Sunday, June 26, 2016


1996's Independence Day wasn't the kind of smash hit you could predict or even engineer. Sure, it was designed to be a big movie - there's a reason it was released on the holiday after which it was named - but not one person thought they were making the biggest blockbuster hit this side of Lucas and Spielberg.

If they had, they might have left slightly more room for the sequel. Which is one of the film's many many problems.

Independence DayResurgence is a film that both trades on audience familiarity while at the same time assuming its audience is pretty dumb, even by big, loud blockbuster standards. For example, it's really banking on the fact that you'll remember a lot (though not all) of memorable characters from the first film and recognize the veritable smorgasbord of iconic imagery, but that you won't recall much else about the actual story. Like when the president is told that the aliens "whole civilization" moves from planet to planet? Nope, turns out there's not just another, bigger ship, there's COUNTLESS MORE across the universe. And don't worry, the movie definitely wants you to know that we'll be fighting all those other aliens in future sequels.

But the movie also wants you to know that there's all this cool new tech we didn't have last time and a cast of new actors to get excited about and even some semi-interesting wrinkles in the general "they're back, but this time EVEN BIGGER" approach to sequelizing on display. Unfortunately, not much is ever done with this. Every time there's a possibility of a new setting or interesting wrinkle in the "Independence Day Mythology," it gets blown through quickly or shuffled aside while the film recycles tropes from its predecessor or - even worse - its bland copycats. Where ID4 broke the action hero mold by turning Will Smith into a global mega-star, this movie. . . borrows Thor's younger brother because he's done making Hunger Games movies. In a film following up on the promise of true global unity AND one that itself claims a single people existing in peace for twenty years...the cast is still almost all white people. Mostly men. From America.

Granted, these aren't exactly insurmountable odds for a film that can stand well on its own, but, unfortunately, ID:R does not. The entire film is cramped and rushed, stuffed into a single day of repeating beats from the previous film (right down to the finale happening in the same place on Earth). And unlike the last time, this movie can't wait to throw its destruction porn load at our faces. Where the first film carefully established its cast as it built tension, here we have the shortest of beats to learn about anyone before they're thrown in jeopardy. It's jarring for anyone familiar with director Roland Emmerich's work, as he's usually very good at setting up even the goofiest of characters and narrative moments with obvious care. You can feel that there was probably 20-30 minutes of the film that was chopped out to keep running times low, even without noticing there are several lines and beats that featured heavily in trailers but are absent from the movie.

What's worse is that there's such a waste of actors going on here. Liam Hemsworth actually manages some charisma here, and It Follows' Maika Monroe is both fierce and tender as Patricia Whitmore. Unfortunately, the new leads are given very little to do or room to grow, as the film is so concerned with trotting out returning stars from ID4 in an effort to replicate MCU-style callbacks and fan service. But even these familiar faces feel perfunctory more often than not. Not only is there a notable absence of Will Smith (who refused to come back and who's character was consequently killed off-screen before the events of the film take place), but as entertaining as Jeff Goldblum is to watch, his character has no arc or journey or purpose in the movie. There's no need for him to prove himself to his father, no ex-wife to make up with, no mad theory of his to convince everyone to listen to. Of the cast, Bill Pullman's mentally unstable former President Whitmore has the most "business" - but even that feels like a retread of the Russell Casse storyline from the first movie.

If you're noticing a pattern here. . . well, that's because Independence Day: Resurgence has exactly one "move" and uses it early, often, and to excess.The result is what feels like a watered-down version of what was already a very broad story with archetypal characters back in 1996 (which now feel positively layered in comparison), and a film that keeps trying to regurgitate bits from the first film without understanding why they worked. There are at least three attempts to redo "the speech" and not one of them feels earned. There's a moment where a character literally says it's "humanity's last stand," but the consequences seem far less dire than they did before. ID:R's understanding of stakes are so laughable that the finale features two (2) "countdown clocks" and a school bus full of moppets, and still we don't really care.

Independence Day was lightning in a bottle and part of the reason why was because you could tell that the filmmakers threw everything they had into the project. Nothing was left out, nothing held back for a sequel, it's as open and shut as these stories come. Trying to reverse-engineer that into an MARVEL-style ongoing serial narrative ends up feeling cheap - not necessarily because the original was an untouchable masterpiece, but because ID:R hangs so much on "Hey, I remember that!" recognition rather than meaningful narrative. It's empty spectacle that can't stop showing off how empty it is.

And that's just not enough anymore.

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