In 1996, director Roland Emmerich delivered a thrilling, action-packed and surprisingly funny blockbuster in Independence Day. Now he returns – minus one relatively well-known leading man, Will Smith – to offer up his eagerly-anticipated follow-up, Resurgence. But did he manage to create a movie that equals its greatness?
Given that we've got two decades to cover, audiences are quickly brought up to speed as to where the human race is at now in Independence Day: Resurgence – living in the most peaceful time in history, thanks to nations putting aside their "petty differences." However, in anticipation of yet another extra-terrestrial attack, humans have created an Earth Space Defense program, where pilots, engineers and fighters are stationed on the moon to provide an initial barrier of protection for the planet. Said organisation is directed by Jeff Goldblum's returning character David Levinson... apparently.
Yet with all these military-style vigilant precautions, almost every character still regurgitates the same notion spoken in the last film, that this invasive alien race is so much more advanced than them still, and that they would never stand a chance if they ever returned for revenge. Unfortunate then that they of course, do, foreseen by the now deeply-troubled, former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who has been suffering visions of the alien's return for many years now.
Regrettably that's all Pullman's really good for in the follow-up, as instead, the 'heroes' are found in young blood. It's understandable why Emmerich decided to almost split the cast into two halves to appeal to differently-aged audiences. Including returning familiar faces in Goldblum, Pullman, Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner and the action-ready newbies in Maika Monroe, Jessie Usher and Liam Hemsworth but there's hardly any synergy between the two camps making for a clunky, overstuffed movie, despite the still brilliant performances from the old cast in particular.
There's also Charlotte Gainsbourg's psychologist who is apparently an old flame of Levinson's, DeObia Oparei's war-lord who has a particular penchant for attacking aliens from behind with his beloved katanas, William Fichtner's pragmatic General Adams who likes spending time in expensive B&B's with his wife and even the doting boyfriend of Spiner's Okun. They're all played well but they all get screen time and with characterisation stretched so thin, it's difficult to keep your focus or feel empathy with any of them.
It's interesting to note that many of these characters are actually introduced in the 2016 science-fiction book Independence Day: Crucible which adds as a prequel novel for all that occurs in Resurgence. But you shouldn't have to rely on a companion piece of literature to grasp what is going on – particularly in a recognisably named sequel.
Because there's so much going on, often the story line appears rushed – it can't be coincidence that every chance he gets Hemsworth's Jake opts to use the super-speedy fusion drive in the space aircrafts, surely – with characters arriving at cocksure decisions as to how to beat the aliens with no real explanation as to how they got there. The plot falls back on typical sci-fi tropes way too frequently too, with talks of queens, hives and even a downright silly deux ex machina situation towards the end. It's a far cry from the pretty original content we saw before.
Another sizeable difference between the first and second film – and no, we're talking about the alien's new ship which is pretty damn huge – is the tone. While the first instalment had plenty of humour, largely thanks to front man Smith, the sequel earns its chuckles mainly in moments that arguably shouldn't be funny – such as Pullman's former President Whitmore opting to have a spruce-up and a full shave just minutes before the world could potentially be destroyed forever. Because, you know, people need to look the part when they're saving Earth. Or even more inappropriately when a semi-lead character suffers a terrible loss in a scene that looks entirely lifted from last year's disaster movie San Andreas.
Where it's lacking in cohesive storyline however, the special effects are, as expected, spectacular, particularly seen in a 3D format. In one extended sequence as the new aliens land their ship on Earth's surface, destruction occurs in cities all over the planet including London and New York City and cinema-goers see bridges and other landmarks reduced to rubble. You just wish that while watching, you were willing the good guys to stop such horrors rather than revelling at what it looks like on the big screen.
Pullman's delivery of the original film's standout speech – very loosely based on Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was actually pretty iconic – sadly, there's no such memorable moment in Resurgence. It seems like Emmerich and his multitude of screenwriters knew this going in too, as they reference it constantly in the new movie, rather than come up with something fresh. Such fact could almost be looked upon as a sum-up of the director's take on revisiting the story. What was great in the 1990s. should probably have been left alone in the 90s. While it's not bad now, it's far from the standard it was.