Here’s a drinking game for you – every time someone refers to something as being “bigger” in Independence Day: Resurgence, take a shot. You’ll be well buzzed by the halfway point, such is how often the film wants us to know how much bigger it is, how much higher the stakes are than the first one. True enough, things are certainly bigger this time around, with an invading alien force that dwarfs the original and a much grander realization of the film’s global scale. However, as the saying goes, bigger most assuredly does not always mean better.
In the wake of the original Independence Day, humanity has had 20 years of peace and prosperity as the world has created a new, bright future for itself. Thanks to the alien technology salvaged from the first invasion, we have leaped forward in technology and have managed to create a prosperous colony on the moon. Under the orders of the UN, it’s this colony which reacts with hostility to a newly discovered alien force, spurring on round two with the alien race that had a go at us the first time around.
It’s almost difficult to consider Resurgence a sequel since so much of it plays as a complete retread of the original Independence Day, except without the playful cynicism that made that such a hit. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and Roland Emmerich seems high as can be on his own history with his rose-tinted lens maintaining total tunnel-vision on his 1996 blockbuster. Independence Day was a hugely influential film that’s remembered as a cinematic landmark for a generation, this just comes nowhere the same level of charisma or memorability. The set-pieces, plot developments and character moments are all close to wholesale re-enactments of the first, all presented with a deadpan attitude that does a disservice to the genuine warmth being exuded by some onscreen.
A returning Jeff Goldblum shines. He, Brent Spiner and Bill Pullman are what bring this sequel so close to the charm of the original. However, the inclusion of so many reappearing characters becomes a hindrance as certain plot-points could have easily been shaved down or, in the case of Judd Hirsch removed entirely without missing much. In putting so much emphasis on the returning cast, they seemingly forgot to make most of the new characters anything more than silhouettes. Some do shine – Jessie Usher and Maika Monroe both get very close to good at times and there’s a potential action star in DeObia Oparei – but most achieve little more than placeholders for emotional involvement. Liam Hemsworth, who has been posited as the new franchise lead, continually drags the movie down with his chiseled brow and completely unremarkable demeanour. At two hours, Independence Day: Resurgence isn’t as long as it could be, but it absolutely feels every minute whenever Hemsworth is leading the fray.
Resurgence isn’t entirely nostalgic regression though – some of its ideas are entirely progressive. It passes the Bechdel test in minutes, and with a female president played by Sela Ward, no less. These aspects all just get over-shadowed by the sheer tawdry bombast. Watching the special effects-riddled catastrophe gradually becomes a chore as the altogether predictable, and altogether too familiar, final act begins to form. The film gets frustratingly close at points to doing or saying something interesting, to moving out from under its own shadow. Multiculturalism and how the world has changed since the first are teased as discussion points, yet are never given more than a sentence or two. Resurgence‘s self-awareness and repeated dependence on how it’s been 20 years just boils down to mere surface tension for a blockbuster that’s none the wiser for the two decades it took to get here.
Emmerich has a reliable eye for depicting disaster just within the realms of conceivability. The tidal waves and destroyed landmarks are dwelled on just long enough and given enough colourful hue to feel just real enough, even if they are all things we’ve seen before. Then, as is typical Emmerich, he finds a way for the movie to finally do something outlandish enough to resemble interesting. It doesn’t make the film good, but it is enough to keep it worth seeing. Bigger, not better, but still good enough.