Feature Article

Independence Day: Resurgence Review

Welcome back to Earth.

You remember the first alien invasion, back in ‘96? The White House got the explodo. Will Smith was chairman of Earth’s welcoming committee. We killed the alien mothership with a computer virus. It was a simpler time.

Cue 2016 (and Independence Day: Resurgence). Set 20 years after the first Independence Day, humanity has come together, co-opted the alien tech salvaged from the first invading force, and done everything possible to prepare in case the aliens ever came back. It’s easy to see those two decades between the movies actually happening.

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It might not be something you’d expect from the sequel to Independence Day, but there’s a sophistication to the world building, and it’s a tragedy how little time the movie has to explore it. The post-war golden age feels fresh and clever, but we only get the barest taste before things start exploding. And the explosions come early and often.

Director Roland Emmerich--who was hemmed in by ‘90s special effects when he made the first Independence Day--is back at his annihilative best. It feels like the director behind the wanton destruction in Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 finally has the means to kick things up to an interplanetary scale. If you go see Resurgence on a big screen, this is what you’re paying for.

There’s hardly a reprieve for the remainder of the two-hour running time. It all looks great, but it’s hard not to get a little fatigued before the big finish. There’s also little room for escalation after the initial, impressive reveals, so the ending felt much flatter than it should have.

The majority of the 1996 cast returns for Resurgence, but 20 years and a Law & Order spinoff later, Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum aren’t exactly the blockbuster box office draws they once were.

That said, Jeff Goldblum gets to step out from Will Smith’s shadow in this one, even if his whole role seems to be tricking you into enjoying confusing exposition. He steps back into character somehow entirely po-faced and in on the joke.

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The problem is that after a throwaway explanation for Will Smith’s notable absence, Resurgence largely hands over the reins to new cast members fronted by Jessie T. Usher (playing the son of Smith’s character) and Liam Hemsworth (not Thor, the other one).

Usher and Hemsworth’s characters spend the early parts of the movie competing over who has the bigger chip on his shoulder and the later parts shooting their way from one plot point to the next. And then still more characters get thrown at the screen. Between cameos and a horde of new faces, Resurgence spends so long jumping between its unwieldy cast you never really get the chance to connect with anyone.

Everyone gets a character moment or two, but the front-and-center newcomers don’t seem comfortable enough to indulge in the cheesy blockbusterness of it all, and the movie suffers for it. Goldblum, Brett Spiner, and Judd Hirsch manage to make hay with their screen time and inject enough enthusiasm to keep everything from flatlining, but their all-too-rare comedic beats are at odds with the overly dour younger cast.

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Emmerich is known for making a certain kind of movie. Resurgence is exactly what you expect from him, down to the predictable story beats, laughably earnest dialogue, fundamental misunderstanding of science and plot holes deep enough to reach the Earth’s gooey delicious center.

The first Independence Day was all those things too. Except back in 1996, it was at the forefront of the modern wave of sci-fi revival. It made it easy to not only ignore, but revel in the B-movie blockbuster spectacle of it all.

Go watch aliens get blown up, go laugh at the parts that are intentionally funny, go laugh at the parts that are unintentionally funny.

Like Jurassic World before it, Resurgence is a throwback that feels like a slightly off-key greatest hits. Credit where it’s due, it works overtime to outstrip the effects-driven extravaganza of the first, but it feels like it loses the point along the way.

It’s paying dutiful homage without embracing what made the original fun, and the result is that 20 years from now Resurgence won’t have its own Will Smith forming Earth’s one-man welcoming party, or the day being saved with rousing patriotism, or that one precision beam destroying the White House.

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Luke Lancaster

Luke writes things on GameSpot and CNET. You're reading one of those things.

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