Released: June 2016
When you’ve been waiting 20 years for a film, it’s hard not to start to wonder if you really need to see the film at all- is it ever going to be that good as to be worth the wait? It’s a bit like when you finally get to sort through all essential things you’ve had in storage for twenty years and finding out you’ve just been hoarding junk no one would want to keep; the film is doomed to be considered junk even before it’s released.
Independence Day: Resurgence could have been great. The original helped redefine sci-fi int he 90’s, moving it from deliberately schlocky or just plain awful to something that was allowed to be epic, with an action plot that actually said something worthwhile and aliens that weren’t just comical. Sure, times have changed since then, and sci-fi has expanded in both it’s audience size and in the expectations placed upon it, but there is definitely a place ready and waiting for a a story that leaps ahead of the general story we’ve been seeing for ten years now, which are all superheroes and villains, even in films that aren’t meant to have them in. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in hoping Resurgence could be the one to do it.
Sadly, Resurgence is a dud. It didn’t just fail to break the mould and be the revolutionary film we were yearning for, it failed to even live up to the original as viewed now. That may sound like I’m being harsh, criticising it for not living up to a film I’ve already called genre-defining, but if we’re honest, anyone watching the original Independence Day now will find it hard going. It’s so painfully American, the effects have dated despite what people may tell you, the plot is very linear for today’s audience, the twists no longer a surprise and some of the progressive relationships are now painfully outdated. So I’m not saying Resurgence doesn’t match Independence Day as of 1996, I’m saying it doesn’t match the 1996 film as watched today. And that is a massive marker of poor quality.
The major downfall of the film is it is dumb. The characters are idiots who seem unable to work together, create a plan more than one step ahead or consider the need for a back-up plan. The science underpinning the plot is completely non-existent, a factor that is now considered largely unforgivable. The general rule to a good science fiction film is that an audience will take one leap of faith (the existence of alien technology, for example, or teleportation machines) but the rest of the technology has to work with the science we already know and understand, or else it descends into a fantasy without rules, and any problem can be solved by just making something up, which isn’t what people like to see. They like to see our current knowledge extrapolated from, extended, pushed to it’s theoretical limits, not steamrollered like happens in Resurgence. I won’t list all the problems here (there’s so many places that’s already done, including here and here), but suffice to say this film will infuriate so many people with it’s disregard for any kind of laws of physics.
The film feels like two different stories in one, with half the time devoted to the characters of the original, making jokes about getting older but running around and using their brains, and half to the news guys, buddying up and running around using their guns. I genuinely can’t remember if the two sides of the film ever meet, or are even aware of the others existence. It feels like they had completely separate teams writing for each section, and they never discussed what they were planning until last minute and then they just kind of smashed two stories together.
Because Emmerich just seems to have decided that what we want twenty years after watching a film is to see the same thing just a bit bigger, the scale of this is preposterous and dehumanising. You don’t care about the world being destroyed because a) we saw this twenty years ago, and b) you don’t care about any of the people. There is one ludicrous scene where a woman we know the name of so are meant to have a vested interest in surviving is helicoptered away from a collapsing hospital building at the very last second, at great danger to all involved. I think this is meant to be a triumphant scene, showing the hero won’t leave anyone he loves behind, but frankly having just watch an entire hospital full of people disintegrate under her feet, I’m left feeling a bit jaded that anyone got cherry-picked to survive at all, and thinking that the hero is just an idiot for risking himself and the helicopter, and the next mission he needs to be involved in, to save one woman when thousands were clearly always going to die anyway. There is never any hint of actual sacrifice for a greater good in this film, despite the literal survival of the planet resting on the shoulders of the team. There is, of course, some ridiculous bravado masquerading as sacrifice, but in fact is just reckless and, yup, dumb.
The performances by the actors are fine, and some of the older cast are on form, despite their absurd storylines, including driving a school bus around the desert collecting children seemingly at random, but it’s so far from being enough to save this film you wonder why they bothered putting any effort in at all. It’s gone from being the film that could have catapulted the lesser-Hemsworth ahead of his brother in terms of celebrity to the film he should be glad just didn’t sink him forever.