Continuing in the modern Hollywood tradition of emptying out closets and seeing what old outfits could pass for acceptable fashion by today’s standards, the film industry has dusted off an unlikely ensemble with Independence Day: Resurgence. With the mood of the country and the world being resolutely anti-American, it’s seems like a strange choice to create a sequel to a movie that was so very pro-American. As such, Resurgence will probably not perform well over the long run, which is too bad, since the movie itself is watchable. It’s formulaic and sometimes campy, but it’s still an enjoyable time in the theater.
After defeating the alien invasion in the war of 1996, the world has changed dramatically over the next 20 years. The United States has a female President (Sela Ward), alien technology has been fused with human technology to create new transportation and weapons, and the moon has been colonized. President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is now an addled shadow of his former self, haunted by alien visions. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is off globetrotting to learn more from alien wreckages, while his father (Judd Hirsch) deals with retirement. Meanwhile, since Captain Steven Hiller (played by Will Smith in the first film) has died in a training accident, his son, Dylan (Jesse T. Usher), follows in his father’s footsteps as a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, before being defeated, the aliens were able to send a distress signal back to their mothership lightyears away, and now an even bigger force is en route to destroy Earth.
By itself, Independence Day: Resurgence is a fairly conventional film. It’s got the now-ubiquitous world-ending high stakes and a small band of heroic heroes who have suffered a personal loss, which prepares them to make the ultimate sacrifice for a little payback. There’s also just enough camp to keep the film light and fun. As a sequel 20 years in the making, however, Resurgence gets bogged down reestablishing characters from the first film who aren’t necessarily important to this film. Worse yet is that the actors from that cast don’t appear in or have big parts in contemporary Hollywood films. So instead of being these heroes from yesteryear coming out of retirement, they instead feel like old people who are in the way. Judd Hirsch’s character is a perfect example of this. Previously, he served plot and character purposes. Here he’s completely unnecessary except as a throwback to a nice memory.
On the upside, the movie looks good. The creature effects look believable and aligned with how audiences will remember them from the first film, except more animated now. The CGI also looks good – or at least good enough not to be questioned – but it doesn’t escape the sheen of artifice that today’s big budget titles can’t seem to spend their way around.
From a story perspective, Resurgence spreads itself too thin and never plumbs the depths of action, drama, mystery, or suspense as deeply as audiences will want. The movie tries to shoehorn some humanity into the story with different relationships and conflicts between characters, but they mostly fall flat and are forgettable. Also, to make the story feel more global, the film introduces an African warlord (Deobia Oparei), who kills alien warriors using a pair of machetes, which just seems weird when the enemy is attacking with lasers. Finally, some concessions were made to China, presumably in the hopes of doing well in that market, which is just a necessary evil American moviegoers will have to live with going forward. But with all of these facets being attended to as well as tying into the previous film, Resurgence doesn’t offer enough art to cover up the underlying math problem it’s trying to solve.
If I had to guess, then I’d predict that Resurgence won’t do well in the box office – at least not domestically. Had the first Independence Day released this year, it probably wouldn’t perform well either. In ‘96 believable CGI was still a rarity, and audiences could suffer through an average story if it meant being truly amazed. But now we have the internet in ways that were unimaginable back in ’96. We see Hollywood-level special effects in YouTube videos. Now that everything can be faked believably, audiences need more than landmarks getting blown up.
Also, I think Americans liked America more back then. Since ’96 we’ve had a slew of Michael Moore films telling Americans how America is no good and even more Iraq war protest films telling Americans how America can do no good. And if anyone should forget, then their “friends” on social media were happy to remind them 24×7. A film that showcases American exceptionalism just isn’t going to resonate with half the ticket buying audience in the United States.