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They’re not screaming. They’re celebrating.

Movie

Independence Day: Resurgence
(2016)

 

I guess you can never quite tell. Dinosaurs have always been popular with kids, but that didn’t mean Jurassic World wasn’t going to be another Jurassic Park III (and just wait for that The Land That Time Forgot remake… anyone?) Independence Day seemed like a dazzling one-off marketing coup (aliens blow up the White House! – and other, less important global renowned global sites – as Jeff Goldblum knowingly informs us here “They like to get the landmarks”), but that didn’t mean its sequel couldn’t tap a similar vein of ‘90s nostalgia as Jurassic Park, or bring alien invasions to a rapt new generation. Yet such a prospect looked a whole lot less likely when Big Willie opted not to bring his inimitable style to the party, and sight of the picture confirms he made the right decision; even with his cocky pilot in frame to fill one of the narrative vacuums masquerading as subplots, Independence Day: Resurgence would still have stunk.

The absence of press previews was a clear sign that Fox wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence in the picture, embarking on the most indicative of damage limitation. One wonders how much dirt the Murdoch empire has on the proprietors of Variety and Empire to persuade them to give this dog a free pass, let alone the warm recommendation it received.

Resurgence (a sub-title that has all the allure of a Divergent sequel) doesn’t start off too badly. For maybe half an hour. We get to see how twenty years of alien tech has improved Earth society and defences (and are told as much too, via one of many bursts of unforgivably lazy exposition introducing scenes, characters and plot points with all the finesse of a rampant T-Rex; when it comes to meeting some friendly virtual aliens, you’d have hoped they’d at least be reliably impersonal, but they’re every bit as cloth-tongued as everyone else, info-dumping like nobody’s business), and how man has now colonised the Moon (which must have been a shock to all the ETs occupying it, but we’ll let that go). There’s a Madam President, and she’s obliteration-of-illegal-aliens-happy, so she could be a stand-in for Trump, but I’m opting for Hilary, given the way she seems to be merely the latest in line.

For all that the world has moved on in technology, we still have reassuringly standard-issue laptops, though, and video links are on the patchy side, especially when they’re the size of a wall and communicating vital information. Peace isn’t exactly rife either, it seems. One of the most (the only, actually) interesting ideas here has an alien spaceship in the possession of an African warlord (Game of Thrones’ Deobia Oparei), the sort of warlord who goes around with two machetes at the ready. He’s shit-hot at killing aliens (from behind) so he’s a good guy really, but there’s nevertheless something slightly racist about the implication he and his heavies are stuck in such a mode while the rest of the world has moved on.

However, the screenplay, credited to five writers when two of them (director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin) did well enough last time, really can’t find sufficient reason to be, which is surely essentially why this was never really galvanised before (that, and diminishing career returns for the director and producer both). The aliens come back, but the initial thrill of mass carnage is now passé, particularly in the wake of so much subsequent disaster porn.

So too, while the original’s decision to invoke the spirit of ‘70s disaster movies may not have been such a high brow one, it worked as far as it went; the movie knew what it was doing and why, for better or worse. Here, the disaster scenarios are entirely unconvincing, ill-fitting with a different structural push-off point, and replete with weary call-backs, from ex Mrs Will Smith/Steve Hiller (the returning Vivicia A Fox) in deep trouble on a hospital roof (but do we care? Beyond the unintentional not-quite hilarity) to Judd Hirsch’s extended pick-up tour for mewling orphans. And really, do we want to spend a vast chunk of the movie with Hirsch (certainly disproportionate to his presence in the first picture)?

More to the point, do we really want to spend a vast chunk of the movie with anyone here? Bill Pullman’s President was a borderline indigestible piece of chest-beating nonsense the first time, but just about knowingly stupid enough in his patriotic stirrings to get away with it. Here, as a beardy-weirdy haunted by alien messages, he’s just a bore.

As are pretty Maika Monroe as his daughter (a poor choice for her first blockbuster, alas), and especially for not-Thor Hemsworth sibling and Jessie Usher (as son of deceased Steve Hiller; it’s like the movie wants to keep reminding us of the gaping hole left by Big Willie) as hotshot pilots, bickering bros and feeble substitutes for Smith on the action front. What this means is that, amid the frenetically tiresome CGI action that overpowers the picture in a way the original largely managed to avoid, all that the expense is lifeless, undiscerning spectacle. Even when it comes to hand-to-hand combat in an alien ecosystem.

And that’s a rarity for an Emmerich picture; whatever his faults in terms of screenplays (legion), his movies are usually quite watchable. Resurgence is painfully, aggressively slow, and has no idea how to ameliorate the flagrant, less-than-fragrant cheese it thinks its serving up as sought-after seconds. Mostly it’s unappetising, clotted, lacking the knowingness of the original. And the fact that there we were cutting between some really annoying stuff (the President’s wife) and actors who were quirky (Goldblum) charismatic (Smith) or insanely over-the-top (Quaid). It kept the picture (mostly) fuelled up.

The back half of Resurgence ensures it feel twice as long as the original, when it’s a good fifteen minutes shorter. There’s no impact to the deaths (not that there really was first time round, but they were at least punchlines, intentional or otherwise), and only groans elicited from the succession of banal utterances. When Pullman gives his speech this time, it at least looks as if Goldblum’s about to roll his eyes.

Goldblum’s great, of course, and the only real reason I wanted to see Resurgence, but he isn’t nearly great enough to justify its existence. He gets the best knowing asides, but there isn’t the sense of quirky outsider this time, and as lame as his inspired plan to fight back was in the original, at least it was easily assimilated. Here he just comes up with something or other, and blah-blah who really cares because of all the CGI swarming about.

Part of the problem is all the time invested on the “plot” rather than the characters (or larger-than-life stars, who are mostly absent); the story was never the thing with the original, rather it was a selection of cartoon cut-outs thrown against a routine template. As soon as you place demands on that template, and cutback on the big performances, you’re going to hit problems. The shout out to the original in saving a cute dog is cute, and amusing, but so little else is.

The introduction of the alien queen is just especially dopey; there isn’t even the consolation of majestic absurdity to her pursuing a school bus or attempting to stomp Monroe. It’s derivative, and also dumb looking, but not in a derivative, dumb looking fun way.

On the plus side, Brent Spiner really makes the most of his resurgence, and even eclipses Goldblum as the most vibrant performer in a lethargic affair, strutting about in his underpants and pulling out big lasers. William Fichtner the finest twitchy actor in movies today, is given a criminally static role, Charlotte Gainsborough couldn’t look more out of place, and presumably had some serious rent bills to pay. Robert Loggia is still alive (who knew, least of all him, by the looks of things).

Fox is canny, though. If you’ve got a lousy movie, at least have a yen to make a few yen out of it by casting Chinese actors (Angelababy), including Chinese dialogue and having a tentative romance with a really forgettable sidekick (Travis Tope, whose only saving grace is that he isn’t as annoying as Nicholas Wright’s annoying sidekick). It may not give the studio Warcraft returns – this is definitely a contender for prime position in a summer of turkey sequels – but you can’t say they didn’t shamelessly chase the box office.

Emmerich and Devlin planned a post-911 sequel that was all about peace, which was never going to provide dramatic resonance, well, certainly not with a pair so devoid of good taste, but instead they went back to the drawing board and a decade of ID4-2.0 oblivion. It wasn’t worth the wait, not that hordes of devotees were waiting anyway (further reason for Cameron to be warned with his planned Avatar quadrilogy). They also furnish us with that most unflattering of hopeful gestures (see Terminator Genisys, amongst many), setting up a sequel that just ain’t going to happen (our heroes are going out to take the fight to them). Emmerich will just have to settle for rebooting his Stargate franchise instead. If it’s anything like as turgid as Independence Day: Resurgence, it will be stillborn.

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