Independence Day: Resurgence runs aground in its quest to live up to the two-decade era of hype, presenting bland characters and an excessive use of dull-witted plot devices.
Back in 1996, director Roland Emmerich – the one who is later famous for crafting typical blockbusters which make use of epic spectacles to compensate for the screenplays’ corny flaws – brought us the plainly amusing yet still emotionally fulfilling Independence Day. Viewers were gratified by plain-sailing entertainment together with an intelligible plot, scenes of blasting airfighters, and a gigantic alien spaceship that blows up The White House. Still, what really got a hold on our minds were its central characters who, even cliché at best, still managed to make an impression within their own cheesy, dramatic moments. Since then, Independence Day has usually been mentioned as a guilty pleasure while still leaving us enough chance for a sequel someday.
20 years later, it was finally announced that Independence Day: Resurgence would be coming to theaters in June. People everywhere got their hopes up because this movie might be listed amongst the 10 most anticipated sequels in the last 30 years. Besides the expectation for modern day CGIs, craving fans were also looking forward to a merry mix of heroic and nostalgic feels from the old days with the refreshing passion of current generation.
Through its promotion campaign and opening act, Resurgence successfully laid the ground for its scope in this fictional worldbuilding with documentary-ish TV Spots. Taking advantage of technologies left behind by the invaders last time, most of the peoples set aside petty conflicts and join hands to set up a magnificent utopia on Earth, as well as an advanced defense system. Even though this was achieved through external (more like extraterrestrial) benefits, the setting seems to be one good enough social commentary, particularly if set in the year 2016 full of racial, cultural, and political disputes.
Honorably highlighted on the extravagant background of hi-tech guns, airships, and space stations, there stand the human individuals – both old-timers and new blood.
The little kids back then have grown up tall and strong: Dylan of the Hillers (Jessie T. Usher) serves as the fleet leader of International Legacy Squadron; Patricia (Maika Monroe), Former President Thomas J. Whitemore’s daughter, becomes an assistant of the current USA President; one completely new main character is Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), who grew up in an orphanage after his parents died in the 1996 war.
The central trio are presented with three recognizable kinds of relationship: Patricia and Dylan are childhood friends, as we can recall from the scene they were together in the first film, Dylan and Jake develop a rivalry after their competition went wrong in a final test to determine the Squadron’s leader (possibly a subtext about the clash of social strata, with Jake’s never-ending efforts to make it to the top and Dylan’s status as the old hero’s son), and Jake and Patricia are an engaged couple. Nonetheless, the character writings are just plain awful. We are supposed to feel a lot for these characters, but we are not given a good reason to. Monroe, who has proved to be a decent young actress, through movies like The Guest and It Follows, is the only one who offered us lavish acting while Hemsworth, once again, could not rise up from the handsome, likable stock character. And do not get me started on Jessie T. Usher’s soulless and subpar performance.
Beloved heroes from the old war are also brought back, except for Will Smith’s Steven Hiller. His absence was later explained in the movie, anchoring the only emotional ground for Dylan Dubrow-Hiller’s characteristics. Also this is because of action man Will Smith, after the disastrous outcome of M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth, was not in line for another action/sci-fi flick that asks for father-and-son dynamic (but obviously he had been ready to join some DCEU action/sci-fi flick with a bit of father-and-daughter dynamic).
The once-inspiring President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) has now become a doddering senior citizen, who could not leave his walking stick and frequently has visions about a mysterious symbol. The crew made an effort to re-create the inspiration similar to that of his previous heartening speech, which Independence Day’s followers learned by heart long ago, yet the lines fall short of accomplishing that task.
And for the last embodiment of charisma after Smith’s departure from the franchise, we have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a Jeff-Goldblum-ish computer expert and environmental activist. In the past 20 years, he has been dedicating his knowledge for world peace and the research of alien-tech at the cost of his personal life. Goldblum is undeniably the only person captivating enough for the audience to feel the fun amidst all those strategic discussions and apocalyptic perils. Other than that, the mad-scientist Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) suddenly comes back after waking up from his coma, providing the same old twisted babbling moments. Their personalities are pretty much maintained as previous portrayals. With their assistance for the youngsters, these two are laid out just well enough to keep the story moving forward.
However, other supporting characters did not contribute much, except for President Lanford (Sela Ward) who displays her traits of a decisive and powerful female authority figure in modern time. To name the worst, there are three groups of extras involved in three redundant subplots, one among which introduces the beyond-annoying-and-terrible “Jar-Jar-Binks” Floyd and one sets up more kids for the unavoidable Independence Day 3. They only serve the purpose of creating lame, comical attempts or typical cheesy, bad-ass impressions. While the removal of them might strip Resurgence off its substantial charm, these appearances overlapped important character arcs and chopped down the already fractured mess of bland characterization.
The upside of this matter is that Resurgence’s main plot is quite comprehensible so the disjointed pacing did not do much damage, considering that the first movie suffered from the same problem and still worked. Viewers also can detect some tiring uses of plot armor to keep the main characters alive, but again this is already written on the package of this quintessential blockbuster about an alien invasion. Besides, the forced intimacy between Rain Lao (Angelababy) with Charlie (David Tope) leads to a double-pilot situation. There is this safe feeling about these soldiers in the crossfire that takes away the engaging tension of threats; because if one airfighter went down, there would be two major losses at once, and the movie couldn’t afford that risk. The omission of pre-battle groundwork, personnel arrangement, and decision-making debates results in a much calmer pacing, and at the same time, takes away the dynamic feel its cult followers fell in love with.
The visual effects, this time, are brought to a higher level, and even in the progression of technology right now, seem satisfactory. Fans felt a sense of awe and wonder with the giant mothership back then, but the new version is over-the-top monstrously enormous. The crew really went all the way to achieve optically breath-taking indulgence as well as the deafening sound effects of the destruction. That being said, the battle sequences in the sky suffer from the density of sizes and movements, creating quite an irritating experience even though it is supposed to illustrate the colossal scale of this total war.
Apart from its tone of brainless blockbuster and its lack of innovation in the current sci-fi genre, the most important factor that Resurgence fails to elevate was “moments”. Perhaps Deadpool’s Colossus was right all along: even with an exhausting, sluggish life full of mistakes, one could burst out of it with acts of heroism – just 4 or 5 moments worthy of proving themselves like the way Independence Day managed to accomplish with Colonel Hiller, Levinson, and Former President Whitmore. Those moments should feel earned through build-ups leading to blasts of character-defining decisions; but since the only one who makes us feel invested enough is Goldblum’s Levinson, most of the efforts presented by actions and dialogues miscarry their initial goals. For all one knows, the idea about Resurgence without Will Smith yet with a lackluster cast has prevented the movie from laying the foundation for a fresh, light-hearted mood in hours of annihilation. Or perhaps the dark and gritty ambience demonstrated by the film’s color palettes already carries with itself a more solemn vibe that spreads throughout mankind by losses after losses.
Independence Day: Resurgence possibly indulged moviegoers who sought out a standard summer blockbuster, on the condition that they had a grip on its background knowledge from the ‘96 film. However, for who already fell in love with charismatic and enthralling personation in the face of impending doom, as well as feelings of excitement and despair, happiness and anger that was presented in the energetic front line of humankind, Resurgence ran aground in its quest to live up to the two-decade era of hype.
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