2016 must hold some record by now for terrible sequels.
I’ve seen 42 of the year’s movies, and of the five worst, four have a colon in their title. These are all action movies, and three of the four are sequels. For future reference, an action movie sequel with a colon in the title is code for “You’ve Seen It Before: Now Here It Is Again.”
Let’s be honest: Roland Emmerich’s 1996 hit Independence Day is not that great of a movie. Sure, it somehow buried its silly spectacle into the collective American conscience (perhaps the reason lies in the title again), but at best it’s a fun summer romp and at worst another mindless blockbuster.
Thanks to its follow-up, we now know it could’ve been worse. In a market overcrowded with lazy and nonessential action movie sequels, Independence Day: Resurgence rehashes its way to being the laziest and most nonessential of them all.
The sequel begins 20 years after the original. Due to the actor’s price tag, Will Smith’s character from the original has been unceremoniously removed, but not all is lost. The world has achieved total peace after the initial alien attack, because nothing unites people groups like finding someone else to antagonize. Humans have a lot more flying vehicles and space travel is easy, thanks to the repurposing of alien technology found after the 1996 incident. So with all this cool new stuff, we can expect the battles of the sequel to be quite different, right?
Nope. Independence Day: Resurgence refuses to try and do anything new whatsoever. Regardless of all the futuristic technology, the war between man and alien boils down to the exact same set pieces as the first Independence Day: aliens have a scary dangerous beam, so humans in the air launch bombs at the big spaceship while humans on the ground shoot nondescript guns at the faceless alien horde. Rinse and repeat a couple times to reach feature film length.
It’s almost remarkable how carefully Independence Day: Resurgence hits every narrative beat of Independence Day. Do you have a favorite moment from the original? I can guarantee you that it’s replicated in the sequel, but to hastier and less impressive effect. As a kid watching the original, I remember cheering when a dog barely escaped death. Even that specific moment is reused with half the time and effort.
In an attempt to set the stage for the same things happening a second time, the first act turns nearly every character into a tool for delivering plot exposition. As such, there’s no one to get attached to, and consequently no real relational thrust.
In fact, Resurgence fails to have any gravitas at all. The movie’s tone is all over the place. This is no more evident than when the alien spaceship — apparently over 3,000 miles in diameter (that’s almost half the Earth) — lands on our planet, obliterating major cities and slaughtering billions of helpless people in the process. While this is happening, the movie intercuts the devastation with characters making jokes about soiling themselves or lamenting missing landmarks. Then, cut back to the absolute annihilation of countless human lives.
The result is a mess that’s not character driven, emotionally driven, or even thematically driven. The original Independence Day thrived on the theme of the powerful human spirit overcoming adversity. Resurgence’s screenplay awkwardly stumbles over itself trying to evoke pride in humanity again, but narratively the denizens of Earth can only rely on laughable coincidences to stand a chance.
So what’s left? Action? I haven’t seen visual effects this uninspired since the Star Wars prequels. Most of the action consists of quick cuts between unintelligible shootouts interspersed by characters’ faces screaming or quipping. The alien villains seem to have attended the Stormtrooper Academy of Marksmanship: they can easily hit targets unless they’re aiming for important characters. Then they’re useless.
Here’s a short list of what does work: Jeff Goldblum, the giddy return of old characters, the aliens are menacing, some scenes are more entertaining than forgettable. The movie’s best strength is its comedy, oddly enough. When it tries to pull off funny it usually succeeds.
Then it all abruptly ends with Emmerich threatening the world with another sequel.
Fun summer blockbuster? Well, Independence Day: Resurgence will make money, and it is hot outside.
★ (1 out of 5)