They weren’t kidding when they called this sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence.”
If you remember the emblematic moment of the terrifically entertaining original summertime apocalypse, a gigantic space ship parked itself over the White House, sent a giant ray into the joint and blasted it to smithereens.
So much “resurgence” is going on in Roland Emmerich’s sequel to the 1996 original, that there is a passing shot of a completely reconstituted White House in a montage set 20 years later. It looks exactly as it did before aliens turned it into talcum powder.
In other words, it looks exactly like the Washington D.C. residence whose last major renovation was 1952.
What Emmerich made clear 20 years ago with the original battle between Earth and Outer Space demolitionists is that no one does “smithereens” with more zest than he. We’ve been watching major buildings and landmarks blown up onscreen ever since the original “Independence Day” became a smash hit in 1996. But when you want to blow landmarks to Kingdom Come, Emmerich is your man.
When 9/11 happened, Robert Altman publicly uttered the unutterable and blamed Hollywood for giving terrorists ideas. The trouble is this: If you’ve ever watched children play with blocks or Legos or Tinker Toys, you can see them carefully construct things to their satisfaction. And then, when they’re finished, you’ll often see them knock it all down for the fun of it.
Our species’ infantile vicarious pleasure in demolition seems ineradicable, no matter how civilized we become.
Everything that is enjoyable about “Independence Day: Resurgence” was more enjoyable in the original “Independence Day.” Everything that is missing in this sequel 20 years later is a grievous loss – not fatal but big enough.
Obviously, I’m talking about Will Smith, who reputedly wanted $50 million to film two sequels simultaneously. Smith, alone, has more personality before he’s had his first cup of morning coffee than most cable entertainment networks. Without him, a huge amount of hustling is needed to restore personality to the franchise.
It just wasn’t done here. The film suffers immensely, for anyone who remembers the original. We see a thoroughly anonymous young actor in the film playing his character’s son. But if you add him to everyone else in this cast under 35, all of them together wouldn’t have enough personality to keep you attentive to five minutes of rock radio in Ashtabula, let alone a large, 3-D screen at your friendly local neighborhood megaplex.
Pretending to have something vaguely resembling Smith’s cocky insolence and resolve here is Liam Hemsworth, a handsome young hunk who does his best but is given zero help by the rest of the young cast.
In one case – the substitution of Maika Monroe for Mae Whitman – it caused major online accusations of stupid lookism long before it opened, from some fellow actresses. Monroe is an attractive actress, to be sure, but prettiness isn’t what this film needed from its young cast, it was liveliness.
When you’re blowing up all those buildings and space ships for two hours of fun and profit, your cast had jolly well better be interesting to watch.
Fortunately for this film, a lot of terrific character stars and actors are back from the original to keep things watchable: Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner. Joining them are Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sela Ward and Cheektowaga’s own William Fichtner, who, as the story proceeds, becomes ever more crucial to the survival of the human species.
The cards have been stacked so thoroughly for actors over 35 here that if you have any sense of fairness, you have to feel sorry for the hopelessly bland young cast. It’s possible that one or more of them secretly possesses enough panache and talent to propel an actual film and TV career but just on the evidence of this film, I wouldn’t bet on it.
In the 20 years since the original, Emmerich has given screen evidence of seriousness on occasion – most notably with “Anonymous” a weirdly creditable movie based on ridiculous ideas of Shakespearian authorship and “Stonewall,” which, despite, Emmerich’s longtime gay activism, told the story of the primal gay rebellion against constituted authority to no one’s satisfaction whatsoever.
For those inclined to give a fig a about plot in these sci-fi demolition derbies, it seems that this particular set of aliens has come to attack us 20 years later because they’ve been busy ransacking other planets around the universe and gotten stronger. Our number, then, has come up again. They want to suck out all the energy from the earth’s molten core.
Eventually, that plan comes to grief for the bad guys with the resolve of Ward as the U.S. president, Pullman as the now-nutty ex-president and Goldblum and Spiner as the key scientists.
At the end, earth is saved from destruction at the exact same time as a busload of school children.
That’s in case you might forget whom you’re rooting for. You gotta love Hollywood – unless you were Robert Altman.
Twenty years later, the sequel to the famous smash is weak but still eminently watchable.