As Dubai’s Burj Khalifa lances down from a fiery sky into the London Eye, tossed like a used popsicle stick amid the gravity-churning fury of a 3,000 mile-wide, claw-shaped alien mother-of-all-battles-ship, Jeff Goldblum tiredly absorbs it all and deadpans: “They like to get the landmarks.”
As spectacular as you’d hope. You’ll enjoy yourself enough that you won’t even miss Will Smith.
If his David Levinson — one-time computer guy, now Director of the Earth Space Defense — exudes a wonderful, war-of-the-worlds-weary sense of ‘been there, blown that up’, his creator and chief catastrophiser Roland Emmerich is as gleefully destructive as a kid given a free pass to smash all the crockery at the village fête. Especially the saucers. With new tech, new toys and new ideas, the modern era’s Master Of Disaster has returned to the scene of his greatest triumph and really let rip.
Allowing the same blend of multiplex-rattling spectacle and ‘yeah, you got us’ daftness, Emmerich has gone all out to recapture his ’96 mojo and, for the most part, succeeds. While the occasional call-back clunks (Jessie Usher as orphaned-son-of-Will-Smith Dylan Hiller fails to sell the line, “Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”, but we’re not sure who ever could), other riffs prove sonorously nostalgic. And we’re not just talking about another death-defying dog. Whether it’s Goldblum reliving his co-pilot jitters in another spacecraft, Bill Pullman pulling on his flight suit once more as PTSD-stricken ex-president Whitmore, or Brent Spiner making a welcomely deranged return as surprisingly not-dead professor Brakish Okun, you’ll likely thrum with the same sweet, not-able-to-take-it-too-seriously joy you felt during the first film.
Assuming you’re old enough, of course. But for the next-gen moviegoer, Emmerich and his co-writer/producer Dean Devlin have provided next-gen Earth defenders. Joining Usher are Liam Hemsworth as obligatory maverick Jake Morrison, Maika Monroe replacing Mae Whitman as Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (now an ex-fighter pilot herself, ensuring that in this movie it’s not only the men who get to kick ET’s ass) and Hong Kong model/singer/actor Angelababy.
Old and new faces never fully mingle, though. Aside from a first-act trip to the moon and some cursory father-daughter interaction between the Whitmores, it’s ‘kids over here, oldies over there’. Similar to an awkward family party, except here the kids are going off to engage in an all-too-brief skirmish amid some surprisingly placed paddy fields on the alien mothership, rather than sneaking outside to smoke cigs.
Meanwhile, the oldies, instead of talking routes and mortgages in the kitchen, are back at Area 51 in Nevada, using new intel to cook up another cockamamie plan to ice the bad guys. Who, by the way, are now revealed to be a “hive”, which is led by “a queen”. Sound like any other sci-fi sequel you know? Yeah, well this alien queen is the size of Godzilla. Of course she is. This is Roland Emmerich we’re talking about.
For the next-gen moviegoer, Emmerich has provided next-gen Earth defenders.
For all the outsize silliness, he and Devlin have put much thought into how to present their new world. The concept of integrating alien technology is convincing; their assertion that the invasion brought about world peace less so (there wouldn’t be squabbling over all that hi-tech booty that fell from the sky? Really?). The script can be culturally insensitive, too; the presentation of a “Central African” warlord (Deobia Oparei), who joins the core alien-battling gang, machetes and all, feels like something that should have been left in the ’90s. Still, it’s an intriguing and appealing sci-fi proposition: a place that could be utopia if it weren’t ravaged by the cultural trauma of a largely orphaned generation, or living in perpetual fear of interstellar reprisal.
Independence Day: Resurgence is less effective, though, in fully reviving the one crucial element that made its predecessor stand out from other sci-fi adventures. Namely its The Towering Inferno-ish, ’70s disaster-flick-style opening. Starting in a world so different to ours somehow makes the moments pre the aliens’ arrival less effective. It hardly helps that virtually every character on screen is expecting it, but you’re so distracted by all the rotorless helicopters, robot-armed anti-grav tugs and space jets — not to mention a whole heap of world-(re)building exposition — you don’t really feel the build-up to the destruction, or the great release of tension when it hits. We’re no longer witnessing the attempted annihilation of our world. It is very much another planet.
Which is why the film needs Pullman. And Spiner. And Judd Hirsch. And Goldblum. (Will Smith would have been nice, too. But, hey, you can’t have it all.) Those familiar faces, reliving ’96 with us and for us. Goldblum, more than anyone here, is essential. While the VFX tornado swirls around us, he brings things (if you’ll excuse the phrase) down to earth, allowing us to revel in the sheer giddy movieness of it all, and thereby forgive the majority of its shortcomings. As he says on seeing the new enemy ship, “That is definitely bigger than the last one.”
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Independence Day: Resurgence is in cinemas now. Look out for the full ID:R Empire Podcast Special, due soon.