Independence Day was a phenomenon in 1996. The marketing blitz was astounding. That movie was everywhere, and as a newly minted 14-year-old, I was the perfect age to eat it up. It had impossible stakes, fun and interesting characters, and mind-boggling special effects that were unmatched for the time.
Twenty years later, now we have Independence Day: Resurgence, a movie that has, in all likelihood, been bouncing around Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin‘s minds for 2 decades. In so many ways, Emmerich tries to re-capture the magic of the original, with old and new characters and even more effects. While I don’t think the movie is a failure, I also don’t think it lives up to its past.
ID4 took out the White House, the Empire State Building, and some random building in Los Angeles. These are epic, iconic moments in film-making that nearly everyone has seen (or, at least images of those scenes). The closest Resurgence gets to that is the picture above (spoiler alert?…it was on posters and in trailers…deal with it…). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool scene, but it isn’t iconic. In 20 years, no one will remember that scene. In this effects-driven era of movie making, something like that just isn’t as impressive anymore.
Speaking of “impressive,” I remember watching the special features on the ID4 DVD set, fascinated by how they used practical effects to make fire travel sideways down city streets (they ended up building a model set, turning it on its side, and using the small buildings as a chimney for fire to pass upwards through). Resurgence just relies on CGI. A lot of CGI. Granted, these effects don’t look bad in the least, but there’s so much of them, it just isn’t as impressive anymore. It’s almost lifeless.
With regards to the characters, we’ve got many old faces returning, including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner, Vivica Fox and Judd Hirsch. For the most part, these characters are given the right amount of stuff to do, while still providing ample time for The New Class (Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher and Maika Monroe) to do their thing. Overall, they do okay, but they aren’t Will Smith (painfully absent), and they don’t have the chemistry that Smith and Harry Connick, Jr. had. Again, it just feels somewhat lifeless, that they’re trying too hard and not hard enough all at the same time. Sela Ward is a perfect example of this, playing the President…though not nearly as well as Pullman did 20 years ago.
That all said, Resurgence still had a decent story. It’s as simple as “more of the aliens return to Earth,” but also introduces a few new ideas that make it more than a re-hash of the first one. It honors the mythology of the original while also “expanding the universe” beyond its current borders, making it very obvious they want to franchise it out into more movies. Based on its current box office performance, that dream may be in doubt.
Ultimately, we enjoyed it. It wasn’t offensively bad, which compared with some of Emmerich’s other movies, it could have easily gone that way. Resurgence does its best to raise the stakes beyond what the original did 20 years ago and makes some obvious stumbles along the way, but it was still worth seeing.