"Independence Day: Resurgence" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 120 minutes
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Review by: JJ Mortimer
A competent sci-fi motion picture that feels more like a dark spinoff rather than a direct sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence misses the cornball charm of the original film, replacing it with a sense of realism and seriousness - for better or worse.
What made 1996's Independence Day such a hit with audiences wasn't just with its star power, but with its ability to take a world we know and live in, and throw it upside down by destroying the shit out of it. Despite its cheesiness, it was easy to relate to and insert ourselves into the destructive events because it took place in the 1996 world we were already existing in.
With Resurgence, the alien technology left behind from the destruction twenty years before has been implemented into our lives, and the world has been rebuilt with the light-years advancements, which is great for a science fiction story. The film captures many of these upgrades and elements brilliantly, showing a positive approach on how far the human race can advance when introduced to science we rightfully should never have, and how the world has learned to exist together and away from all the petty differences of cultural divide in the face of worldwide destruction. This film's theme of the use of advanced technology for the good of the human race is the antithesis of the atom bomb.
Despite this, the film makes it very difficult for us to care about the Earth's survival a second time when its makeup no longer looks like the world we know and mostly love. Landmarks have changed, buildings have been rebuilt, and we no longer know or can relate to this world that the sequel has created. This is exactly a reason why the characters need to be very, very charismatic, entertaining, and memorable, in order for us to be able to relate to them and feel a sense of dread and fear when something horrible happens.
While fantastic to see Jeff Goldblum again, part of the fun of the first Independence Day was the chemistry between him and Will Smith in the later parts of the film. With Smith out of the picture, the sequel misses some of the characterization marks by not allowing the major stars to spend a lot of time with each other. Director Roland Emmerich does a good job of allowing the returning stars, as well as the few new stars, to have their heroic moments, but again the impact of their actions don't hit as hard when you don't necessarily care about what they're fighting for.
I will say that the final twenty minutes of Independence Day: Resurgence are very, very good involving a truly frightening Cloverfield-like "monster movie" moment in the middle of the New Mexico desert, utilizing terrific visual effects that were confident enough to be displayed in broad daylight. A few shots, as well as the "ticking clock" urgency of the situation, add some good tension that the film desperately needed.
Independence Day: Resurgence is one of those odd, rare occasions where a sequel ups the ante by making the antagonists larger, scarier, and more destructive, yet somehow comes out looking like a smaller film with smaller stakes at hand. While the new characters are basic and good, with typical Emmerich-style personality traits, Jeff Goldblum mostly takes a back seat and doesn't quite stand out the way I had hoped he would. Bill Pullman as now-ex-President Whitmore is given the best moment in the film, but because we don't have the connection to the world the stars are trying to save, it doesn't quite have the impact that his inspirational speech had from the first film.
On a technical level, the film has fantastic visual effects and a neat grasp on the utilization of alien hardware and its integration into human life. The look of the film is sadly less colorful than the first film, with cinematographer Markus Forderer choosing to desaturate many of the scenes with a cold, blue tone and in turn making the film feel less and less like the original. The film's music from composers Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander (replacing David Arnold from the first film) is unmemorable and lost among the entertaining battles, which made it such a relief to hear Arnold's ID4 theme when the credits rolled, again reminding us how much more fun some of these films were back in the 90s by simply giving them an inspired theme and score that you could hum when you left the theater.
Go into Independence Day: Resurgence as though it were a stepping stone to a third, larger movie, and enjoy the science fiction action and often fun moments. Just don't expect a film as cheesy-fun or with the grandeur of the first Independence Day.
I will add that I originally disliked 1996s Independence Day a lot when it first came out. I found it to be too cheesy, the characters to be too dismissive of the destruction around them, and the visual effects (despite winning that year's Oscar) to be cartoonish. Over the years, the film has grown on me, and whether by nostalgia or a love for a time when movies mostly felt like they strove to entertain audiences as a FIRST rule, independence Day has become a go-to movie with which to compare other end-of-the-world movies to, and an example of how to make something as terrible as the annihilation of the human race an "entertaining popcorn summer flick."