We had 20 years to prepare. So did they.
In the 20 years following the alien attacks of 1996 that ravaged the planet, obliterated landmarks, and began a systematic cinematic tradition of blowing up the White House for years following it, mankind has adapted the alien technology to further their own. Creating new weapons, vehicles, and buildings, humanity has been preparing for any future return of the extraterrestrial menace, and now they’re back. As satellites go down, and images come back of something making it’s way to Earth, the world plans to strike first, but this time the ship is bigger, much bigger.
A pleasing aspect of the film is that it feels like an organic sequel to the first, with returning characters all having grown up or evolved into different roles and positions after the events of 1996. Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson now researches alien technology, and Bill Pullman’s former president Thomas Whitmore is plagued by nightmares and visions of the aliens return. The son of Will Smith’s Cpt. Hiller, Dylan, is now a fighter pilot himself (played by Jessie T. Usher), and is joined by Whitmores daughter Patricia, played very well by Maika Monroe. However the best new recruit to the film is by far Liam Hemsworth who essentially replaces Will Smith as the charismatic former fighter pilot with a little chip on his shoulder. Hemsworth takes to the rule with bravado and a cheeky smile, and it could be a bigger breakout role for him than his turn in The Hunger Games franchise.
Back in 1996 Independence Day was a visual marvel, committing to film special effects and destruction on a massive scale. Independence Day: Resurgence does a grand job of escalating what came before as it quite literally drops entire cities on top of each other, and when the action gets going it just doesn’t let up. As exciting as that sounds it eventually becomes mind numbing as there is no time to breathe. The aerial battles, the decimation of countries, and the explosive final act arrive blow by blow assaulting the senses. It’s a fantastic show of fireworks, but it lacks the heart that made the first film resonate so much. On a side note there is a very amusing wink to Roland Emmerich’s well documented fascination of making houses of white go boom in the middle of all the fracas.
In fact the most enjoyable part of Independence Day: Resurgence is the opening thirty minutes, before the aliens invade, as we’re given the lay of the land and the state of the world following the events of the first film. Aside from using the aliens technology to further our own, we learn of a alien spaceship that landed in Africa, as well as a 10 year war that African warlords waged on the aliens. It makes tantalising material for further stories, and little nuggets of information like this go a long way to fleshing out the world within the film. Also Brent Spiner’s Dr. Brakish Okun isn’t actually dead (Not a spoiler, he’s in the trailers too!) he, and other survivors of the alien attacks are suffering from visions and episodes that they can’t quite explain, and the aliens that are invading have came equipped with their own new toys too. And when the aliens get here is when it goes from interesting sequel to Crash, Bang, Wallop.
This sequel is around 20 minutes shorter than it’s predecessor, and it’s much needed time that should have been used to develop the myriad of new characters, making us care just as much as we did when Randy Quaid’s Russell Case yelled “up yours” at the alien spacecraft as he sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind. Instead, we get one explosion after another, after another, after another, and so forth. However where the characters are underdeveloped, the story is evolving into something so much bigger than than it started out and it’s possibilities alone are exciting. Independence Day: Resurgence is one heck of a fireworks display, full of so much action, carnage and explosions that it’ll put you into a coma. Visually it’s a win, and as a sequel it ties in very well, but if you look past the all the effect it’s missing the big heart the first one had. In other words, check your brain at the door and enjoy.