“It’s definitely bigger than the last one,” declares David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) upon seeing the latest attack ship in INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. As hard as it is to believe, it’s been 20 years since the original Roland Emmerich film Independence Day became a legitimate pop cultural icon. Indeed, the scene of the White House being blown up by invading aliens has become a shorthand visual for the scale that event action films must top when they enter the box office arena. The sequel doesn’t so much aim to top the original’s iconography so much as try to out-scale it, and with a healthy dose of nostalgia, it mostly achieves this.
Emmerich’s follow-up takes place two decades after the original, in an incredibly sci-fi version of Earth that blends recovered alien technology with our own. The idyllic version of the future has beaten reality to the punch, with the first female President of the United States Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) helping lead a united Earth front in building the Earth Space Defense (ESD), with bases built on the Moon, Mars and Saturn’s Rhea. The years have not been kind to retired President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), seen as mad by some and fragile by others. Yet when the alien distress signal is received by the original invaders, a second force is sent towards the Earth intent on destruction.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE could have been made in the 1990s. Or in the early 2000s. Apart from the physical ageing of the returning cast, a fact Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) comments on after awakening from a twenty year coma, the film completely captures a timeless sensibility of outrageously high-concept action films. Without the presence of Will Smith to “aw hell no” his way through the dogfights, Emmerich’s film literally has a group of top gun pilots called the Legacy Squadron, consisting of Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher), the son of Smith’s Steven Hiller. The film spends a perfunctory amount of time setting up the world: Dylan is in conflict with fellow pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), who is in turn dating former First Daughter and now White House aide Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe). Co-plilot Charlie (Travis Tope) is infatuated with Chinese pilot Rain Lao (Angelababy). Levinson and Dr. Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) investigate the only intact alien ship in an African warlord’s (DeObia Oparei) territory.
When the attacks begin, and the film wastes very little time in getting us there, we are in incredibly familiar territory. From here, the narrative becomes a slingshot hurtling down the trench run to blow up the alien McGuffin. Which is precisely the right tone needed for a sequel released after such a long gestation period. There are a lot of moving parts in INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, a by-product of a story that is now properly global. Embracing every cheesy line of dialogue and the silliness of overwrought dialogue (“I think they’re after our molten core” is a Goldblum gem), the pace leaves very little time to contemplate the barrage of elements it throws at us like so many invading forces. For the most part, they all serve their function well. Even the newer cast members, who are less enthusiastic in their willingness to camp it up, have some terrific set-pieces, with a close-quartered battle inside the alien vessel. Knowing winks to the audience come in the form of visual references to a multitude of sci-fi films, including a nice nod to Jurassic Park as Goldblum checks the rear-view mirror as they are being chase by a rampaging attacker. Less successful is the Judd Hirsch storyline, stuck in a bus filled with bratty children, as the writing team struggle to find a way to fit in all the surviving elements.
If there are too many stories happening at once, it’s because they are ultimately subservient to the spectacle. On this level, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE delivers its payload with gusto, filling the screen with a buzz of dogfights, giant ships, explosions or gunplay between the terrestrial characters. The special effects aren’t so much groundbreaking as exemplars of digital craftspeople at the top of their game.There’s some odd photography going on throughout whenever there is a “quiet” moment, with principal subjects almost always obscured behind other people or objects. This is a minor quibble when the majority of focal points are 90 feet wide on the bigger screens.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE never pretends to be something wholly original, even lifting it’s alien queen battle finale from another Fox franchise about aliens. What the audience is left with at the end of this film is actually something sharply different to the rousing faith in the military-industrial complex that the first film finished on. We’re left with the promise of a storyline that will increase the scope of the franchise even more, and more than a hint of an already planned sequel that we probably won’t have to wait another 20 years for.
2016 | US | DIR: Roland Emmerich | WRITERS: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt | CAST: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, Judd Hirsch, Charlotte Gainsbourg, William Fichtner, Angelababy, Nicolas Wright, Deobia Oparei, Joey King, John Storey, Brent Spiner | DISTRIBUTOR: Fox| RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes | RATING: ★★★¾ (7.5/10)