Independence Day: Resurgence Review

(1 STAR)

“We had 20 years to prepare,” reads the tag line for Independence Day: Resurgence. I’m not sure that’s something they should be promoting because 20 years to make a movie as startlingly terrible as this one is inexcusable.

There’s nothing redeeming about Roland Emmerich’s two-decades-in-the-making sequel to his silly but entertaining mega-blockbuster Independence Day. Will Smith is (smartly) gone, and along with him, the spirit of blow-it-all-up fun that really defined studio moviemaking for at least a few years. Resurgence borrows heavily from the playbooks of several science-fiction classics but very rarely from its predecessor’s. And on the few occasions that it does recall the original Independence Day, it misreads the play so badly that the quarterback appears to be running in the wrong direction.

The film opens nearly 20 years to the day of the “War of 1996.” America is a futuristic paradise, and world peace has reigned since we pointed our weapons collectively toward the interstellar invaders. America’s current leader, President Lanford (Sela Ward), is preparing for a major celebration of this important world holiday, and she’s flanked by one of her closest advisors, Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe). Curiously, Whitmore’s father (Bill Pullman), the former president, is nowhere to be seen. He’s under doctor’s care for his paranoia and frequent hallucinations of hostile alien activity.

Meanwhile, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is an important governmental advisor who’s working in Africa at the site of an alien ship that crashed in 1996 and appears to have recently come back online. At Area 51, Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) has suddenly awoken from a 20 year coma with loads of alien knowledge. On the moon, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), and other pilots observe the arrival of a foreign alien object, which the president decides to destroy as a precaution. But that was merely a precursor for a much larger ship to come — one with very hostile intentions. It seems President Whitmore’s hallucinations were more prescient than anyone believed, and this new threat is better prepared and much angrier than the last one.

Obviously, there are a lot of threads to follow, and this description only touches on how deep this cast of “characters” goes. We spend time with General Adams (William Fichtner), a hawkish leader who plays an increasingly important role as the attack intensifies. David’s father, Julius (Judd Hirsch), is back, and so is Dylan Hiller’s mom, Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox). The film is obnoxious in its attempt to appeal to Chinese audiences, and that plays out most obtusely in the transparent inclusion of a badass fighter pilot named Rain Lao (Angelababy). There’s a warlord with a heart (Deobia Oparei), an accountant who’s frightened (Nicolas Wright), and a French psychologist played inexplicably by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film gives you zero reason to care about any of them.

The worst offender, though, is probably Hemsworth. At what point does this guy stop getting chance after chance to become the next big star? He’s got no charisma in this film, especially when you compare him to what a marvelous star-making performance Smith gave in the same spot 20 years ago. To be fair, Smith couldn’t have saved this nonsense; No one could have. But the film might be a tad more fun, which it isn’t in the least with Hemsworth taking center stage.

The film also lacks a defining moment. The original had the destruction of the Empire State Building and the White House, not to mention Whitmore’s transcendent speech to rally the troops before the climactic dog fight (another highlight). Resurgence’s best scenes are also its most hokey and ridiculous. I can’t get into that too much for spoiler reasons, but my jaw was agape at the film’s audacity to try to sell some of its final-act ideas with a straight face. Before that, it’s silly set-up and jumbled destruction, but one or two specific moments as the film concludes with linger — for all the wrong reasons, but still?

The film is clearly setting itself up for a sequel, which will depend on its performance overseas (a new world, kids). I’ll probably see that movie for trainwreck reasons, but the gleeful excitement I had for Resurgence went down harder than the mother ship after the great Randy Quaid sacrifice of 1996. Sad!

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