Good lord but Earth continues to be popular with the invading aliens crowd doesn’t it?
And it’s not like they just visit the one time; in Independence Day: Resurgence, Roland Emmerich’s bigger-than-galactic-Ben-Hur follow-up to 1996’s Independence Day everyone’s favourite hive mind aliens are back and this time they’ve bought an even bigger ship, a badass queen intent on bestriding the land Gulliver Travels-like and the kind of firepower that Earth, despite appropriating all the alien tech it could lay its hands on, simply can’t match.
So yes alien numbers are up but you have to wonder if we can survive all the attention – this time they want to suck the Earth’s core dry which in one fell sweep will take away our magnetic fields and atmosphere which frankly we kind of need to hang on to – and whether the old adage of you can’t really go back applies to both the aliens and audience members keen to see a sequel 20 years in the making.
As far as the aliens go, it will surprise no one – MILD SPOILERS AHEAD – that the aliens don’t fare too well.
Yes they have a monstrously big ship that dwarfs the entire Atlantic Ocean and comes with its own gravity causing more than a few cities to come to grievous sucked-up-and-then-smacked-down ruin (including unaccountably Singapore which lies, ahem, nowhere near the body of water in question), an armada of satellite-destroying planes and the ability to drill into our the depths of magma core with ease.
But for all that overwhelming force, and the murderous mindset of the revenge-minded – they are responding to a distress call sent out by the aliens in the first film, moments before a virus somewhat preposterously destroyed their ships – they are seemingly content to either stay put in their ship or set out to do away with another alien force, their sworn enemy, who arrives just ahead of them and may hold the key to the entire galaxy, not just humanity, seeing off the hive aliens for good (do I smell another sequel? Yes indeed I do).
And therein lies their undoing as humanity once again rallies, this time without an inspiring 4 July speech, though several contenders do vie for viewers’ hearts and minds – and sees them off with relatively few complications (well, you know, several cities in ruins and a massive body count notwithstanding).
C’mon, you can’t tell me you didn’t see the whole humanity victorious thing coming a mile off?
The thing is for all the predictability of the plot, and some narrative disconnects and plotholes big enough to fly a moon through, Independence Day: Resurgence is still hands down a big dumb rollicking slice of ’90s blockbuster fun.
It’s all here – the ominously slow build-up as telltale signs emerge around the globe, on the 20th anniversary of the aliens’ original attack no less when current US President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) is hosting grand and epic celebrations, the awakening of characters to the renewed threat facing them, and the inevitable arrival of the queen’s mother ship which graphically underscores the need for less champagne-quaffing and more laser cannon pointing (those that survive the initial attack anyway).
Many of the characters we know and love from the original return including David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) who is now head of Earth Space Defense (ESD) who once again plays a vital role in sniffing out the threat and saving the day, his dad Julius (Judd Hirsch), Dr Okun (Brent Spiner) who continues his gleeful love affair with all things alien tech (despite forgetting his underwear; he’s in a hospital gown having been awakened from a 20 year coma by alien signals) and past President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), whose hold on sanity these days comes and goes.
Joining them are the Independence Day: The Next Generation crew, some of whom are the sons and daughters of key characters from Independence Day such as Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher) who is a rather lacklustre replacement for his hero stepdad Steven (Will Smith), Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) and her fiance Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) who with best pal and fellow orphan Charlie Ritter (Travis Tope) are pilots in the ESD who fearlessly win out when others fall by the wayside.
And yes the plot is pretty much been-there-done-that but it’s all carried with such po-faced, end-of-the-world seriousness that you can’t help but be swept up in it and go along for the ride.
Granted the alien queen isn’t the brightest thing at times, clearly capable of steering a ship across the galaxy but not able to tell a real enemy alien space ship from a fake until it’s too late, and humanity does manage to sort things out a little too easily with some tension drained away from the climactic scene as a result, but by and large Independence Day: Resurgence still channels the look, feel and spirit of its predecessor without being a slavishly blind copy of it.
The film, fuelled by a five person script team including Emmerich and longtime creative collaborator Dean Devlin, knows it’s all a bit silly and ridiculousness but never treats it as such, granting us an alien invasion spectacle that is almost the equal of what came before.
The only thing missing perhaps is any real sense of peril – it becomes fairly obvious, fairly quickly that humanity will win the day one way or the other, but that could have just as much to do with the loss of novelty that curses all sequels suffer rather than from any inherent flaw in the film.
The thing is though we don’t the same focus on key characters struggling to survive in the midst of an unprecedented, unimaginable threat, and some of the emotional investment is lost as a result, there are enough returning characters and well-introduced and fleshed-out new characters that there is still a sense that people we care about are in mortal danger.
In essence, this is one sequel that while it doesn’t quite match the original, nevertheless dazzles with a portentous build-up full of visions and warnings, an alien arrival as epic and devastatingly destructive as you could ask for, a fight for survival and a climactic victory that promises that Earth will be at the centre of a galaxy-wide fight to see off the hive aliens threat once and for all.
What needs to be remembered anytime you watch a blockbuster of this ilk is that it’s not aiming to be Shakespeare or an Oscar-contender; rather, it simply wants to entertain, to enthrall, blow some things up in spectacular fashion, and to tell a larger-than-life story while it draws us into an escapist world when the fate of the entire world hangs perilously in the balance.
Independence Day: Resurgence does that and then some, the most fun you can have trying to see off an alien invasion, a return to the gloriously good days of cheesy, fun-filled, thrill-jammed blockbusters that simply want to entertain, over-thinking not included.