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.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .