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

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

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…

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

You've already met Judy.

Twin Peaks 3.15: There’s some fear in letting go.
Just two episodes ago, Big Ed was nursing a solitary late night cup-a-soup and looking as if nothing could ever come right. And even here, it seems as if, having finally been finally let off the leash by Nadine, he’ll be reduced to a coffee and cyanide. So the reparatory hand on his shoulder, signalling Norma is ready to be there with him for evermore, seems too good to be true. I’m wary that Lynch and Frost won’t just pull the rug from under them, and how long Nadine, who thanks to Dr Amp shows no fear in letting go, will remain in her golden, shovelled-up state.

I particularly enjoyed Wendy Robie’s delivery of “But I’ve been a SELFISH BITCH to you all these years”, and several of the characters here – Nadine, Big Ed, Hawk – are proving much more effective in this second wind of the series than they ever did first time round. Michael Horse has a great face for stoic rumination now. But not a horse face. 

Hawk’s phone conversations – I …

Don’t get tipsy. We can’t have you hiccoughing in the coffin.

The Avengers 4.2: The Murder Market
Tony Williamson’s first teleplay for the series picks up where Brian Clemens left off and then some, with murderous goings-on around marriage-making outfit Togetherness Inc (“Where there is always a happy ending”). Peter Graham Scott, in his first of four directing credits, sets out a winning stall where cartoonishness and stylisation are the order of the day. As is the essential absurdity of the English gentleman, with Steed’s impeccable credentials called on to illustrious effect not seen since The Charmers.

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

This is hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour.

Lock Up (1989)
Sylvester Stallone’s career was entering its first period of significant decline when Lock Up was flushed out at the tail end of his most celebrated decade. His resumé since Rocky includes a fair selection of flops, but he was never far from a return to the ring. Added to that, his star power had been considerably buoyed by a second major franchise in the form of John Rambo. For a significant chunk of the ‘80s he was unbeatable, and it’s this cachet (and foreign receipts) that has enable him to maintained his wattage through subsequent periods of severe drought. Lock Up came the same year as another Stallone prison flick, Tango & Cash, in which the actor discovered both his funny guy chops (resulting in an ill-advised but mercifully brief lurch in to full-blown comedy) and made a late stage bid to get in on the buddy cop movie formula (perhaps ego prevented him trying it before?) The difference between the two is vast. One is a funny, over-the-top, self-consciously bo…