Remember that speech Bill Pullman gave in Independence Day, the one about how we’re going to live on and we’re going to survive? Hopefully, you really, really like that speech. Really like it. Like it to the point where a sequel opening with flashes of it and returning to it in multiple allusive reminders throughout is all you need to get heated under the collar about a franchise follow-up. Because Independence Day: Resurgence is here, two decades after its mega-hit predecessor, to trade on nostalgia in ways that come off as aggressively strained, even by modern standards.
Independence Day: Resurgence is a curiously loud and ugly beast of a sequel. Across the board, the five (!) credited screenwriters’ approach to the material suggests a broad misunderstanding of what audiences found appealing about the original film: the sense of scale, the thrilling CG dogfights, the zealous dedication to creating some kind of investment in the film’s sprawling cast of characters. Resurgence fails to recapture any of these in any satisfying way over the vast majority of its runtime, and even the landmark-smashing explosions on which the first film was sold are in unexpectedly short supply. Instead, it gives off the vibe of a fan convention that only got the secondary cast and a reluctant big name or two to come together, to go through the motions once more.
(Read: Independence Day Turns 20: Revisiting Its Weird, United, American World)
That’s because, if you find yourself able to wade through the warp-speed deluge of table-setting and immediate action that kicks Resurgence off, you might notice that the film’s premise is thoroughly horrifying. Ever since the War of 1996, global militaries have been using alien technology to bolster new defenses for when humanity’s tentacular nemeses would one day return. But it’s a wearier world, now. Sure, there are spaceships and Earth has a second military defense base on the moon, along with an interconnected series of laser satellite cannons in orbit. But the world lives in fear, President Whitmore (Pullman) is aging and beset by visions of an alien return, and that’s before the even bigger mothership to the “mothership” destroyed in the first film shows up. That ship is said to be 3,000 miles in diameter.
But don’t worry. Not all of Resurgence is focused on the escapist destruction of the human race. There’s also time to catch up with every character from the first film that could be persuaded to return, except for Will Smith, who died on the way back to his home planet. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is spearheading the world’s defense efforts. Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) has become a captain just like his deceased father and has kept his friendship up with Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) over the years. Dylan’s rival Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) is Patricia’s fiancé, a hunky captain on the moon base who doesn’t play by the rules. Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner), who totally didn’t die onscreen in the first film, is back, as is Judd Hirsch as David’s sagely father. There’s also a host of new faces, from Charlotte Gainsbourg as David’s professional rival and sometimes lover to Angelababy as an ace fighter pilot to Dikembe Umbutu’s machete-toting warlord. This review has now illustrated, nearly in full, the extent of knowledge you will have about any of these people at the end of Resurgence’s two hours.
Because the film staunchly refuses to waste any more time than it absolutely must on each scene, the character moments feel every bit as perfunctory as the film treats them, and so Resurgence must then rely on its spare-no-expense visuals to offer anything remotely of value. And while there are brief gasps of the original’s schlock sci-fi throughout, Resurgence instead makes the inexplicable artistic choice to bathe the whole film in the murky hunter greens and dark, steel blues of the alien mothership, even when on Earth. It’s a deeply unappealing film from a visual standpoint, and the bulldozer approach to the film’s planet-trashing action set pieces leave you with the kind of deafened, memory-frying sensations usually reserved for the Transformers franchise. There’s none of the foreboding dread a film about planet-sized spaceships should presumably bother to include; instead, Resurgence comes off after around the 40-minute mark as the most protracted slog through an alien Armageddon imaginable. Even the aerial battles are packed with so much visual noise that there’s no time for them to actually be fun or interesting.
Other than the occasional bit of curious set design, and the fleeting monster movie pleasures of the film’s ridiculous grand finale, it’s astounding how tedious Resurgence is. It’s perhaps the most forcibly unnecessary sequel released in years, a clear emblem of a model that privileges a fixed release date and an intellectual property over any semblance of a worthwhile storytelling or filmmaking idea. It’s a disaster movie in which most of the disasters are both nightmarish and unusually forgettable. It’s a summer blockbuster in which the stabs at comic relief include Hemsworth pissing in front of an alien horde like a Calvin decal. It’s a film so thoroughly slapped together that it struggles to even wring vague interest from an endangered school bus full of children, and no, that’s not just an exaggeration of a cliché. Independence Day was once the enjoyable kind of junk food, but Resurgence is the kind that leaves you walking out in a slack-jawed stupor, wondering why you ever got excited about it in the first place.