Dusk is falling on the era of sequels, but even though Hollywood is repeating itself to the point of self-satire, Independence Day: Resurgence is still a great idea. Released almost 20 years to the day after the iconic first movie, Resurgence presented the promise of a throwback to when disaster movies were still done right and when sequels were produced with the same care as the original, not just on a tight studio schedule. It’s only when you get into the theater you realize how distinctly, horribly 2016 the movie is.
Independence Day: Resurgence follows way, way too many characters, and it’s difficult to parse out which ones are actually important — really, none of them are. Nobody does much of anything to drive the plot, but some at least participate in it. There’s main-ish character Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), a U.S. pilot serving on the Lunar base. He’s engaged to Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), a former pilot herself who left the armed services to care for her father, former president Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who, like many who were exposed to the aliens’ telepathy, has been suffering from intense psychic visions for years. As a stress-free day job for when she has time off from taking care of her dementia-ridden, widowed, crippled national hero father, Patricia Whitmore has taken up speech-writing for the current president, Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward).
Also, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is back. He’s been the director of incorporating alien technology into the allied global military. He doesn’t do much in the movie. He has a new love interest, though, in Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a psychologist who specializes in residual psychic images such as former president Whitmore’s. Also, super-annoying Area 51 scientist Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) is back, he’s been in a coma since his encounter in the first movie. Back to Morrison for a second — he’s got beef with air force royalty Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher), son of war hero Steven Hiller from the first movie, who tragically died in a flight test because Fox didn’t want to pay Will Smith’s acting fee. That’s a conflict-resembling plot device that happens throughout the movie. Also, there are these guys on a boat. And there’s this group of kids in a school bus, they make their way into the final fight sequence, somehow.
Also, aliens are invading!
Is this a parody? Because if it is, it’s completely, unassailably perfect. Independence Day: Resurgence isn’t just a profoundly horrible movie, it’s a comprehensive breakdown of everything that has gone wrong with filmmaking over the past 20 years. It is so defined by this ending era of moviemaking that the words “2016 shitshow” may as well be watermarked onto every frame.
In 1996, when the first film won the worldwide box office race and almost doubled the nearest competitor, if you wanted a movie to be successful, it had to be good. There wasn’t something big coming out every week — movies weren’t a big enough part of life back then — so a movie’s fate wasn’t determined by advertising and first-weekend totals as much as it was determined by word of mouth.
In 2016, sandwiched between Finding Dory and a barrage of July 1 and fellow June 24 releases ahead of July 4 weekend, Independence Day: Resurgence’s profits will be all about these first two weekends. Director Roland Emmerich and 20th Century Fox do not give two shits whether or not the movie is good, and you can tell in so, so many ways.
The first difference that sticks out between the films is character development. Character is action, and the best way to develop characters in a movie is through the actions they take. In Independence Day, almost everything you know about the characters before the invasion you learn by their behavior and how they interact with others, but in Resurgence, it’s all spoonfed to you through dialogue. The first half hour — or at least what feels like half an hour — is spent with characters talking to each other, barely doing anything, telling each other things they already know for the benefit of the audience. All the key information delivered in this part of the movie is delivered verbally, not even through the entire conversation but through key words, and most of it doesn’t even matter.
There’s an entire scene dedicated to revealing Morrison and Whitmore are engaged, and it’s revealed via Skype call with the word “fiance” dropped in just when the scene starts to get boring. If, instead, they’d had a scene of intimate conversation and talked to each other as if they were actually in love, and maybe sprung for engagement rings for their costumes, you’d get that information in a much more meaningful way and care a lot more about the relationship.
I went to a standard showing for Resurgence instead of 3D because I’m not a moron, but the ubiquity of the technology is another way this time period dominates the movie. Independence Day: Resurgence is grotesquely overcorrected for 3D. If you know the basics of how cameras work, you know that all you need to do to create that lame two-tier effect which studios are selling as 3D is to widen the aperture, and I don’t know if there was a camera on set that even had an aperture. Most shots have the main subject in focus with everything else a hazy blur. Any chance at creating an interesting frame is thrown by the wayside. Also, everyone is backlit no matter where they’re standing, giving them that halo effect to help them stand out from the non-existent background.
But the biggest way this movie dates itself is with its runtime. The first movie was a hefty 145 minutes, which is something that wasn’t just encouraged at the time, but expected. People wanted more out of their movies. It could have been trimmed by about 15 minutes quite easily. Twenty years later, the thinking has changed. Studios are afraid to challenge viewers’ attention spans. So, despite ironically feeling glacial because of its poor character and plot development, Independence Day: Resurgence comes in at 120 minutes, and they tied themselves into boy scout knots to get to that number.
Where studios in 1996 wanted to make a movie feel full and satisfying, even to the point of overstuffing it, Resurgence feels incomplete. It feels like there are important parts missing from a lot of scenes, very similar to Warcraft from a couple of weeks ago. If you know what you’re looking for, you can see it everywhere, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for you can see it quite often in the movie’s many obvious continuity errors.
In a parting blow, immediately after the battle is won, Okun shows up and says they’re ready to conduct an intergalactic war with the invasive race, because every movie has to advertise its own sequel now.
If this is supposed to be a movie taken seriously on its own merit, it is an abomination. It should be destroyed, its remains should be buried and the earth should be salted above it.
But if it’s supposed to be a sarcastic indictment of this nostalgia-driven era of filmmaking, in which quality counts for little and name recognition and large format premiums dominate the marketplace?
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.