Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence


Movie theaters have been chockablock with ill-advised and hard-to-justify sequels in 2016, so Roland Emmerich’s bid to make a franchise out of INDEPENDENCE DAY seems like business as usual for Hollywood. Still, it’s some feat that INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE feels like a rush job even though twenty years have passed between the original and this sequel. Will Smith does not return, leaving his character’s absence to be explained with about as much elegance as Poochie being written off THE ITCHY & SCRATCHY SHOW on THE SIMPSONS. Some of the special effects impress, but a number of scenes don’t look much different than television dramas with conversations in front of chromakeyed backgrounds. The hash made from several weightless narrative threads does nothing to diminish the sense that this is a cash-in project timed to align with an anniversary ending in a zero.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE picks up two decades after the events of humanity’s defeat of the alien invaders. Knowing that a common enemy is out there among the stars, the world has become a more peaceful and unified place. Scientists have reverse engineered alien technology to improve Earth’s defenses in the event that another attack comes. Former President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is haunted by the the previous battle and worries another is imminent. His fears are confirmed when scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), among others, discovers that a distress signal is being sent by the first mothership.

When an unidentified vessel appears at the moon defense base, the snap judgment among world leaders is to destroy it. This victory is short-lived, as a ship three thousand miles in diameter follows and begins drilling into the Earth in pursuit of the molten core. Those fighting for Earth Space Defense against the aliens include Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the onetime First Daughter and pilot who assists the current Commander-in-Chief; her fiancĂ© Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth); and her friend Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the stepson of Will Smith’s INDEPENDENCE DAY character.

The aliens wipe out the United States’ East Coast, London, and presumably much of Europe and Asia, yet the massive toll doesn’t register at all. The lack of impact could be attributed to scenes of spectacular destruction becoming commonplace in comic book films and the like, so the imagery of large-scale catastrophes has become overly familiar to moviegoers. Emmerich doesn’t help matters by putting no emotional investment in these sections. There isn’t really any proportional human reaction to the incomprehensible carnage that occurs. Emmerich dispenses with the faceless masses and fleetingly recalled characters from the first film as if he’s stepping on an ant colony. INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE goes even bigger than before, although perhaps not as near-extinction level as THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW or 2012, but the tragedy merits little more than a shrug of the shoulders.

Emmerich’s large-scale disaster films are knowingly outrageous and campy to a degree, and INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE is no different even as it verges on self-parody. Brent Spiner hams it up as Dr. Brakish Okun, who has been in a coma since the previous film. Judd Hirsch is back as Julius Levinson, the father of Goldblum’s character, and he brings some levity via his matter-of-fact acceptance of all the nonsense happening around him. Spiner and Hirsch’s performances demonstrate awareness that this is all big and dumb, so why not have fun with it? The rest of the film subtracts fun from the equation and substitutes it with an earnest insistence that a good time is being had. Emmerich’s salesmanship is not convincing.

Grade: D-

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