There’s a point around the start of the third act of Independence Day: Resurgence where Jeff Goldblum’s character is having a moment of self-doubt. Even with twenty years as the man in charge of building Earth’s defenses against a new alien attack everyone feared would be coming, the preparations proved ineffective. I have to imagine that director Roland Emmerich may have had a similar moment at some point through the production of the film. After two decades to come up with a great story for this sequel, all he had to show for it was a messy pile of half-formed ideas haphazardly thrown together on a plot skeleton that resembles the original Independence Day film a little too closely.
In the years since the alien invasion attempt seen in 1996’s Independence Day, the united people of Earth have continued to cooperate to build a planetary defense, in part from reverse-engineered, captured alien technology. But those defenses are not enough when the second wave of invaders finally reveals themselves in a spaceship 3000 miles wide. As the aliens begin to drill to the Earth’s core, with the intention of stealing the molten mass to fuel their ships and with the side effect of destroying all life on the planet, the remaining leaders of the world scramble to repel the attack but with little success. Finally, in mankind’s darkest hour, comes the hope for assistance from an unexpected source.
Independence Day: Resurgence is a film that lurches from scene to scene herky-jerkily. There are character moments that should be played out for a beat or two longer but are invariably truncated. This is most damaging to the movie right in the beginning, as it never gives us proper introductions to many of the characters we will be trying to follow through the film. Some folks returning from the original just show up on screen, the filmmakers just trusting that we can recall who they are. Many are quickly consigned to be cannon fodder during the big disaster scenes in an attempt to raise the emotional stakes of the film. But when we barely know them as characters but more as just random people spouting a few lines of dialogue before they perish, we just don’t care.
One thing in the original film’s favor was that it knew how to use humor to counterpoint the horror of the massive scale of death from the invasion. Attempts to replicate that here fall flat. There are at least three characters who could be comic relief – Liam Hemsworth’s sidekick who disappears from the film for stretches at a time, the return of Brent Spiner’s “kooky” scientist Dr. Okrund and a government functionary type – but none really deliver anything in terms of an actual funny moment. In fact, the only iota of wit the movie exhibits is its steadfast refusal to revisit the original’s iconic destruction of the White House moment.
What’s really frustrating about the film is that there are some interesting ideas that it could be exploring. The ways that Earth’s history has developed in the 20 years since the original invasion seem to be very well thought out, but have mostly been limited to the film’s marketing materials. In the text of the movie itself, that progress seems only to serve as an excuse to give our heroes laser rifles. A spaceship that is almost half the length of the diameter of the Earth, and the alien ecosystem we glimpse inside, is also a great idea, but at times it seems to big to adequately grasp on screen. And don’t even think about the inconsistencies that at some points it exerts its own gravitational pull while at other times it doesn’t.
The original Independence Day was a film that helped redefine what a big screen spectacle could be. From it’s stunning Super Bowl commercial that had everyone talking about the film for the following six months up to its opening to the way it told a big, exciting story. Independence Day: Resurgence offers none of what its progenitor did. There are no thrills. No moments where you cheer for the heroes or worry over their fate. A film like this should have a cast of characters that makes you care what happens to them. As it is, Independence Day: Resurgence comes nowhere near reaching the bar set by the original. It can barely keep your interest while you are munching your popcorn.