Skip to main content

They're not screaming. They're celebrating.

Independence Day: Resurgence
(2016)

(SPOILERS) I guess you can never quite tell. Dinosaurs have always been popular with kids, but that didn’t mean Jurassic World wasn’t going to be another Jurassic Park III (and just wait for that The Land That Time Forgot remake… anyone?) Independence Day seemed like a dazzling one-off marketing coup (aliens blow up the White House! – and other, less important global renowned global sites – as Jeff Goldblum knowingly informs us here “They like to get the landmarks”), but that didn’t mean its sequel couldn’t tap a similar vein of ‘90s nostalgia as Jurassic Park, or bring alien invasions to a rapt new generation. Yet such a prospect looked a whole lot less likely when Big Willie opted not to bring his inimitable style to the party, and sight of the picture confirms he made the right decision; even with his cocky pilot in frame to fill one of the narrative vacuums masquerading as subplots, Independence Day: Resurgence would still have stunk.


The absence of press previews was a clear sign that Fox wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence in the picture, embarking on the most indicative of damage limitation. One wonders how much dirt the Murdoch empire has on the proprietors of Variety and Empire to persuade them to give this dog a free pass, let alone the warm recommendation it received.


Resurgence (a sub-title that has all the allure of a Divergent sequel) doesn’t start off too badly. For maybe half an hour. We get to see how 20 years of alien tech has improved Earth society and defences (and are told as much too, via one of many bursts of unforgivably lazy exposition introducing scenes, characters and plot points with all the finesse of a rampant T-Rex; when it comes to meeting some friendly virtual aliens, you’d have hoped they’d at least be reliably impersonal, but they’re every bit as cloth-tongued as everyone else, info-dumping like nobody’s business), and how man has now colonised the Moon (which must have been a shock to all the ETs occupying it, but we’ll let that go). There’s a Madam President, and she’s obliteration-of-illegal-aliens-happy, so she could be a stand-in for Trump, but I’m opting for Hilary, given the way she seems to be merely the latest in line.


For all that the world has moved on in technology, we still have reassuringly standard-issue laptops, though, and video links are on the patchy side, especially when they’re the size of a wall and communicating vital information. Peace isn’t exactly rife either, it seems. One of the most (the only, actually) interesting ideas here has an alien spaceship in the possession of an African warlord (Game of Thrones’ Deobia Oparei), the sort of warlord who goes around with two machetes at the ready. He’s shit-hot at killing aliens (from behind) so he’s a good guy really, but there’s nevertheless something slightly racist about the implication he and his heavies are stuck in such a mode while the rest of the world has moved on.


However, the screenplay, credited to five writers when two of them (director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin) did well enough last time, really can’t find sufficient reason to be, which is surely essentially why this was never really galvanised before (that, and diminishing career returns for the director and producer both). The aliens come back, but the initial thrill of mass carnage is now passé, particularly in the wake of so much subsequent disaster porn.


So too, while the original’s decision to invoke the spirit of ‘70s disaster movies may not have been such a high brow one, it worked as far as it went; the movie knew what it was doing and why, for better or worse. Here, the disaster scenarios are entirely unconvincing, ill-fitting with a different structural push-off point, and replete with weary call-backs, from ex Mrs Will Smith/Steve Hiller (the returning Vivicia A Fox) in deep trouble on a hospital roof (but do we care? Beyond the unintentional not-quite hilarity) to Judd Hirsch’s extended pick-up tour for mewling orphans. And really, do we want to spend a vast chunk of the movie with Hirsch (certainly disproportionate to his presence in the first picture)?


More to the point, do we really want to spend a vast chunk of the movie with anyone here? Bill Pullman’s President was a borderline indigestible piece of chest-beating nonsense the first time, but just about knowingly stupid enough in his patriotic stirrings to get away with it. Here, as a beardy-weirdy haunted by alien messages, he’s just a bore.


As are pretty Maika Monroe as his daughter (a poor choice for her first blockbuster, alas), and especially for not-Thor Hemsworth sibling and Jessie Usher (as son of deceased Steve Hiller; it’s like the movie wants to keep reminding us of the gaping hole left by Big Willie) as hotshot pilots, bickering bros and feeble substitutes for Smith on the action front. What this means is that, amid the frenetically tiresome CGI action that overpowers the picture in a way the original largely managed to avoid, all that the expense is lifeless, undiscerning spectacle. Even when it comes to hand-to-hand combat in an alien ecosystem.


And that’s a rarity for an Emmerich picture; whatever his faults in terms of screenplays (legion), his movies are usually quite watchable. Resurgence is painfully, aggressively slow, and has no idea how to ameliorate the flagrant, less-than-fragrant cheese it thinks its serving up as sought-after seconds. Mostly it’s unappetising, clotted, lacking the knowingness of the original. And the fact that there we were cutting between some really annoying stuff (the President’s wife) and actors who were quirky (Goldblum) charismatic (Smith) or insanely over-the-top (Quaid). It kept the picture (mostly) fuelled up.


The back half of Resurgence ensures it feel twice as long as the original, when it’s a good 15 minutes shorter. There’s no impact to the deaths (not that there really was first time round, but they were at least punchlines, intentional or otherwise), and only groans elicited from the succession of banal utterances. When Pullman gives his speech this time, it at least looks as if Goldblum’s about to roll his eyes.


Goldblum’s great, of course, and the only real reason I wanted to see Resurgence, but he isn’t nearly great enough to justify its existence. He gets the best knowing asides, but there isn’t the sense of quirky outsider this time, and as lame as his inspired plan to fight back was in the original, at least it was easily assimilated. Here he just comes up with something or other, and blah-blah who really cares because of all the CGI swarming about.


Part of the problem is all the time invested on the “plot” rather than the characters (or larger-than-life stars, who are mostly absent); the story was never the thing with the original, rather it was a selection of cartoon cut-outs thrown against a routine template. As soon as you place demands on that template, and cutback on the big performances, you’re going to hit problems. The shout out to the original in saving  a cute dog is cute, and amusing, but so little else is.


The introduction of the alien queen is just especially dopey; there isn’t even the consolation of majestic absurdity to her pursuing a school bus or attempting to stomp Monroe. It’s derivative, and also dumb looking, but not in a derivative, dumb looking fun way.


On the plus side, Brent Spiner really makes the most of his resurgence, and even eclipses Goldblum as the most vibrant performer in a lethargic affair, strutting about in his underpants and pulling out big lasers. William Fichtner the finest twitchy actor in movies today, is given a criminally static role, Charlotte Gainsborough couldn’t look more out of place, and presumably had some serious rent bills to pay. Robert Loggia is still alive (who knew, least of all him, by the looks of things).


Fox is canny, though. If you’ve got a lousy movie, at least have a yen to make a few yen out of it by casting Chinese actors (Angelababy), including Chinese dialogue and having a tentative romance with a really forgettable sidekick (Travis Tope, whose only saving grace is that he isn’t as annoying as Nicholas Wright’s annoying sidekick). It may not give the studio Warcraft returns – this is definitely a contender for prime position in a summer of turkey sequels – but you can’t say they didn’t shamelessly chase the box office.


Emmerich and Devlin planned a post-911 sequel that was all about peace, which was never going to provide dramatic resonance, well, certainly not with a pair so devoid of good taste, but instead they went back to the drawing board and a decade of ID4-2.0 oblivion. It wasn’t worth the wait, not that hordes of devotees were waiting anyway (further reason for Cameron to be warned with his planned Avatar quadrilogy). They also furnish us with that most unflattering of hopeful gestures (see Terminator Genisys, amongst many), setting up a sequel that just ain’t going to happen (our heroes are going out to take the fight to them). Emmerich will just have to settle for rebooting his Stargate franchise instead. If it’s anything like as turgid as Independence Day: Resurgence, it will be stillborn.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

You use a scalpel. I prefer a hammer.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
(SPOILERS) The latest instalment of the impossibly consistent in quality Mission: Impossible franchise has been hailed as the best yet, and with but a single dud among the sextet that’s a considerable accolade. I’m not sure it's entirely deserved – there’s a particular repeated thematic blunder designed to add some weight in a "hero's validation" sense that not only falls flat, but also actively detracts from the whole – but as a piece of action filmmaking, returning director Christopher McQuarrie has done it again. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an incredible accomplishment, the best of its ilk this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.