“Houston, we have a problem.” Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell in 1995’s ‘Apollo 13’
Nearly two decades ago, Roland Emmerich brought Independence Day to the big screen. It won an Academy Award for Best Visual effects, deservedly so. Plans for a sequel began almost immediately but it took 19 years and 358 days to bring Independence Day: Resurgence to the big screen. The protracted passage of time between original and first sequel was a clear harbinger that the sequel won’t live up to the level of the original. It turned out to be accurate.
After the aliens were defeated in the original film, the world became united. A celebration of the 20th anniversary of the defeat of the invaders is in the works, with a worldwide audience. The Earth Space Defense program, led by its director “David Levinson” (Jeff Goldblum) is about to complete the deployment of a new weapon on the moon as part of the preparations for the expected return of the aliens as the celebration is about to begin. David Levinson is supposed to be at the celebration in Washington, D.C. but on July 2nd he is in Africa. He has traveled to the Republique Nationale d’Umbutu to investigate the only alien craft that made a safe landing back in 1996. He finds “Doctor Catherine Marceaux” (Charlotte Gainsbourg) there. She was invited, like David, by the leader of the country, “Dikembe Umbutu” (Deobia Oparei) who killed dozens of the aliens during the 10 year ground war his people fought following the landing of the ship. Like the people interviewed by Dr. Marceaux and “President Whitmore” (Bill Pullman), he seem linked to the aliens. Many of these people draw an image that no one is able to properly interpret.
As to the rest of the people of note in the original film, David’s father “Julius” (Judd Hirsch) is living on a boat and attempting to eke out a living hawking a book on how he saved the world. “Jasmine Dubrow” (Vivica A. Fox)is a widow and working in a hospital. Her husband, “Colonel Stephen Hiller” was killed years earlier but their son “Dylan Dubrow-Hiller” is the leader of a squadron of the latest fighters the ESD has. “Patricia Whitmore” (Maika Monroe) is working as a speechwriter for the current president, “Elizabeth Lanford” (Sela Ward). She was an ESD pilot until changing careers to care for her father. “Doctor Brakish Okun” (Brent Spiner) has been in a coma since his close encounter with an alien in the Area 51 lab some 20 years earlier.
There are additions to the story. “Jake Morrison” (Liam Hemsworth) is an ESD pilot who was part of the elite squadron led by Captain Hiller until he took an extreme risk and was demoted to shuttle pilot. He works with his best friend, “Charlie Miller” (Travis Tope) who is also a qualified shuttle pilot. “Rain Lao” (Angelababy) is a Chinese pilot in Captain Hiller’s squadron. William Fichtner plays “General Joshua Adams” who is the military commander of the ESD.
The plot of the film is weak and predictable. The aliens return with an even bigger ship, destroy nearly all of the Earth defense systems built during the last two decades and begin trying to drill to the Earth’s core. Prior to the arrival of that alien ship another alien craft of a clearly different design was approaching Earth. David Levinson says it would be a mistake to destroy it but President Lanford chooses to shoot it down.
There’s little point in describing the rest of the story. It is lacking in many ways, although a smidgen of the humor that was present in perfect proportion in the original can be found. I described so many characters because this highlights another of this movie’s weaknesses, lack of character development. The film’s run time of exactly two hours is just too short to create that kind of character arcs. Worse yet is that the two hours seem to take nearly an eternity to pass. This is not helped by the fact the audience is given a constant countdown of the moment of impending doom for the planet. However, the biggest problem with this film is the absence of Will Smith. It might have been salary demands or scheduling conflicts but there can be little doubt his presence would have helped immensely.
The one saving grace for Independent Day: Resurgence” is that it is an awesome achievement on a visual basis. The effects and imagery are breathtaking and I can only imagine how they’d be even more so in 3D, IMAX or better still, both. Unfortunately the visuals can’t salvage this dystopian disaster.