"Independence Day: Resurgence" Is An Epic Dud

Anyone who was between the ages of 7 and 13 in July 1996 ought to feel some kind of nostalgia for Roland Emmerich’s original “Independence Day,” whether as an unforgettable introduction to big screen alien invasion flicks, or a deafening primer on the inadequacies of blockbuster filmmaking, or both. But it was more than an adolescent fever dream. It was an event, easily enough glommed onto by a populace thirsty for a big, dumb extra-terrestrial movie. Sliced any which way, the picture slithered into the pop culture subconscious and stuck like a leech, turning a dopey acronym (ID4) into household vernacular and turning Bill Pullman’s tarmac speech into a meme nearly a decade before Facebook and YouTube.

Cut to 2016. The twenty years between “Independence Day” and “Independence Day: Resurgence” barely register on the “longest gaps between movie sequels” index, a reality that only briefly intersects with perception. It doesn’t feel like 20 years. It feels like 40. Yet, somehow, “Resurgence” makes decades worth of script work and advancements in special effects seem all for naught. The movie immediately feels every bit as outdated as its predecessor.

The aliens are back but Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller isn’t, leaving Jeff Goldblum to headline as computer expert David Levinson. Also returning are Bill Pullman as ex-President Thomas Whitmore, Brent Spiner as Area 51 scientist Dr. Okun, and Judd Hirsch as David’s father, Julius. They’re all fine, hogging all of the film’s (mostly) intentional laughs. Spiner in particular relishes the opportunity for lots of screen time, bear hugging the development that his character didn’t die in the original film after all.

The aforementioned performances are almost reason enough for ID4 fans to check out “Resurgence,” except for one thing: everything else.

The screenplay and the new characters that inhabit it are an all-out catastrophe, underlining how much of a nostalgia play the whole endeavor is. The story involves a moon base and African warlords and all sorts of alien mythos that are impossible to care about, coming to a head in a scene in which a ten foot white orb delivers more than half the movie’s exposition. It’s at this junction where a previously incoherent movie becomes an irretrievable one.

Liam Hemsworth’s co-starring turn as fighter pilot Jake Morrison comes with less characterization than Vivica A. Fox’s dog received in the original film (Fox inexplicably appears here for less than a minute before being written out), while Jessie Usher listlessly plays the son of Fox’s Jasmine Hiller and stepson of the now-deceased Steven Hiller. The duo of twenty-somethings seems straight out of an action figure tie-in commercial, background characters thrown into duty to sell toys because the stars were unavailable. It’s a thought not far removed from the truth.

Maika Monroe’s casting as ex-President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia was met with jeers from the press, her looks deemed that much more viable than those of gorgeous and utterly capable actress Mae Whitman who actually played the character in the 1996 film. Whitman would have undoubtedly been a highlight here. Monroe is a bore, showing none of the charisma she exuded in Adam Wingard’s “The Guest.” (Her character’s love affair with Morrison is uninspired, to say the least.)

The cast goes on and on (William Fichtner, Sela Ward, and Charlotte Gainsbourg among the casualties), with the pic’s five screenwriters piling up the characters in lieu of writing a single good one. Moreover, a couple interesting ideas (an alien prison, for one) go nowhere, falling victim to a bad game of narrative hopscotch. We zoom this way and that, off planet and then back on, at first unaware of where we are and then eventually unconcerned. The screenplay is just scenes stacked on top of each other. Gone is the unease and intrigue of the first film, in its place a gumbo of bad writing that has no idea just how bad it is.

The alien design remains a highpoint, even if Emmerich has inevitably done away with puppetry in favor of CGI overload. But again, everything remotely good in “Resurgence” plays on twenty years of residual goodwill, fond memories that are all but nuked by the time the movie climaxes in a school bus being chased across the desert by a giant alien queen.

The movie is so inept that audiences will be forgiven for thinking Roland Emmerich and producing partner Dean Devlin haven’t made a film before. If not for passable historical drama “The Patriot,” you could argue they haven’t; only gauche, would-be crowd-pleasers that occasionally hit that summer movie sweet spot. “Resurgence” slots in comfortably next to their worst efforts to date, ending up the movie equivalent of ordering a popsicle on a sweltering summer day – only to be served the stick.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: June 24, 2016
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenwriters: James A. Woods, Nicolas Wright, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Brent Spiner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jessie Usher, Maika Monroe, William Fichtner, Sela Ward
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language)