In Defense Of 'Independence Day: Resurgence,' A Misfire Worth Embracing

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 Resurgence ReviewIndependence 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.


World Building (or, a Landscape Worthy of an Adventure)

Of all the deep, geeky pleasures that directly appealed to my (admittedly specific) sensibilities in Independence Day: Resurgence, it's the world-building that really won me over the most. While the first film took place in a world that was recognizably our own circa 1996, the sequel takes a hard turn into one of my favorite sub-genres: the alternate history tale. Resurgence takes advantage of the two decades that have passed since the release of the first film to set its action in 2016, even it's not the 2016 we're living in right. It's a 2016 that has been thoroughly re-imagined as something fresh and new that grew out of a full-blown alien invasion. The film never forgets what happened twenty years earlier and uses the fact that the human race was fundamentally reshaped by the first invasion to mold a science fiction world expansive and weird enough to house all of the magnificent nonsense that arises throughout the film.

The little details that fascinate me the most. I love how an entire new division of psychotherapy has been developed to assist patients who are living with the trauma of having survived a psychic invasion by the aliens. I would gladly watch a spin-off film following the African warlords who were forced to wage a lonesome guerrilla war against alien survivors for decade after the rest of the world declared victory. I got a kick out of this new world resembling a Star Trek utopia and how the second invasion causes a crisis of faith for young people who have grown up confident following the initial victory (only for their faith to be tested).


I even enjoyed how the film let the original cast members evolve, placing them in positions that feel like a genuine reflection of where they left off at the conclusion of the first movie. I want to know who the hell decided to create a drink called Moon Milk and whether or not it's available on Earth. I also laughed out loud when I saw a portrait of Will Smith in the halls of the White House because it's silly, but I also appreciated how it quickly and competently it showed off the new status quo of this alternate 2016. The heroes of the War of '96 now carry as much historical weight as the founding fathers. This movie may be silly, but its setting feels crafted with genuine care and thought. What would a post-alien invasion Earth look like?

And after Independence Day: Resurgence finishes establishing this alternate history, it begins to tear everything down and replace the rubble with concepts and characters that are, somehow, even more out-there than what was there before. The discovery of a third alien race that has been training various other alien races how the battle the "Harvesters" is a step off the deep end for a movie that was already wading deep into silly territory. The promise of a sequel (that will almost certainly never happen) where the humans fly into space using new technology to lead other alien races in an intergalactic war against the Harvesters is the logical next step. Independence Day: Resurgence grows too so and so preposterous in its final act that it has to promise to launch Jeff Goldblum into space. It's the only logical next step.


A Ruthless Pace (or, Thank God For Movies That Run 120 Minutes)

At the risk of handing out a backhanded compliment to a movie that already has the entire internet dog piling on it, one of the best things about Independence Day: Resurgence is that it's short. In fact, it's a full 25 minutes shorter than the first film, with the credits rolling before the two-hour mark arrives. And that is a glorious feeling.

You've surely noticed that summer movies have been getting longer and longer, with very few of them coming close to justifying their length. Captain America: Civil War, a good movie, could stand to lose 15-20 minutes. X-Men: Apocalypse, a very bad movie, overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes. Independence Day: Resurgence, a whatever-the-hell-this-movie-is, is just long enough. Say what you will about the actual mechanics of the story, but this movie moves, sprinting from one scene to the next without showing off even a tiny shred of fat. Here is a film that doesn't want to waste your time.

However, it's also obvious that the film has been cut to ribbons, which means that the killer pacing is another accidental victory. This is especially obvious in the first act, where major characters aren't given proper introductions and some of that cool world building feels overly rushed. It's a double-edged sword – is it okay for a film to sacrifice detail in the name of simply not wasting the audience's time? In the case of Resurgence, where so many of the film's charms rely on it bouncing from one outrageous concept or set piece to another, it feels like a necessary sacrifice. If Roland Emmerich does have a longer version on his hard drive, even if it's a version where Dylan Hiller isn't painfully boring, I have no interest in seeing it. Resurgence functions because it won't slow down long enough for you to see the sticking.


A Screenplay Written by Insane People (or, Yes, It's All Intentional)

I have no idea how the people working at a major motion picture studio read the screenplay for Independence Day: Resurgence and said "This is okay. Go shoot this." And I mean this as a compliment. Sort of. Because the the screenplay for Independence Day: Resurgence, which credits five writers, feels like it was assembled by lunatics. While the world building science fiction I praised above hits all of the right notes, many of the actual plot points work because they feel so gloriously wrong. They feel wrong in that '90s kind of way, the kind of wrong that gifted the world with bonkers blockbusters like Face/Off and Demolition Man. You know, movies so proud of their excess that they never paused to wonder if the should do what is written on the page. To put this in proper perspective, I immediately went home after my screening of Resurgence and watched Deep Blue Sea, a combination that just felt right deep down in my bones.

Yeah, a certain amount of this may be '90s nostalgia, as Resurgence feels very much shackled the decade that birthed the first movie. And yet, the absurdity of this film is just self-aware enough, just affable enough, to function. Emmerich knows exactly what he's doing when he builds a climactic set piece around a 100-foot tall alien queen pursuing Jeff Goldblum across the Nevada desert as he drives a school bus (!) full of abandoned children (!!) after nearly dying because an adorable dog had to rescued from certain doom (!!!). Anyone who thinks that Resurgence isn't in on the joke and doesn't realize that it's a work of crafty insanity by people who have built their entire careers on delivering next-level absurdity. How else are we to explain the spherical robot with its bizarre deadpan? Dr. Okun's secret laser cutter? Liam Hemsworth distracting an alien guard by pissing all of the floor of the mothership while giving them the finger? A story this full of left turns down rabbit holes and so consistently full of brazenly stupid jokes demands some level of respect, even if you want to give it grudgingly. Resurgence is many things, but dull is not one of 'em.


Not a Cynical Bone in Its Body (or, This Movie Cannot Tell a Lie)

Independence Day: Resurgence is a silly genre movie. It's ridiculous and lunkheaded, although some of that certainly feels like it's by design. It's full of ridiculous set pieces and eye-rolling humor. And yet, everything about this big, dumb movie feels downright honest. Although it's a very different film from its predecessor in the grand scheme of things, Resurgence overlaps with it in one key area: it's probably one of the most earnestly made major studio releases you'll see this year.

When characters make hokey speeches, they mean them. When someone lays down his life to save another, it's treated with sentimental heft. When the film pauses to celebrate how mankind can come together to defeat anything, it genuinely feels like the movie believes this. There's no cynicism here and anyone hoping for something post-modern will need to look elsewhere. Roland Emmerich has made cynical movies before (2012, anyone?), but Resurgence wears its heart on its sleeve in a big way. It wants to be rousing. It wants its heroes to be heroes. It wants to showcase humanity at its best, even after half of the population has been wiped out.


The closest recent comparison would be Warcraft, another critically reviled movie that doesn't contain a single ounce of cynicism in its make-up. Both Warcraft and Resurgence feel old fashioned and a little out of touch, but they also feel like they have been crafted by filmmakers truly and genuinely believe in what they're putting on screen. I think Warcraft is a disappointing misfire, but I recognize that it's failure is a noble one. Overall, I'm of the opinion that Independence Day: Resurgence is the better movie because the story make sense and its characters have something resembling arcs, but both films share this uncommon DNA. They belong in the same club as Jupiter Ascending and John Carter – genre movies so profoundly un-hip that they somehow end up feeling like a precious jewel. Well, a cracked jewel.

I'll take the thrilling hokum and bizarre imagination of Independence Day: Resurgence over most of the films I've seen this summer. It's imperfect and if you hate it with all of your heart, that's okay. That's fine. You may be right. I may be crazy. But this may be the lunatic movie I've been looking for.