the thrills and chills of Washington, New York and Los Angeles's end. Emmerich does have one little change of pace at the very end of this sequence, but it is still just one funny inside joke to end his most subpar extinction level event in a long time.

Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin at least had funny, campy and mockable material in between destroying cities the last time, with a share of humans that could roll with it. But in a sequel written by five people for some reason, they can't hit the bare minimum of keeping us from twiddling our thumbs when things aren't blowing up. Considering that the blowing up isn't on par with the last time either, it isn't exactly worth the wait anyway.

At almost every turn, one misses the way Emmerich did things the first time in Independence Day, and even those who weren't that found of the original might feel the same. One would also take the inspired lunacy of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, but Emmerich can't muster up his old touch from those films either. The only real ambition Emmerich has is to ultimately set things up for crazier sequels, which is what far too many sequels are already doing.

What Resurgence is most reminiscent of is last summer's Jurassic World, and not in the way that suggests it will make $600+ million and revive an old franchise Goldblum helped start 20+ years ago. For all its box office, Jurassic World had none of the human touch in its action or special effects that made the original so special, no matter how much more CGI it used or how many new and bigger creatures it came up with. Unlike Jurassic World, Resurgence actually has the same director as its original film, and therefore less of an excuse for not recapturing what he did before.

The closest thing Emmerich comes to anything awe inspiring is the late appearance of an alien queen, but it is still nothing like the T-Rex/Indominus Rex fight that all but salvaged Jurassic World at the end. Resurgence doesn't have as much insulting and sexist material as Jurassic World had in its first 95 percent, although eye-rolling comic relief from Jake's best friend and a bumbling bureaucrat tagging along with David doesn't help.

Quite honestly, there was probably a better movie to be found in the 20 year time period in between Independence Days than the one in Resurgence. In this current climate, the idea that humanity put aside all its differences to forge a 2016 of peace and unity may be the most science-fiction like premise in the whole movie, but it is certainly the most interesting to consider in these particular days. That is a story more worth telling than what Emmerich ultimately has in mind.

It is actually almost sad that Resurgence isn't memorably and mind numbingly bad, which further reflects a lack of effort from Emmerich. When Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 were at their dumbest and worst, he still went all out and made his successes and failures stand out for the right and wrong reasons. Resurgence's great sin is in not only failing to be spectacular, but in being too dull to fail spectacularly and at least live on in that fashion, as Emmerich doesn't really seem to be trying that hard either way.

Emmerich's set up for future Independence Day movies might be the campiest thing about Resurgence, especially at the very end. But even then, it is less delightfully awful and more depressing, as another example of a blockbuster basically being one extended trailer for the supposedly really good stuff later. What's more, too much time is wasted on setting this revelation up as one big mystery, when it can pretty much be guessed before the alien ship shows up.

The lack of ambition further shows in Liam Hemsworth taking Smith's place as the leading young hero this time. To those who were bored by him in The Hunger Games series, there isn't much that will change that tune, with the kicker of one particularly embarrassing gag inside an alien ship. As the actual son of Smith's character, Jesse Usher is given no real shot by Emmerich or the script to try and live up to the legacy, although Maika Monroe gets a slightly better shot to carry on the Whitmore name.

It isn't just the youngsters who are let down, however. Goldblum's return to blockbuster films is a wash, while the early promise of Pullman as a more unbalanced and afflicted Whitmore is ultimately squandered, even in his latest big speech. Brent Spiner is somehow still alive and even more over the top as Area 51's former leader, and as for fellow original survivors Judd Hirsch and Vivica A. Fox, one is quickly and unceremoniously dealt with as the other is allowed much more leeway to survive anything and everything, with no points for guessing which is which.

Technically we waited 20 years for this, although who knows how many people were really waiting all this time. In any case, what comes out of it is less of a desire to see the franchise continue, and more a desire to see the original movie again and remember when Emmerich got this formula right.

Resurgence may make Independence Day look better than it really was, which probably makes its inability to clear or match that bar even worse. Either way, it is doubtful anyone will remember Resurgence's apocalyptic destruction, scale, speeches, music, one-liners or its dumbness in 2036 the way we still remember Independence Day's in 2016 for one reason or another. Sadly, Emmerich's own memory of how he made this work back in 1996 isn't too strong either.

The only time one could really get away with calling an Emmerich movie dull, uneventful and forgettably bad was in those rare films where he didn't blow anything up, yet even Anonymous and Stonewall failed in memorably infamous ways. But for the first time, Independence Day: Resurgence shows an Emmerich whose best and worst is instantly forgettable.