Posted on Monday, June 27th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Last week, I bought my ticket and settled in for Independence Day: Resurgence with some trepidation. After all, the publicity machine had been silent and there were no really screenings for critics. The belated sequel to director Roland Emmerich‘s 1996 alien invasion film was opening in theaters showcasing all of the telltale signs of stinker. The only thing missing was literal smell lines wafting out of the poster in the lobby.
And then the credits began to roll and I was pleasantly surprised. I liked Independence Day: Resurgence! I had a good time with it! I thought it was a worthy follow-up to the original, a film that I’m embarrassed to enjoy as much as I do! So I opened up Twitter to share this pleasant news with the world and quickly learned that I was very much alone. The rest of the world, including my /Film colleagues, thought the film was a big pile of irredeemable junk, an all-time stinker, a disaster, of epic proportions. I tell this anecdote to make it clear that I wasn’t reacting to the initial round of negative responses. I’m not just being a contrarian for the sake of it. I reached this humiliating opinion on my own, thank you very much.
A $200 million movie shouldn’t need a defense. This isn’t a misunderstood future classic or an indie in need of championing, But damn it all: I enjoyed Independence Day: Resurgence and there is no way I’m going to march into the future without going on the record. So follow my down this path – I will hold my head up high and try to justify being that guy who likes this movie.
A Tonal Shift (or, a Different Kind of Disaster)
The original Independence Day was a disaster movie crafted in the Irwin Allen mode, a shameless piece of gigantic, populist entertainment that assembled a bunch of familiar faces to they could react in horror as the world fell apart around them. Replace the aliens with some kind of more earthbound threat and many of the beats can’t help but feel familiar. The first film was Earthquake, Airport, and The Towering Inferno recreated with a larger, more apocalyptic flavor.
Independence Day: Resurgence is not that at all. In fact, in terms of tone and basic storytelling, the sequel is a completely different kind of monster. The disaster movie with the science fiction coating has been replaced with a, well, actual science fiction story. But not grand and elegant science fiction in the Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov mold. Oh, no. Resurgence is a science fiction tale in the “battered, 99 cent, published straight to paperback in 1974 for an audience of just about no one” mold. Whether by accident or design (and to be fair, I’m almost entire certain that this was a total accident), Roland Emmerich spent $200 million on a movie that feels like glorious recreation of the junk you’d read and abandon on airplane, the disposable 150-page novels with insane titles and more insane cover art that you’d read when you were just young enough to not realize you were reading something written by an author known for putting out two novels a year, favoring quantity over coherence.
Independence Day always carries with it the air of importance – it’s a big, serious movie, filled with dramatic (if not always successful) heft. Independence Day: Resurgence wears its silliness as a badge of honor – it’s a sandbox of total insanity.The first film attempted to look like something respectable. Its sequel is one of the nerdiest movies ever made, bursting at the seams with bombastic, kitchen sink nonsense that will irritate most normal people…and send shivers of uber-nerd nirvana down the spines of people who wear pocket protectors. Independence Day was a disaster movie disguised as a sci-fi movie, but Resurgence is an all-out space opera dense with ludicrous mythology. It’s scenes of mass destruction lack the urgency and terror of the first film, but they’re over quickly for a reason: the film wants you to get to the reeeally crazy stuff.
If you were one of the few people who actually enjoyed the often indefensible Thor: The Dark World because it featured space elves firing lasers at Norse gods (and this is the point where I raise my hand), Independence Day: Resurgence is the movie for you. It’s not content to just settle for another jets-versus-alien-fighters scene – it has to strand those pilots in the alien mothership. On foot. In the middle of an extraterrestrial ecosystem that’s there for some reason. It’s nuts.
However, this tonal shift between films serves a greater need than simply appealing to true blue bottom-of-the-social-barrel nerdom. It also ensures that Resurgence isn’t just a copy and paste job of the original film. Sure, there are familiar beats and both climax with an alien attack on Area 51, but the actual beats of the film, the staging of the action, and the escalation of the threat are all different enough to render the film unpredictable. In a summer filled with sequels content to replicate the formula from the first film, Resurgence’s rejection of the original tone is something to admire. It wants to be something different, even if that something different angered and annoyed the vast majority of audiences these past few days. I appreciate that gumption.