Roland Emmerich, nicknamed the ‘Spielberg of Sindelfingen’, is known for marrying gonzo sci-fi beats with a penchant for obliterating things. From small things, like Paris, to bigger things, like the entire planet, he’s worked his way through a highly profitable blockbuster career without destroying the same thing twice… until now. Independence Day: Resurgence is the German’s first sequel, arriving 20 years after Independence Day took $817 million at the box office.
Why the long space?
Good question. Emmerich has been asked about an Independence Day sequel on every press tour since he released it. After all, it's his biggest hit by a distance and Hollywood’s love of an established franchise is well known. In 2002 there was talk of a sequel inspired by the fear and paranoia of the post-9/11 era, but the lack of a killer idea stopped the project in its tracks. "Everything sounded like a repeat, and we don't want to do repeats,” Emmerich explained. “If we ever did one,” added his producing partner Dean Devlin, "it would have to be as original to the first film as James Cameron's Aliens was to the first one.”
Space invaders: early concept art shows the military utilising alien tech.
Fast forward to 2011 and the aliens were revving their jets again. “I’ve finally signed a contract with 20th Century Fox to write the Independence Day sequels,” Emmerich told Empire. He was promising two movies released across two summers, with a big cliffhanger in the middle, called ID4-Ever: Parts I and II.
The only other factor, and it was a biggie, was the star of the show: Will Smith’s Steven Hiller. “Obviously he wants to read the script first – he’s not stupid – but he’s interested,” Emmerich revealed. "Will is such a big part of this movie, I wouldn’t do it without him.”
Will he or won’t he? Will Smith was courted to return for the sequel.
By 2013, it looked like he’d have to. Smith, smarting from After Earth’s failure, decided that revisiting one of his old star vehicles in another father-son role would be a bad career move and opted for Suicide Squad instead. “He was excited to be in it,” recalled Emmerich, "but then after a while he was tired of sequels, and he did another science-fiction film, which was his father-son story, so he opted out.” Emmerich’s ‘no-Smith, no-movie’ stance duly softened. Instead of bringing back one main star, headline duties would be spread across a new generation of young actors, each signed up for two sequels.
A title was the next priority. After toying with 'Independence Day: Requiem' and 'Independence Day: Retaliation', Emmerich settled on Resurgence. "We call it the War of ’96 in the film,” he explained. “It’s like a post-World generation that’s unified, and that's amazing to see a world come together with a common enemy. That's a resurgence.”
The new breed: Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, Joey King, Jessie Usher and Angelababy.
Out went Will Smith, in came an influx of new blood. Joining the roster were The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth, Boardwalk Empire's Travis Tope, Chinese star Angela ‘Angelababy' Yeung, It Follows’ Maika Monroe and newcomer Jessie Usher.
White House Down writer James Vanderbilt was brought in in March 2013 to rework Devlin and Emmerich’s first draft, presumably reshaping it to fill the Will Smith-shaped hole. Then newbie feature screenwriter Carter Blanchard gave it a pass, before young screenwriting team James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright were drafted in after a dozen writers were invited to a script clinic. “[20th Century] Fox was not ready to green-light the film based on that draft at that point,” recalls Wright. "Roland really liked our voices as writers."
Guess who’s back...
Bill Pullman’s ex-President is haunted by visions of another alien invasion.
Yes, the aliens are coming back to Earth - it’d be a pretty dull sequel if it was just Jeff Goldblum doing science – although as the trailer reveals, it’s nothing Earth wasn’t expecting. “They’re coming back,” warns Bill Pullman's ex–President Whitmore in the trailer. The former First Dude is suffering an alien occupation of his own. He's troubled by visions of a second extra-terrestrial invasion. Not so much "E.T. phone home” as a reverse-charge trolling from outer space.
The big calls this time will fall to President Lanford. She's America's first female president and according to the actress who plays her, CS: NY’s Sela Ward, she'll be "tougher, more decisive, and more aggressive” than her predecessor. Considering he nuked Texas, this is a bold claim.
“[The aliens] know that the only way you can really travel in space is through wormholes,” explains Emmerich, “so for them it could take two or three weeks [to come back], but for us that’s 20 or 25 years.” Judging by early footage, they’ve used those two or three weeks wisely. The alien craft are even more humungous than the mothership of 1996. The trailer shows one dwarfing the moon and another crash-landing into a city.
Guess who’s also back…
Brent Spiner steps surprisingly back into Dr. Brackish Okun's lab coat.
Like Chev Chelios in a lab coat, Brent Spiner was dead in Independence Day but he’s got better. When we last saw his Area 51 boffin Dr. Okun, an alien was operating him like a glove puppet before tossing him, somewhat broken, to one side. “Yes, the alien was inside me – platonically, by the way – but what happens after that?” explained Spiner at CinemaCon. Someone added a line to the script, is what happened. Expect his presence to confuse the hell out of the aliens.
Aside from a small band of alien holdouts – in the African Congo, guerrillas have been fighting to wipe out stragglers – the first wave of aliens was swept away 20 years ago. The wreckage of alien City Destroyers littered the planet – the trailer shows the broken hulk of one after destroying Las Vegas - and 108 cities needed rebuilding. On the plus side, humanity now has access to alien technology and Las Vegas has been destroyed.
Alien trophies taken by Congolese fighters.
In charge of this next-gen tech is Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson. Transformed from underachieving cable technician to basically Bill Gates, he’s been made director of Earth Space Defense (ESD), and has been beavering away using the technology to fix the environment, rebuild the planet and prepare a defence against the aliens’ return.
Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as brainiac tech wiz David Levinson.
Humanity now has alien-hyrid F-22 Raptors, This, explains Goldblum, is “not exactly in my character’s sweet spot but still, it’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years.” He’s also been in orbit. The aliens aren’t going to be able to pull any of that hiding-behind-the-moon nonsense again, because thanks to the ESD’s efforts, the moon has now been weaponised. “We can’t build alien technology,” reveals Emmerich, “but we can harvest it.”
Earth’s mightiest heroes?
The movie’s official website reveals that Will Smith’s Steven Hiller died on 27 April, 2007, when an "unknown malfunction” hit the alien hybrid jet he’d been testing. Alongside Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner, Judd Hirsch returns as Levinson's chess-playing dad Julius and Vivica A. Fox is back as Hiller’s widow, Jasmine. She was a stripper, now she’s working in a hospital. No word on Boomer the dog.
Will Smith’s fighter ace Steven Hiller has smoked his last cigar.
Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Resurgence sees returning characters married up with a new generation of youngsters who may or may not be related to them (but are). So Maika Monroe, a controversial replacement for Independence Day's Mae Whitman (Anna Kendrick made her thoughts on the subject clear on Twitter), is the former first daughter Patricia Whitmore, and Jessie Usher is Steve Hiller’s stepson Dylan Dubrow. Like his stepdad, he's a fighter pilot. "He grew up in the world that his dad saved,” explains Usher, "so you can only imagine what being the son of the world's saviour is like. It's a lot of pressure.”
Plenty will be resting on Liam Hemsworth’s broad shoulders too. He’s playing Jake Morrison, a tearaway whose parents were killed in the first alien invasion, who grew up in an orphanage and became a Maverick-style fighter pilot. Unfortunately, his knack for flying by the seat of his pants saw him demoted to a posting on the moon where we’ll find him driving a kind of astro-forklift, the Moon Tug. "It’s kind of unlucky how he ends up in that ship,” explains Hemsworth. "I think his ego kind of got in the way, he made a bad decision and put someone’s life at risk.” His girlfriend is Monroe’s Whitmore.
Moon safari: Liam Hemsworth and Jeff Goldblum are Earth’s first line of defence.
Also aboard are Charlotte Gainsbourg and White House Down’s Joey King in unknown roles. The dependable William Fichtner is playing a military man, General Adams, whose role is likely to expand in the sequels. Expect much worried shouting and pointing at maps.
Comic book tie-ins
A comic-book run bridges the gap between Independence Day and the sequel.
As a complement to the movie's War Of 96 website and timeline, the filmmakers promise to join the dots between 1996 and 2016 with a Titan comic-book miniseries. Enticingly these five issues take place partly under the Atlantic and involve mini-subs and at least one of Independence Day: Resurgence’s main characters. "I don't know what I'm allowed to say or anything, but it's a character from the sea,” hints writer Victor Gischler.
Things that make you go boom
Dubai is falling… on London: the Burj Khalifa and the London Eye get cosy.
Volker Engel, the VFX wizard behind 2012, Godzilla and the original Independence Day, is once again helping Emmerich destroy, obliterate and generally explode large swathes of the planet. Singapore joins the parade this time. The trailer also shows footage of alien anti-gravitational technology that will allow them to use entire cities as weapons. Yes, not content with destroying a single city at a time, this movie will be smashing two against each other like giant tambourines.
“Can you read any of the letters on the bottom line?” An alien is tested in Area 51.
It’s not just giant explosions, though. The aliens are also back in person with their slobbering maws and tentacly bits and ability to use innocent humans as an advanced form of Siri, and WETA are involved in creature design. “[The aliens are] kind of nastier than the first ones,” says Emmerich. "This time they’re CG. With the first one, it was kind of wiggling shit, and we had little puppets. Now we have a company like WETA, who does the best creature work, working with us."
"For Christ's sake, tomorrow's the Fourth of July…"
The first Independence Day opened on July 3 and ended its first weekend with $50.2m banked. Independence Day: Resurgence is eschewing the July 4 weekend, and will instead make its bow in US cinemas and around the world on June 24. That's a week ahead of big-budget rivals The Legend Of Tarzan and The BFG in the US. Yes, the Spielberg of Sindelfingen will be taking on the actual Spielberg on a weekend that has special significance for them both. There may not be any survivors.
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Independence Day: Resurgence is in cinemas now. Look out for the full ID:R Empire Podcast Special, due soon.