Review: Independence Day: Resurgence – A perfectly serviceable popcorn-cruncher

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ROLAND Emmerich knows how to make a blockbuster. He paints, in the broadest strokes imaginable, on a canvas bigger than the Sun, the things that will make an audience shovel popcorn in their faces and indulge their basest desire to see shit blow up en masse. Next to Michael Bay, he is the most gleeful proponent of maximalism in the cinematic landscape; even his non-apocalyptic efforts, like Anonymous or Universal Soldier, are grandiose in their scope and sweeping in their statements. He’s a man who has knowingly dismissed scientific veracity for the sake of entertainment. He wants your money, and he wants you to have a good time while you give him money.

And so we come to Independence Day: Resurgence, a belated sequel that no one asked for to a film that never needed one. The original Independence Day is astonishingly stupid, obviously, but it somehow transcends the problems that would cripple Emmerich’s later films – eye-popping moments weighed down by a surplus of cardboard characters and formulaic writing – and comes out a winner, anchored by the dream team charisma of Will Smith and the greatest President of modern times, Bill Pullman. It’s a hokey fuck-yeah-‘Murica rabble-rouser made by a German, and it defined the formula for the blockbuster spectacles of the ensuing two decades.

Barring a few grey hairs from its returning cast, nothing has really changed. While the unbridled jingoism of the original has been toned down, the spirit of grand destruction has been retained and expanded upon; now, instead of watching the world burn from screens in a control bunker, characters make pithy remarks while navigating the falling wreckage of London. All of it. Maybe if they could smell the burning flesh of millions of people through their spaceship’s cockpit, they wouldn’t be so quick to quip. As it stands, they sound a bit sociopathic, and not a little stupid when one (Liam Hemsworth) inquires, “Did you poop your pants?”

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Again, this is nothing new. The original was just as puerile, and it was equally as quick to gloss over the death of entire cities in order to establish an 18th story strand in another location, but one of those locations wasn’t a moon base. It’s incredibly silly and yet, paradoxically, part of the appeal. ID4: Renouncement embraces the inherent daftness of science fiction more liberally than others of its ilk, adding a much needed layer of goofy fun to proceedings.

Much like other recent reboots/sequels like Jurassic World or Terminator: Genesys, ID4: Reimbursement is reverent to the original to the point of near-fellatio; the film even opens to the distant sound of Pullman’s glorious speech, as if merely invoking the memory is enough to propel this one onto its level. Most of the funnier and/or more enjoyable moments are either riffs on, or outright stolen from, material in the original, albeit to diminishing returns.

The returning characters are (almost) all accounted for; Jeff Goldblum is his reliably nervy, twitchy self; Judd Hirsch is still the most Jewish man alive; Brent Spiner is still basically playing Data with his emotional chip in. Only Pullman really offers something new, his once inspirational hero reduced to a broken shell, plagued by premonitions of imminent danger. He’s one of the only characters to undergo an arc, and the only returning character who doesn’t rely exclusively on nostalgia to work.

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The new characters, conversely, are all rubbish. All of them. In an already overstuffed film, we did not need Charlotte Gainsbourg in an entirely thankless role as Goldblum’s replacement flame, only serving to prove that even ingénues of Lars von Trier need a pay cheque every now and then. Maika Monroe, the promising star of It Follows and The Guest, is wasted as one half of a love story with Liam Hemsworth. He’s a smirking, smarmy Top Gun on the moon; he, along with Jessie Usher, is the de facto replacement for Will Smith. Neither man is up to the plate.

But you’re watching ID4: Reunification for the bombast, not the characters. There’s plenty of that – the sight of London, engulfed in apocalyptic flame, is a striking one (taken from Reign of Fire, but still), and the climactic battle on the Bonneville Salt Flats is a visual delight, shot with clarity and sensible spacing. This final battle manages to conflate both the dogfights of Star Wars and the rampaging Queen in Aliens, and it’s a cheesy, cigar-chomping treat.

In most films built around trailer moments like these, the interim dialogue scenes are the tedious time-fillers before we get to the good stuff. ID4: Resurrection is no different, but it’s deceptive in how well it keeps the pace. The opening, establishing scenes of the invading force in the original are some of the best in the film, masterfully setting the stakes and introducing the characters in a (mostly) clean sweep. Here, it’s a bit clunkier but only a little less effective, relying more on exposition dumps to tell us that, yes, 20 years have indeed passed since the events of the first film.

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Despite a handful of tentative forays into meta territory, this is about as self-aware as the movie gets. What awareness it does have is marked by its gleeful surrender to carnage, knowing full well that this is what the audience is paying for. But part of what made the original special was the charm of its characters and the then-novel, pre-9/11 shock of, “Did they just blow up the White House?” There was weight and consequences to its destruction; here, in the wake of the city-levelling excesses of superhero movies (and Emmerich’s later disaster flicks), ID4: Rembrandt seems rather empty and tame, its chaos instigated by an invading force that we, still, know nothing about.

It does occasionally threaten to go in new directions though. The world-building in the opening act has some nice touches, including a guerrilla faction waging a ground war against the aliens, lead by a dual-machete-wielding warlord (Deobia Oparei), but the film is quick to revert to the example set by its forebear. It insists on too many characters occupying a too-small canvas, lurching from plot thread to plot thread on a skip and a dime. Is there any narrative justification for continually cutting to Judd Hirsch driving a group of children down a highway? If there was, it eluded me.

The sequel-hinting at the end is gratuitous – and might prove to be a punchline if the box office figures don’t improve – and the prospects of an Independence Day franchise might seem ludicrous, but ID4: Resuscitation is a perfectly serviceable waste of two hours in a cinema. There are plenty of moments to cringe through – most of them involve dialogue – but the combination of savvy action sequences and successful nostalgia-baiting put this firmly into the camp of enjoyable cheese.

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