*** out of ****
(for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language)
Released: June 24, 2016
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg
In 2015, Jurassic World resurrected a decades old franchise to unexpected record-breaking box office numbers. A year later, Independence Day: Resurgence brings its twenty-year-old alien invasion spectacle back to multiplexes. It won’t do dino-sized numbers but, as a retro reboot, it’s still as satisfying.
Not trying to be more than it is and having a blast at being exactly that, Independence Day: Resurgence is the welcome (and increasingly rare) sequel that isn’t busy grinding its gears half the time building out a broader cinematic universe. When it comes to summertime popcorn fare, sometimes you just want to go to a movie where you don’t have to be invested in the characters; you just want to enjoy them.
In an age when the narrative expanse of a franchise mythology can be downright exhausting for a viewer – trying to keep up with which movies you’ve watched, which you haven’t, who’s connected to who, how, and why, and is it important that you can’t remember most of what you’ve seen already (not that you have the energy to care) – Independence Day: Resurgence comes along to blow up things real good with an onslaught of big budget sci-fi blockbusting.
It’s the twentieth anniversary of the Earth’s July 4th victory over seemingly unbeatable aliens, and the world is celebrating. The United States president leads a commemoration from the lawn of a rebuilt White House, the world itself has enjoyed unprecedented global peace and harmony (since everyone’s set aside their petty differences, #kumbaya), and in this alternate timeline they’ve been able to advance their own technologies with the help of alien ships left in the wake of the mid-90s worldwide battle. Humans have also been able to use these high tech leaps to help build a global and lunar defense system against any future attacks, stretching literally from here to the moon.
All’s beautiful until the aliens return (natch), on a mission to clean up some unfinished business related to our total annihilation. And of course, this time around their ships and warfare are bigger and badder. Former President Whitmore (he of the famed inspirational speech) is now half-crazed, having seen visions of our certain doom, even as those around him believe he just needs another dose of meds.
Other regulars are back, most notably David Levinson (a.k.a. Jeff Goldblum, the man who makes every movie better), but others aren’t (Will Smith, who isn’t missed). The new cast (led by Liam Hemsworth’s Maverick-styled fighter pilot) boasts no standouts, but is charismatic and game enough for the winking cocksure silliness that returning-director Roland Emmerich has lined up for them. The mere fact that the first major alien attack doesn’t happen until over a half-hour in, yet the whole build-up is fueled by laughs, thrills, and anticipation, doesn’t necessarily speak volumes about the material (which is basic) as it does the people making it. They’re having a great time, and it shows.
When the second hour’s full frontal assault on the planet (and our senses) is finally unleashed, it doesn’t disappoint. The Queen/Hive dynamic of this alien culture is rendered on a massive scale, delivering the sci-fi fireworks you came for. Emmerich, for his part, actually stands apart from many current purveyors of digitized extravaganzas, depicting action with more clarity than the frenetic chaos that Michael Bay has popularized (and Marvel movies have increasingly picked up). It’s all briskly paced, but Emmerich’s action isn’t as dependent on fast-cuts to give it energy and life. He chooses to fill his frames with it instead.
We see more of the actual aliens this time around, too; not just their spaceships but the actual creatures. The Queen leader, in particular, becomes a major player in the final act, and it’s a kick to see her set loose. The movie never feels as groundbreaking as the original did in 1996, but it’s all done at the kind of “next level” scope you want. Even its obnoxious bloated overkill is rewarding rather than mind-numbing.
Slick visuals, fun cast, more aliens, really cool space stuff, and insane levels of destruction that obliterate more landmarks, Independence Day: Resurgence is a welcome jolt of mindlessness in a growing blitzkrieg of cinematic universes that aren’t nearly as good as they’re trying to be. This is completely disposable nonsense, but it wields its inconsequentiality like a glorious virtue.