If we’re being completely honest, 1996’s “Independence Day” is not a good movie. It’s a ridiculous, far-fetched 50s-style B movie that was elevated thanks to the modern special effects of the time, an ad campaign featuring the White House blowing up, the charisma of Will Smith, and a rousing speech by Bill Pullman. It was still a movie so stupid that aliens are defeated using a computer virus that can somehow be transferred to an alien computer using a laptop even though there are some programs that aren’t even compatible from Windows XP to Windows 10. It still features Randy Quaid in full Cousin Eddie mode suicide bombing himself into a flying saucer. It was a big, dumb, stupid movie, and even 20 years passing hasn’t made my nostalgia goggles see it as a good movie. But sure, it has its moments.
So now we have a sequel everyone stopped asking for in 2001, and the result is a decent set up crushed under the weight of ferocious mediocrity. Twenty years have passed since the aliens invaded and were repelled back. Earth has used alien technology to heighten its defenses so that humans now have military bases on the Moon and on one of Saturn’s moons. The nations of Earth are at peace now that they have a common enemy to fight (I see the FIVE people it took to write this film have read “Watchmen”). The peace is underscored by the certainty that the aliens will eventually return, and the film begins with the aliens receiving a distress call sent out during the original invasion. If it took the aliens 20 years to return, I assume the distress call took 10 years to reach them, and the aliens actually need 10 years to travel. Maybe more for the travel and less for the call, I’m not sure.
An interesting plot thread that they don’t do much with takes place in an unnamed African country. Apparently, there was one saucer from the original invasion that landed and started drilling into the Earth. When the mother ship was destroyed in 96, it lead to a TEN YEAR GROUND WAR between aliens and the warlord-led African nation. With the rest of the Earth at peace, you kind of wonder why none of the other nations stepped in to help with that ground war. The film tries to answer this by saying the previous ruler wouldn’t let outsiders into the country, but I have a hard time believing the first world imperialist nations of the world would take orders from a two-bit warlord and not swoop in, kidnap or kill the aliens, and investigate that ship. Oh well. The ground war between a poor African nation and marooned aliens with laser rifles would have been a far more interesting film that this sequel is.
When the film begins, former President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman) is grizzle bearded and crazy, plagued by nightmares and assured the aliens will return. He turns out to be right, and as soon as he’s validated he shakes off the crazy a little too conveniently. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum, happy to be doing something other than an Apartments.com commercial) is an important scientist with the Earth Space Defense (think NASA if it were militarized) who is called to Africa now that the new warlord (Deobia Oparei) is friendlier to outsiders, and now that the spaceships lights have been turned on. They find that ship sending the distress call. Other returning characters include David’s father (Judd Hirsh), who is annoying, unfunny, and useless to this film, especially when he hooks up with a bunch of orphaned kids who could have and should have been written out of this film. We also get Vivica A. Fox, who played Will Smith’s wife in the previous film. Fox’s role in this movie is to show up for two minutes, die, and then be forgotten for the rest of the film. I hope she uses her paycheck from this film on something nice.
Will Smith decided not to return for the sequel, so we’re told he died during a training flight. Instead, we get his son Dylan, played by Jessie Usher. Usher has no talent or charisma, and thus seems like the polar opposite of Will Smith from the first film. Dylan is well-respected because of who his father was, and he’s followed in those footsteps to become a pilot. Then there’s President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia, who is played by Maika Monroe, who you may remember as the star of the best film of 2015, “It Follows”. Seeing her on the big screen again made me want to see an “It Follows” sequel and reminded me of how much I love “It Follows”. That is probably the best thing about “Independence Day: Resurgence” that I can say. Her character is a former fighter pilot who is now a speechwriter for the current president, President Lanford (Sela Ward). Lanford is a supremely hawkish female President who shoots first, asks questions later, makes dumb decisions, and whose last words in the film are “No Peace”. I think it’s safe to say she’s a stand in for Hillary Clinton.
Of the new characters, the star of the show seems to be Jake Morrison, played by Liam Hemsworth. Jake is Patricia’s fiancé and he’s stationed on the moon base. Also, Jake and Dylan have some bad blood because Jake almost got Dylan killed during a training mission. None of these characters’ interpersonal stories will matter to the audience in the slightest, and for an alleged leading man Hemsworth has the star power and screen presence of a turnip.
I should right now say that all of this film’s humor and comic relief fails, except when it comes to Dr. Brackish Okun, played by Brent Spiner. What was an extended cameo in the 1996 film has become a main character of this film, probably because he’s a fun character, the only humor in this film that made me so much as smile, and because Spiner seems like the only cast member who truly enjoyed revisiting their character. Okun has been in a coma since 1996 and wakes up once the alien invasion is imminent. He has been cared for by Dr. Isaacs (John Storey), who the film is clearly trying to imply without explicitly stating is Okun’s boyfriend or husband. I appreciate the attempt to make a main character in a wannabe blockbuster summer film gay, but it’s obvious they pulled their punches so as to not upset the overseas filmgoers in China and Russia who may be turned off by that.
As the plot unfolds, we find out that the evil aliens go from planet to planet drilling into it to extract the planet’s molten core. So a foreign power that invades other places to drill and extract natural resources? Are these films attacks on American imperialism while pretending to be patriotic, or do the filmmakers not see how the aliens’ behavior mirrors that of imperialism in human history? We do get a bit of a retcon in that we’re now told the aliens act as a hivemind and are controlled by a series of giant queen aliens. I guess Brent Spiner let the writers know about the Borg from “Star Trek” and they decided to rip that off while they were already stealing ideas from “Watchmen”. So, the aim becomes killing the queen (which them kills all of that non-queen aliens in the basic vicinity, because sure) before they can drill to the core and extract it, which would kill everything on the planet.
But wait, there’s more. We’re introduced to a SECOND alien race, in the form of a white sphere housing artificial intelligence. Apparently the sphere tries to take survivors from the first aliens’ attacks and bands them together to form a resistance army, which has a better chance of winning because the sphere aliens have knowledge and technology capable of defeating the entire evil aliens’ race. After President Not-Hillary shoots the sphere alien’s even bigger sphere ship earlier in the film, it’s nice that the sphere doesn’t hold a grudge.
The bulk of the film is about pilots flying and trying to blow up the mother ship, the evil aliens using weird gravity devices to pick up Asian and throw it at Europe (if they can do that, why not kill everyone on the planet FIRST, and THEN land and start drilling?), and later there’s a fight against a giant alien queen, because apparently the makers of 1998’s “Godzilla” didn’t get big monsters out of their system yet. There are also a many, many, many more supporting characters I have not even mentioned, making this bloated with characters you will not give two shits about. Oh, and this film features a former President of the United States suicide-bombing himself…and it accomplishes nothing. Are you comparing the aliens to the United States as imperialist monsters in real life and the United States in the film to terrorists in real life, and dressing it up in a faux patriotism wherein America alone saves the world’s ass from destruction and suffers the least damage among first world nations? This film’s message and packaging are so fucked up that I doubt the filmmakers intended the film to say anything other than “hand us your money.”
Some of this is dumb fun, and a lot of this is just plain dumb, or annoying, or groan inducing. The set up of this world could have gone somewhere, and yet five writers couldn’t craft a good movie out of that set up. Cutting the main case in half or two thirds might have helped, but there’s a franchise to attempt to make. When the film ends with the implication that the humans might travel to the evil alien homeworld to take the fight to them, I was reminded of an idea I had for an “Independence Day” sequel back in 1996. It would have been called “Columbus Day”, and like Columbus we would have gone to a distant land to kill and enslave the natives (in this case, evil aliens). I’m not sure what it means that my idea at the age of 12 or 13 is the idea that men in their 50s and 60s want to turn into part 3 of this series….if it even gets made (box office results paint that as doubtful).
For all the faults of the original “Independence Day”, it was more fun and had more dumb charm than this sequel does. The plan the humans come up with is better and less absurd than a 1996 computer virus being able to be uploaded to an alien vessel, but otherwise this is a lackluster story with a bloated cast of characters you don’t care about, special effects that are generic and boring, and humor that largely doesn’t work. The film isn’t aggressively bad, but it’s mediocre as all hell. C.