1996’s “Independence Day” was cheesy, swaggering, and a little over-the-top, but that’s exactly why people enjoyed it then (and still do today). 2016’s “Independence Day: Resurgence,” sadly, is none of those things.
The film’s name says pretty much everything you need to know about the storyline: the big bad aliens show up again, with bigger and badder technology, and humanity (this time armed with reverse-engineered alien gear) unites to fend them off. Good old Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman show up for a second go-round with the extraterrestrial invaders, supported by Liam Hemsworth and a pack of other forgettable semi-protagonists.
The original “Independence Day” was memorable for its landmark-blasting carnage. And alas, this sequel’s sequences of world-ending destruction are far too few in number – if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the vast majority of the CGI carnage on display. What’s left behind is a very pedestrian alien-invasion story lacking virtually anything to differentiate it from its competitors. Additionally, Will Smith’s absence is sorely felt: “Resurgence” suffers from an unfortunate humorlessness that contributes to the film’s generally sterile tone.
Joseph Stalin famously quipped that “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic,” and “Resurgence” seriously suffers from this sense of detachment. There’s a memorable sequence in which an alien ship literally vacuums up the city of Beijing and dumps it onto London, but it’s almost entirely devoid of emotional weight.
Memorable sci-fi requires a better sense of scale – for instance, “Star Wars” is at its heart a family drama, and “Firefly” and “Star Trek” are intergalactic westerns. The original “Independence Day” worked in large part because of its smirking scientific triumphalism and unabashed flag-waving, conjuring up a go-get-em-America vibe that left viewers with silly satisfied grins. By contrast, “Resurgence” substitutes a kind of industrialized internationalism that fails to evoke any emotion (in another venue, I might speculate that the same impulse that makes someone think “wow, ‘Resurgence’ is pretty soulless” is the same impulse that makes people vote for Brexit. The borderline-gratuitous pandering to the Chinese film market doesn’t help). That isn’t to say that “the nations of the earth united against a common enemy” makes for a bad storytelling premise – “Star Trek” did it right – but “Independence Day” doesn’t really contain anything, or anyone, that a viewer should be expected to care much about.
The original “Independence Day” might have set a new benchmark for special effects and summer-blockbuster storytelling, but in the twenty years that’ve elapsed since its release, it’s been aped so many times that the sequel feels derivative of itself. Planet-killing, global-scale destruction is no longer something unique to the “Independence Day” franchise – “Man of Steel,” “Transformers,” “Star Trek” and others have all depicted mayhem on a similarly vast scale. By contrast, last summer’s “Jurassic World” still felt lively because the “Jurassic Park” franchise hasn’t been imitated to death; where alien invasion is concerned, though, there’s not much new under the sun. (A much more chilling story might have borrowed a page from the Lovecraftian style of horror, centering on aliens who are neither survival-oriented nor malicious, but simply indifferent to humanity, such that Earth is barely a blip on their conceptual radar).
In essence, virtually everything in “Resurgence” has been done better by someone else. There’s even an “alien harvester queen” that looks so much like James Cameron’s “Aliens” xenomorph queen that I found myself wondering if Cameron would have a claim for copyright infringement. The ending, for that matter, feels an awful lot like a mashup of “Starship Troopers” and “Alien vs. Predator.” The whole film feels like watching a playthrough of any AAA video game title from the last few years, right down to the paint-by-numbers “boss battle” of the finale.
In sum, “Resurgence” is not exactly bad, but it contributes very little to the grand canon of cinema. You will miss nothing by waiting for Netflix.
A tragically limp sequel arriving fifteen years too late.
Normalized Score: 0.3