There’s no easy way to say it, so I’ll just step out there and say it.
Independence Day: Resurgence shouldn’t have been made without Will Smith.
Think about what a focal part of the first film he was. “Welcome to Earth!” (Or “Urf” if that’s what you prefer to hear.) “Nothin’ but love for ya!” And, of course, going reverse in an alien ship because some dippy got the controls wrong. Sure, Jeff Goldblum and others were great in it, too, but it all revolved around Smith’s character and kind of endured as a result.
(Oh, sure, Randy Quaid was nice and bonkers…but then he got totally bonkers in real life and, yeah, they’re not calling him.)
Resurgence, on the other hand, is just…there. Without Smith (who ducked out to work on Suicide Squad or probably felt the script wasn’t right, in which he was correct), the film just doesn’t really have something to revolve around. Goldblum is back as David Levinson, and Bill Pullman also returned as former president Whitmore, but most of them are surrounded by younger characters that never really get a chance to establish themselves. This includes hotshot pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth, doing a Poe Dameron impression) and Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher), who’s consistently reminded that his dad was a hero. Yes, we get it, he died. Can we move on?
Anyway, the aliens are back, as you can probably surmise, and this time there’s a bigger mothership with a much larger female alien inside. It nests itself on the planet Earth and begins drilling, and the remaining forces are left to try and figure out how to stop her. Of course, it’s a bigger task this time around, but you’ve got Levinson on the job, along with the return of Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner, giving the movie all the personality he’s got).
I won’t divulge how everything is saved, but there is one area where Independence Day: Resurgence gets it right – the visual effects. True, they aren’t of the same corny variety as the 1996 film, but they work in their own right, even with over-the-top digital-ness at some times, like when the giant mother alien has a kabillion ships surrounding her at one point. It looks really impressive in 3D, so if you want to go that route, you’ll get paid off handsomely.
One sequence in particular that blew me away was the uprising of a city. No, seriously. The gravitational pull got so bad that it literally lifted up an entire utopia in one shot, and then dropped it back down to the ground. Had the movie kept up this kind of energy, there wouldn’t be that big of a problem.
But that’s pretty much all there is, as Resurgence fails to reach the corny heights of the first film. It does have some great set pieces and a fun finale sequence – even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense. But action can only do so much. Most of the laughs fall over dead (thanks to banter between Jake and his buddy Charlie), and even Judd Hirsch, reprising his role as David’s dad Julius, can’t do much here. Maybe a couple of smirks is all I could muster for this. Aside from that, the movie was just…again, there.
Credit doesn’t go to the five screenwriters that were attached to the project. Had Emmerich just put this together with Dean Devlin like the first, we’d be going places. But too many hands were stirring the pot, and, as a result, we had a mess with a lot of inconsistencies and characters that didn’t belong. In fact, Vivica A. Fox’s character, Dylan’s mother (Jasmine), doesn’t have any presence at all. She’s in a “blink and you’ll miss it” situation, when more could’ve easily been done.
Not to mention the ending. Oy. Instead of actually giving us a nice send-off like the original film did, everything’s aligned for an unnecessary third film. Not to mention we’re introduced to a secondary force that borderlines on something you’d find in The Hitchhikers’ Guide To the Galaxy. Seriously. I was waiting for someone to throw in a towel.
The performances are all over the place. I appreciated Goldblum, Pullman and Hirsch putting up with the formulaic script, filling back in for their characters without missing a beat. In fact, Goldblum’s “Goldblum-isms” (as it were) actually saved some scenes from being complete drags.
However, the new actors can’t follow suit. Hemsworth is okay but doesn’t do nearly enough with his character. Usher doesn’t feel connected to Smith at all, as much as he tries. Maika Monroe is barely there as Whitmore’s daughter, acting as if she’s trying out for a Michael Bay film. And Charlotte Gainsbourg does nothing as Catherine Marceaux, a girl who flatly replaces Levinson’s previous love interest without even much reason. (What, they couldn’t have brought back Margaret Colin?!)
The only two saving graces here are William Fichtner as General Adams, filling in where the late Robert Loggia left off with the first film (who makes a ghostly appearance here that completely bothered me); and, of course, Spiner, in all his amazing goofball glory. But everyone else – including an African warlord who’s mixed in for some reason and a nerd that can’t help but be a damn nerd – is a brush-off of amazing proportions.
Speaking of brush-offs, the aliens – I really wanted to know more about them. With the introduction of a larger character, Emmerich and his team had the chance to really dig into their logic, and, more importantly, their rage. Instead, he takes the easy way out, simply saying, “They’re evil and we need to shoot them.” Granted, the first film kind of did that as well, but I just expected something more to go in this time around. Instead, they feel like just as much an “empty evil” as they ever have – and that’s not something you want in a spectacle like this.
Independence Day: Resurgence just feels off. Like way off. The visuals are there, and a lot of the old actors continue to bring their “a”-game (God bless you, Spiner), but that’s all it has going for it. The script is all over the place and lacks the spectacle and fun of the first film; and the new actors do absolutely nothing for it. And, again, no Smith. It’s like the filmmakers went, “Well, he’s not here, so let’s make everything bigger!”
Word of warning, guys. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.