After 20 years in the doldrums, Independence Day is back. The aliens from the first flick are back, too, and they're even angrier than before. But there's something about Independence Day: Resurgence that just feels a little bit off. Gizmodo editor Campbell Simpson and sub-editor Amanda Yeo talk what went right, and what went wrong.
All images: 20th Century Fox
CS: I walked into Independence Day: Resurgence not even having seen the trailer. I have incredibly fond memories of the original Independence Day from 20 years ago, and all I knew about the sequel was what I'd seen from the poster: the aliens are coming back, and they have a bigger ship. That's really all that you need to know, to be fair, because Resurgence doesn't really have the most cerebral plot. It's kinda like Warcraft in space, if you asked me to describe it in a couple of words.
There's absolutely no doubt that the movie rides on the coattails of the original. Hell, one of the highlights of the first half of the film is in the first few seconds, where you see an oil painting of Will Smith's character from the original. (I guess an oil painting is a lot cheaper than the actual actor.) The plot, too, is pretty much the same, and I don't think I'm spoiling it too much to say that when aliens show up and take Earth unawares, the collective will and strength and chutzpah of humanity comes together in a glorious triumph of two and a half hours of CGI explosions.
When the original came out, I was eight years old, and probably the perfect demographic. Now I'm 28, and I felt like I was the only one in the cinema laughing at what I thought was -- for the most part -- a pretty ridiculous movie. It's a blockbuster about humans versus aliens, but unlike the original this one is set in the future, where deciphering the secrets of crashed alien ships has given Earth (a very US-centric, Hollywoodified Earth) gravity-defying helicopters, gravity-defying space fighter jets, a base on the moon, and the collective resolve to work together as a planet and achieve world peace.
What Independence Day: Resurgence's humanity didn't seem to get from its 20-year-old victory over the aliens was any extra common sense. In the movie's opening, the first point that we as an audience find out that something is up is literally one character saying to another "Hey, Saturn is gone, it's not there any more", and then just looking a bit confused and concerned and staring at some screens. That's kind of the movie in a nutshell, for me -- unreasonably unaware humans struggling to find a single common-sense solution to the straightforward problem of alien annihilation.
But that didn't make it any less fun to watch. What did you think?
AY: I had fun, but I have to agree – you weren’t the only one laughing.
I loved Independence Day the First. (Independence Day: Surgence?) I was a little too young for it when it first came out, but I was enraptured by the scale and action when it ran on free-to-air. Having rewatched it in preparation for Resurgence, it holds up quite well. Of course there’s the common complaint about the reality of writing a virus for an alien system, but the rest of the plot still feels grounded.
Unfortunately, Resurgence took that one deviation from reality and magnified it.
In the 20 years since the events of the first film (referred to in-universe as the War of 1996), humanity has stripped the leftover alien technology and used it to boost our own innovations. Unfortunately, humanity also stripped itself of its humanity. There is nothing relatable in the society that has emerged – everything is shiny, mechanised and militarised. The charm of the first film was that it established ordinary, everyday, low-tech 1990’s life – politicians worrying about how they’re polling, people sleeping in on their holiday, harried office workers trying to fix system errors – and dropped aliens on it. Humans prevailed with nothing but real-world tech and a will to survive.
In contrast, the high-tech sci-fi world of Resurgence is one that I could no longer recognise. You’d have a better time if you thought of the film as a completely new universe. It was less about human will, and more about alien tech. And, as you pointed out, the characters often behaved in a manner slightly removed from common sense, so that they no longer seemed like real people but rather flesh puppets there to enact plot points. It was just so hard to care. (I just had a revelation. Maybe the humans were the aliens all along!)
Even things that should have sparked some familiarity and nostalgia left me cold. None of the returning actors were brought back in a way that felt satisfying, and I found myself disliking characters that I’d formerly loved. It really felt like they were included more as a ‘where are they now’ than due to them having any significant impact upon the plot. In addition, several of the new characters had such a small impact on the overall plot that they could have been condensed into two or three roles. There were too many characters, and clichés in substitute for development. (Though the pilots can be straight up matched person to person with the original Power Rangers, which amused me.) Also, considering the supposed unity of the world and all that jazz, I’m a bit put out that Liam Hemsworth couldn’t have at least kept his Australian accent.
The film leaned very heavily on clichés overall, and it just felt lazy. Moments that were clearly meant to be ‘epic’ had me giggling at how forced and ridiculous they were (at one point so ridiculous that it reminded me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Resurgence was constantly aiming for and missing the first film’s sweeping scale – none of the emotional beats landed, and the film’s effort to recreate the “this is our Independence Day” moment was just sad. It felt like a baby waving its fist in the air compared to a solid punch from a 20-year-old man.
That being said, I also had fun. It’s always entertaining to watch things shoot and blow up other things, and there was even one scene near the beginning that topped the first film in terms of destruction and spectacle. But the film never built upon it and I was left dissatisfied.
What did you think of the high-tech, highly-improbable world at peace (because as we all know, the only thing preventing world peace is the stubborn refusal of aliens to show up)? And what about the new characters?
CS: I honestly thought that the high tech world -- because the film had to be set in a world where alien technology had been around for 20 years, and the 2016 we're living in at the moment would be even more fanciful than the one in the movie -- had a lot of potential. Probably my favourite serious point within the movie was seeing the alien ship hovering over the African plain; that felt very District 9 and I enjoyed it more by association.
The characters, honestly, bar Jeff Goldblum and Jeff Goldblum Sr, were forgettable. There wasn't any one Will Smith that stole the show and that made you root for humanity in the movie; I enjoyed seeing his painting more than I did most of the main cast. Which is a pity, because I'd say that that's the area where a bit of tweaking could have made the movie more human and more enjoyable. Hell, they should have thrown in a Power Rangers reference like you said and just rolled with it.
I think we're in agreeance here. Independence Day: Resurgence is a fun film, because stuff blows up, and a funny film, because it's just a bit ridiculous, but it's not a good film. It's the kind of movie that, were we back in 1996, I'd happily rent from the Video Ezy down the road as part of a '7 weekly VHS for $7' pack, but that I wouldn't pay for it on its own. It's visually impressive, but it lacks a bit of heart underneath the surface.