I knew that Independence Day: Resurgence was going to happen. One of the most iconic 90’s movie, an assured cast, good SFX, a captive US 4th of July audience and a decent box office haul meant a sequel was going to happen. So here we all are twenty years later, ready for the follow up with new and old cast members together. Does it work? Was it worth the wait? Trailer and review after the break.
It’s been two decades since the Battle of Earth when an alien invasion force came to wipe out humanity and claim the planet’s resources for themselves. Upon winning the war, humanity embarked on a golden age of scientific, cultural and military exploration, using the alien technology to expand their borders to the Moon, Mars and Saturnian moon, Rhea. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) has become the director of ESD (Earth Space Defense), his father Julius (Judd Hirsch) has retired and lives in a nursing home while writing books, Former President Tom Whitmore (Bill Pullman), now retired, spends his days suffering from effects of close contact with the aliens resulting from an incident in the previous battle while his daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) works in the White House as an aide and speechwriter to President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward). Patricia is engaged to Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) a pilot banished to the ESD base on the Moon for nearly killing their best friend in a training accident, Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher). Dylan has just arrived with the elite squadron he commands, stepping into the shoes of his deceased step-father Steven Hiller (played in the original film by Will Smith). Along for the ride is Hiller’s second-in-command, Rain Lao (Angelababy) from the Chinese military. On the eve of the celebrations for the anniversary, David and French psychiatrist Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) investigate strange readings from the remains of the first invasions wreckage in Africa along with local leader and warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) and the Moon base also picks up something. Something has heard the death cry of the first invasion and will now respond with unequalled ferocity.
You might accuse me of making too much of a comparison between the two films but ID4:R goes out of its way to do this by retreading the same ground, almost beat for beat, as the first with no attempt to tell a different story. Emmerich’s idea here is just to repeat everything but bigger in intent and scope. The new aggressors arrive in the same fashion as the first ones did (but bigger). The humans get attacked and crushed (but bigger). The counterinsurgency starts (but bigger). David figures stuff out and tries to stop the aliens (but bigger). Julius gives good advice and then calms a bunch of kids (but bigger). The final battle coming down to the wire (but bigger). And on and on. I am truly sorry to witness this. That Emmerich makes the action better and more cohesive than the first film is not enough to disguise that he’s reusing his old script. The destruction on display makes his previous 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow look tame by comparison. In 2012, the ground fell away from the sky. In ID4:R, the sky comes down to meet the ground and smash into it. Cities are literally turned upside down and continents groan and shake under the weight of country-sized ships. But doing all this, Emmerich and Dean Devlin (his co-creator on this and the original) just make everyone even smaller to the point that they kill off a character from the original film and I wasn’t even perturbed. Only after, when I realised that the character was introduced back in only to give one of the newer characters motivation when they died, did I become angry. It’s this and more like it that makes me wonder what you have to be in a Roland Emmerich film to merit respect.
As to the cast, well, it can be divided into two groups: the ones who care about the material and the ones that don’t. I’m pleased to report that not every one of the new cast members and especially the ones who are replacing the original younger actors can be put into the Don’t Care bracket. Jeff Goldblum is playing himself as always but there’s always been something about David Levinson that I felt was more hip and conventional than his other characters. Goldblum’s filmography is littered with misfits and oddballs but Levinson is an oddball who knows how to talk with others and to understand his place in society. His unconventional viewpoint makes him a great foil for the military types in the films (Bill Pullman, Robert Loggia, William Fichtner) and an excellent companion to the soldiers (Will Smith, Liam Hemsworth). When he’s up against difficult dialogue, he reaches deep. When he’s got to react to CG, he goes full Goldblum and “Gee-yawwww!” Maika Monroe as Patricia is one of the best points in the film and her presence bridges her father and the new heroes. More than that, Emmerich has her tantalisingly touted as a pilot as good as Josh or Dylan but for most of the film she spends it caring for her father and advising the President. The saving grace that Emmerich whips out Monroe as a badass soldier as well as wise counsel exactly when she’s needed and the film and every girl in the audience hoping for someone to balance out the supposed badasses and their lack of skill are better for her in it.
Brent Spiner is back as Doctor Okun, the weird little scientist from the first film working on alien tech at Area 51. Conveniently, he’s been in a coma since the first film and when he wakes up, it’s like he never left. No, really, it’s the same performance and while I didn’t mind it, I know Spiner can do so much more. Lastly, before I get to the highlight of the cast, William Fichtner as Gen. Joshua Adams who is David’s military equal within ESD plays a great leader who is called upon to make really tough choices as he runs out of chess pieces and the hour for all the cast draws late. Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson, well, I love Julius the character and Hirsch the actor so every stupid thing he survives and every deadly turn he gets caught by just makes me love him for his sanguine view of the whole affair. Chinese actor Angelababy provides some welcome relief in terms of the boys club in the air the film subjects us to but she’s limited to flying and being a great pilot, emoting over the loss of loved ones (which she pulls off better than the other younger cast members) and fending off the bad flirting of Charlie Miller (Travis Tope), Jake’s wingman who falls in love with her. She rises to the occasion in every scene but she’s not in them enough.
Before we get to the block (the bad acting), let’s acknowledge the butcher. Bill Pullman as former President Thomas Whitmore might have singlehandedly saved the film from being a dreadful sequel on the strength of his performance alone. Every time he’s in the room, everyone else gets a boost, Goldblum included. It’s like there’s an energy and vitality to his performance that the others use. His Tom Whitmore this time round is a broken Odysseus, saviour of his kingdom and child, wounded by a metaphoric poisoned arrow as he left the battlefield in triumph. As he struggles to make sense of the visions in his head before the attack, he tries to warn his daughter and later the world. But unlike a cinematic Cassandra, people don’t think he’s crazy, they listen with one ear because he’s Thomas Whitmore and he saved the world. When it all comes apart and the younger cast members haven’t the skill nor bearing to command a presence, Whitmore recovers enough to take the figurative field of battle and gives a stirring, emotional speech to the younger soldiers to complement his passionate battle cry from the first film. Pullman makes me believe again and so does his double act with Goldblum as they smile, nod, trade remarks and get ready for the fight again.
It’s because of a performance like Pullman’s that I’m forced to acknowledge the other end of the scale. Jessie Usher has no presence in this film at all. As Dylan, we are constantly reminded that his father was Steven Hiller, hero of the Great War and lost in a tragic training accident. We are also reminded that Usher can be many things but Will Smith, he cannot be. While you might think it unfair to compare the two actors, I must point out that at the time ID4 came out, Smith only had The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Bad Boys to his name. Usher only has Level Up and When the Game Stands Tall to his name at the time of ID4:R’s release. Will Smith’s role in ID4 isn’t thought of as much today but when you consider that Will Smith took a role that could have been thankless (and probably was as written) and spoke with such a mixture of authority and nonchalance, it seemed so damned natural of him. He was the first African-American actor I saw in a film in complete control of his character, pulling no punches and taking names. I know there were African American actors both before and after him who were masters of their craft but I grew up with the Fresh Prince, so I loved that he transformed into this wise-cracking fighter ace. In the new picture, Jessie Usher has nothing, I repeat, nothing to do in this film on the same scale as Will Smith. He is meant to be this amazing pilot, this leader of men and women and his contribution to the film can be summed up as: hits Liam Hemsworth, watches everything turn to shit, provides covering fire, leads his squad into a trap, saves Liam Hemsworth, provides covering fire, congratulates everyone else for making the decisive shot. What’s worse is that with Usher clearly not going to be a leading character, we instead get Liam Hemsworth as our saviour.
Oh, Jesus, he is so bad in this.
Liam Hemsworth has burned all his bridges for me with this role. After suffering him in the Hunger Games in which he plays the dumbest third wheel since Taylor Lautner in The Twilight series, here he is as the most whingy, self-absorbed hero in a modern film. Jake complains to his girlfriend that his former friend should just get over their disagreement and he really shouldn’t be pulling tug duty just because he ignored military protocol, disobeyed an order, nearly caused his death and the death of Dylan Hiller and destroyed billions of dollars of military equipment. Because when you put it like that, the military is just wrong for doing that to him. His character is the hero by accident. He’s with David Levinson when they discover the deus ex machina (yes, there’s one in this film too!) on the moon and survives because his wingman saved them. In the second attack on the main alien mothership, the entire squad get ambushed, falling into a body of water below and he nearly gets his head blown off until Jessie Usher is nearby to save him. In the end, he saves the day because he’s one of two or three ships left with ammo and flying capability. But unlike Randy Quaid’s character from ID4, Jake doesn’t do the decent thing and kill himself to save everyone else. Plus that blank expression on his face when he’s in danger or sad or angry is so annoying. The smirk is just as bad. Robert Loggia is in the film for forty seconds and has no lines and has more emotion on his face than Hemsworth does and Loggia died after making the film! There’re no two ways about this: Dylan and Jake probably started out being equals and somewhere along the way, Emmerich and Devlin transferred some of Dylan’s talents to Jake. It’s the only way to explain why Dylan never seems to be in command and why Jake succeeds all the time while in mortal danger. He flies with David through London in a space tug while gravity is reversed and the city falls upside down and the ship only gets dented! It will take a Terrence Malick role or something in equivalency for me to watch Liam Hemsworth again.
This probably won’t get the sequel they so obviously set up at the end of the film and if I’m being honest, I don’t want it to. If you want a great film about an alien invasion and a cast having a wild time, watch the original. I’ll buy this at some point for cheap and say that I have it but don’t say you were warned in the 2, 178 words before this.
A squandered affair, ID4:R is a lost cause from the opening act and only the spirited performances of Monroe, Goldblum, Hirsch and Pullman save the film from being utterly dire