Independence Day Resurgence Review

When Independence Day hit theaters in 1996, it brought the spectacle of global destruction, exciting action, some decent laughs, and an ensemble of memorable characters with nary a huge movie star in sight. Twenty years later, Independence Day: Resurgence attempts to deliver all that again. But despite a plot point out of left field that shifts the sequel away from a simple retread of the original and toward an absolute bonkers, universe-expanding set-up for a sequel, this follow-up falls flat and lacks any of the heart, charm, efficiency and exhilaration that makes the first one entertaining to this day.

Read our full Independence Day Resurgence review after the jump.

The sequel picks up 20 years after what is dubbed the War of 1996, when aliens devastated the planet, killing billions, destroying our iconic cities and landmarks. In that time, we’ve utilized the alien technology left behind to advance our own weapons, vehicles and more. Cities have been rebuilt, and we have jets that can fly with ease to a moon base created by Earth Space Defense, a global organization led by David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) that has helped prepare humanity for the possibility of the aliens returning.

Everything is set in motion when a giant ship comes through what looks like some kind of black hole or portal near the moon base. When President Lanford (Sela Ward) makes the decision to blast it to oblivion, in the wreckage lies a mysterious orb. This is the signal of the return of the aliens, but not in the way that our characters think.

Characters who had contact with the aliens 20 years ago are the ones to signal the return of the aliens, including familiar faces like Brent Spiner as Dr. Okun and Bill Pullman as President Whitmore, along with new characters like Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), an African warlord who has been investigating the only ship that landed on Earth 20 years ago (something we didn’t learn about in the first movie) and attempted to drill to the Earth’s core. They all have visions of what the aliens are planning to do, thanks to a psychic connection with the hive mentality shared by the species, and that’s when the destruction starts.

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All the alien invasion action and spectacle that you expect comes in full force. But it lacks the same strength and excitement that made the first one so enjoyable to watch. It feels like the movie is going through the motions, with Jeff Goldblum’s character barely registering any real fear. Some of that is due to Goldblum’s charmingly dry personality, but mostly it’s because the movie doesn’t give him anything to be shocked by anymore. We’ve seen this all before, and it was much better the first time.

Roland Emmerich attempts to mix things up by throwing a huge curveball at the audience, introducing a plot point that not only sets up a sequel, but basically shoves the promise of one in your face. Seriously, they might as well just flash a link to buy tickets to what 20th Century Fox hopes will be a third movie in the franchise after the very end of the movie. I won’t spoil what this story turn is, but suffice it to say that it changes everything, and it’s just batshit insane.

This crazy new direction for Independence Day: Resurgence would be admirable and even good fun if the movie had half as much heart and the same kind of engaging characters that made the first film so captivating. Instead, pretty much everyone feels like they’re sleepwalking through this movie. Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner are the only ones who throw themselves fully into their performances, and while Liam Hemsworth does his best to be the Will Smith of this movie, he doesn’t have the swagger to pull it off. Though he does pee on an alien ship in order to create a distraction at some point, for whatever that’s worth.

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In addition, all the relationships between these characters, old and new, just don’t feel genuine anymore. In Independence Day, you buy that Will Smith and Harry Connick Jr. are really good friends, and it sucks when the latter dies in a fiery jet explosion. You feel pride when Randy Quaid flies his jet into an alien ship to blow it up. You love the dynamic between Jeff Goldblum and his father Judd Hirsch, and it’s nice when Goldblum and Pullman end up becoming chummy with each other. But even the retread of the latter relationships lack any substance, and I found myself not caring about what happens to any of them at all. Except for one.

While Dr. Okun is a little more goofy then he should be in this movie, he actually has a great relationship with another character in this movie, and there’s more emotion during one moment between these two than in the whole rest of the movie. Independence Day: Resurgence doesn’t earn any of the victories it sets out to win, and lines from Will Smith’s mediocre replacement Jessie Usher like “How’s that for a close encounter?” land with a thud rather than a clap and a cheer. The film also attempts to redeem one of the most annoying, poorly written supporting characters that I’ve seen in a sci-fi film, like a terrible American version of John Oliver if he were a doofus of a government shill, and it feels desperate.

Independence Day: Resurgence goes all the way when it comes to creating a huge alien invasion movie. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a movie this big that aims to do so much in the fight against an invading alien race. Its ambition is impressive on some level. But the film doesn’t have all the moving pieces to make any of it feel like it matters. In order to feel like the human race wins, you have to have characters that you believe in and care about, and Resurgence just doesn’t have those anymore.

/Film rating: 4 out of 10

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