Imagine, if you will, being a nerdy guy in high school. It’s prom season. You see the prom queen being crowned and dream what it would be like to one day be with a person like that.
Then, twenty years later out of the blue, she calls you and wants to meet and finally talk to you. You’ve changed greatly, but that phone call takes you back in time. You imagine the thrills you’ll feel as you finally meet her and get to relate to her more on her level.
But then you meet and realize that the years have not been kind. She doesn’t look the same as she did twenty years ago. Neither do you, but the blow feels more crushing after the beautiful idea you had built in your head. What’s worse is that her mind hasn’t expanded at all. She’s still stuck with the obsessions as she was in the past that just seem trivial and silly now. She can’t even explain why anyone should care about what she thinks.
You leave the meeting disappointed, almost crush. This was the most beautiful woman you could think of, an important part of your adolescence. But revisiting her just leaves you feeling cold, like somehow you have failed at your life.
That story sums up my feelings as I watched Independence Day: Resurgence.
The original Independence Day was my favorite film when I was eight. Watching these characters try to save the world was thrilling. I, like many children, didn’t care about the plot holes you could fit one of those city-sized UFOs through or the cheesy dialogue. It would always take me on a thrilling ride.
I watched again recently and was surprised that it held up fairly well. No, I’m no longer going to list it among my favorite films. The dialogue (particularly Bill Pullman’s big speech) is hammy nonsense and the third act is preposterous.
But at the same time the film accomplished what it set out to do. It works for two reasons. First, the actors are completely believable. They aren’t going to win any Oscars for their performances, but Pullman, Will Smith, and Jeff Goldblum all have convincing performances with what they were given. Pullman turned that aforementioned hammy speech into an inspiring statement. Smith found a chance to have fun with his role. And everyone actually acted like the world was about to end.
That was the other element that still makes Independence Day work. I emotionally believed the world was under a threat from an alien force and there was a chance humanity could lose. The people on the planet acted to the spaceships with awe and watching giant cities laid to waste (with good old practical effects!) drew me in.
So now that we’ve established what worked in the first Independence Day, let’s see what the sequel does to ruin it.
The film takes place twenty years after the events of the first one. Humanity has used the technology they recovered from the downed alien spacecraft to boost Earth’s technology. They’ve built a base on the moon to help defend Earth in case the aliens come back. The cities have been rebuilt with this new technology.
Right away, I felt disconnected from the film. It makes sense that the sequel acknowledges that a world in which aliens tried to destroy the planet would be remarkably different from ours. But Independence Day worked because it seemed to much like our own world. It made the emotional stakes high as we watched the Empire State Building blow up and people run for their lives through familiar streets.
Now, the world is entirely unrecognizable. As I watched a UFO threaten the moon base, I realized I was watching a cartoon. This emotional disconnect between the two films was something I never recovered from.
But just because Resurgence doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the first film doesn’t mean that it can’t create a new one on its own. But the film fails at that completely. None of the returning characters are treated very well by the script. President Whitmore (Pullman again) becomes a psychotic husk who is barely able to talk. Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner), who was clearly killed by the events of the first film, somehow gets his death retconned as a coma and awakens unhinged. He has a gay partner now, but the relationship is so unexplored that it may as well not even exist. The Levinsons (Goldblum and Judd Hirsch) are barely even together in the film, and neither of them have much to do.
Resurgence wants to focus on the “next generation” instead. Steve Hiller’s stepson Dylan (Jessie T Usher) is all grown up, as is the President’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe). Both want to be pilots and are training with All-American Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). Absolutely none of them have any charm or likability. It’s the standard “I hope I can live up to my father” story arc that’s been done to death, combined with Jake’s “I’m the cocky rouge with a heart of gold” character arc. Charlotte Gainsbourg also shows up to be the “new love interest.” Nothing that happens to these characters is engaging. There are scenes that reminded me of Starship Troopers as Jake calls home. But at least Troopers treated these clichés with a knowing wink. Resurgence treats them as new and thinks I would be engaged by these worn out tropes. I’m not.
Even the aliens are screwed in the film. There was some mystery about them in the first one. We were told exactly what we needed to know about how they were “like locusts.” Now? They’re a hive mind with a “queen” that humanity is trying to kill. They’re also trying to drain the Earth’s core to “kill” the planet and…get the iron from the core? I think? Or destroy the atmosphere out of spite? It also means that we get no real scenes of mass destruction or humanity in chaos. The ship lands over the Atlantic Ocean and (accidentally?) destroys a city with its gravitational pull. Doesn’t this already mean that the Earth is pretty much doomed anyway? Why would some arbitrary timeline about the aliens drilling through to the core help? And why do I need to see yet another giant queen in some pitiful attempt to raise the stakes for the film?
This film is a disaster. Practically nothing about it works. It takes everything that worked about the original and turns it into an outlandish cartoon. I wouldn’t have even minded that if the film tried to engage me on its own terms. But no. I never once felt like the planet was in any danger or that the characters were under any threat. Resurgence ends by teasing a sequel in which humans will “take the fight” to the aliens’ home planet. After what we had just witnessed, this sounded less like a teaser and more like some sort of punishment for bad behavior.