Independence Day: Resurgence is a beautifully crafted science fiction movie which cleverly goes back to the first film twenty years ago without retreading it the way Star Wars 7 copied Star Wars 4 which was actually Star Wars 1. The bizarre idea to keep the film away from the traditional critics screenings sent a message that the film company – 20th Century Fox Film Corporation (production company and distributor for most of the world) felt it would be hammered by critics. Maybe it will be, but not this one.
Picture Zsa Zsa Gabor’s 1958 lady Talleah fighting the “vicious queen” (of Venus) Laurie Mitchell’s Queen Yllana in the Queen of Outer Space meets Sigourney Weaver fighting her own alien queen (from Alien, of course) and you’ll get an idea where this film is going now that we’ve seen the visitors face to face from the original Independence Day. That Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson had 20 years to prepare us (he didn’t do a very good job in that regard, but Goldblum’s acting is much better in the sequel, perhaps his excellent work on Law & Order: Criminal Intent let him know that his serious side without over doing it brings some harmony to his characters,) and with an eye towards giving us some new clever twists (most welcome and the true appeal of this fight with the Borg meets Signourney Weaver’s aforementioned Alien) the bee/locust hybrid planet harvester, straight out of the Fantastic Four’s Galactus character, returns for a second go at earth.
There are more things to like about Independence Day: Resurgence than to dislike and killing off Will Smith’s character at the outset probably not a bad thing. Why? Smith was omnipresent in sci-fi after Independence Day – 2004’s I, Robot, 2007’s I Am Legend, and in each film you get…Will Smith. His mannerisms, like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jack Nicholson, are a stamp that immediately brands a film with the signature of the megastar. A Nicholson – being such a brilliant artist – can break the mold and take himself out of his own persona and into something else. When Nicholson fails to do so – the Joker in the Tim Burton Batman – you get the Joker playing Jack Nicholson. Which is why Heath Ledger’s chameleon act garnered him the Academy Award for the same character, while being nominated for the Academy Award in Brokeback Mountain as Ennis Del Mar. Where Ledger becomes those characters and not himself is the amazing thing and now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, the absence of Will Smith, we can look at the rest of the Independence Day 2 experience.
Utilizing gravity as a weapon and pulling at the earth, with humans being dragged up and tossed down while giving us bigger spaceships and more weaponry, director Roland Emmerich doubles down on his mastery of this genre. Yes, there are still the cloying romantic interludes that James Cameron forced on us in Titanic (which, actually, kept the young girls coming back to the movie which helped deliver its unparalleled popularity) but this film and its followers are not about romance. One would have thought that Emmerich would have figured that out first time around. The bromance between 26 year old Liam Hemsworth (look out Thor/Chris Hemsworth, baby brother gets his own blockbuster) and 25 year old Travis Tope has far more chemistry than their respective female “dates” in the film, Hemsworth as Jake Morrison and his tongue-down-your-throat moments with hottie Maika Monroe as President Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman) daughter are that forced romance, and oh how coincidental, a main character’s daughter, that take the wrecking ball to the film for sci fi fans that want you to get down to business. So while Tope’s Charlie Miller character is casting his eyes on a stunning lady pilot, Rain Lao (played by Hong Kong actress Angelababy) there is more real film chemistry between Hemsworth and Tope than with their lady friends. Don’t think its unintentional, Emmerich is looking to conquer China at the box office and gives major roles to many ethnicities. A la Star Trek. And the films Emmerich draws from – Star Trek (let’s bring Data back to life as Dr. Brakish Okum…let’s have lights and gizmos just like Star Trek does,) the insufferable Joey King as Sam (she was Channing Tatum’s daughter in Emmerich’s other recent destroy all cities flick, White House Down,) bring back Judd Hirsch from the excellent TV show Numbers (he’s less annoying 20 years later, but annoys enough in a fun way,) and kill off a main character so that the axiom “one death is a tragedy, thousands statistics” will resonate with the film goer.
Stepson of Will Smith – Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) – is as intentionally arrogant as Smith’s own Hiller was, and should have been killed off, at least for the staged histrionics if nothing else. Oceans roar, ray guns blast, Robert Loggia makes a cameo and gets the “In Memoriam” at the end as he died shortly after making the movie (too bad they didn’t really give him a sendoff and blast him into oblivion for his stiff performance in the first Independence Day,) and all in all, it’s a grand spectacle. As stated above, when they copy scenes from the first film, be it Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore re-creating scenes that both Brent Spiner AND Randy Quaid enacted in the first film, it is not as ho hum as the Star Wars reboot. This film actually does for this Independence Day now-series what the recent Jurassic Park did, without the thread of so many previous sequels behind it. Will it work at the box office? That’s the question. Had Roland Emmerich just played it straight without the obvious human interactions, had he also played it not straight by having a secret romance between Jake Morrison and Charlie Miller (Hemsworth and Tope; there’s enough joking and innuendo to let you know Emmerich threw that in for the gay audience anyway,) had the film just a touch more seriousness that Jurassic Park had, it would have been amazing.
The first thing I though within 30 minutes of the film rolling was how 20th Century could have added the Fantastic Four to this and saved both franchises, but as the story unfolded the FF would have been over the top. What is clear is that Roland Emmerich needs to make the next Fantastic Four movie and use these brilliant special effects. At the end of the day, the rumble seats in iMax, the gorgeous space-age spectacle, the clever aspects of the film, and the other alien presence (which opens the door for a sequel that is aiming for the Star Wars market, they make that very clear) is a very pleasant summer surprise we did not expect due to 20th Century fearing the critics and pulling this film from pre-release date screenings.
It could have been so much more, but as it stands, it is pretty darn good.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.