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Disaster movie
In 1996, Independence Day made a star of Will Smith, a ton of money and a gung-ho mockery of the epic alien invasion genre. Using practical special effects, it seduced us with its grand scale. Camus catches the all-digital FX sequel, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE.
  'But it holds up pretty well, right? And other films they didn't call throwbacks now feel pretty dated. It's always, let's say, "Time will tell." I once talked to Ridley Scott about this. I asked him about Blade Runner, because it's one of my all-time favourites. And I said, how did he see that? He said "Everybody hated it. Didn't make money and now it's on everybody's 10-best list! That's just how it goes."'
Director Roland Emmerich on the 1996 original


It really doesn't, Roland. Hold up, I mean. Watching the original to prep for the twenty-years later sequel, I was astonished how awkward and puerile the whole thing is now and how frankly embarrassing Will Smith's character is. His "Who da man?" shtick just before he punches out a heavily body-armoured alien pilot had me cringing. Jeff Goldblum has his Jeff Goldblumisms, personal mannerisms that he unfailingly carries over to each movie he's in (not that they're not enjoyable you understand). The special effects still hold up, all gloriously old school and practical but the whole shebang, seen decades on, seems oddly self-conscious, the gung-ho, pro-USA stance grating like the punch of a chalk fist on a blackboard jaw. We won't complain about the 90's Mac Powerbook being able to infect the alien mothership with a virus because even though it's utterly ridiculous, a deleted scene went some way to explaining how this contrivance was possible. Yes, it's fun in its own brainless way (apparently audiences cheered the dog impossibly escaping the alien firestorm, never mind the hundreds of thousand gleefully incinerated behind it) but it is too much of its time to be accorded any lofty status for today's audiences. And there was a definite frisson of "Wow!" whenever the big ships were seen either moving or in action. We are now somewhat 'wowed out'.

The most shocking sight in Independence Day: Resurgence happens at the end of the movie. Most people would be on their way out and probably would have missed it. It's not an extra scene like Marvel movies treat us to. It's a credit, the writers' credit – five of the buggers. After two hours of digital overdrive and so many clichés that were telegraphed with an astounding lack of craft and lead-heavy bluntness, I found it hard to believe that director Emmerich didn't just ask his actors to make up their dialogue on the spot. The ace fighter jock (Liam Hemsworth, so natural and affecting in The Dressmaker) is fixing his plane and his wingman is practicing Chinese to impress a beautiful Oriental pilot (cast no doubt to appeal directly to the burgeoning Chinese market). He says "That's Chinese for 'You're beautiful,'" at which Hemsworth amusingly replies "Thank you." The wingman then actually says, "No, I meant..." and that's what tipped the scales for me. Either the wingman was supposed to be a certified idiot believing his partner was stupid enough to take the unintended compliment seriously or it was written that way for very stupid people who wouldn't have 'got it' without the leg up, a helping hand and scaffolding. And a Guide with a clipboard and megaphone. Hemsworth is decked by an old colleague for being a death-defying schmuck early in his career. Their superior catches Hemsworth on the floor post-punch. "What's going on here?" he says. Hemsworth replies "The floor's real slippery, Sir." Jesus, that one was old when Madagascar and Africa were still attached to each other. Goldblum seems to have accepted the role of meta-commentator... At one point he actually says, "They like to get the landmarks," as London is enthusiastically obliterated, Tower Bridge by Big Ben. An African war lord who was denied some serious butt-kicking says to his new friend, the decidedly desk bound wimp who is now sporting alien weaponry, "You have the heart of a warrior..." I couldn't actually tell if this was meant to be funny/ironic or deadly and outrageously serious. The delivery was deadpan but it just highlighted the extraordinary wealth of unoriginality across the board. It amused me that Susan Sarandon was offered the role of president but found the script incomprehensible. Hot on its heels of shocking things, what on Earth is indie Euro favourite Charlotte Gainsbourg doing in this movie?! Good grief. It's like seeing Tony Blair at an Honesty Convention.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Pop quiz. What's the most clichéd idea in science fiction history? I'm not just talking movies but novels and TV too. You won't have to rack your brain for too long. How about the one where all you have to do is kill the leader, the queen or the big cheese and the millions of foot soldiers suddenly flop down, strings cut, marionette style. Hell, even Joss Whedon used that in The Avengers though I suspect that this was a necessary hold over idea from a previous draft of the script he massively rewrote. The one thing I was looking forward to in the sequel was discovering how the human race was going to be victorious. I thought, they must have come up with something smart after the last movie's lame binary code denouement. A biological virus did the trick in the H.G. Wells incarnation and the computer virus was dodgy enough in the first movie. But no, true to its butt-clenchingly awful script, this "Kill the Head Honcho and all the soldiers fall down," cliché is trotted out again. I suppose if you write yourself into the corner of facing insurmountable odds, they automatically have to become surmountable with the expedient assurance of just having to do one thing to end it all. It seemed to me that an alien invasion with a ship the size of the Atlantic ocean could just set the foot soldiers down and watch the ensuing hand to hand havoc end the human race. Alas, no. Here the ship has to drill down to the Earth's molten core to re-fuel. This is the 'harvester' aliens version of a gas stop. But the queen, the one in charge that everyone is beholden to has to be defeated. To be fair, the movie riffs on a lot of what the audience expects and to a degree (a very small degree) subverts it but the diver's weight-laden dialogue and clichéd situations drown any flicker of originality before it has time to swim or in most cases draw breath. The audience I saw it with groaned all the way through. Independence Day: Resurgence is still born, a movie rooted in the mid-90s with access to superior filmmaking technology. Wedded to such draining banality, the CGI just becomes noise. To add insult to injury, the 3D presentation I saw had the projection bulb on low power mode to save money so the entire film was marred by a lackluster luster, about one and a half stops under exposed with those damn glasses on. When I discovered I was going in to a 3D movie I groaned. Watching the movie, my friend and I groaned even more.

Do we really need a synopsis? Twenty years after the first alien invasion, the characters from the original start experiencing alien visions after contact with the warrior ETs. They all centre on a mysterious sphere with a line through it. The incarcerated aliens from twenty years ago start whooping and hollering in celebration. 'She's' coming back. A ship arrives near the moon and true to form, knowing nothing about it, we blast it out of the sky. Nice one, Homo Sapien. Again. Goldblum suggests that it may not be the bad aliens and in a flash of greased narrative is soon on the moon literally picking up the pieces. A ludicrously large alien ship follows on and sets down covering the entire Atlantic Ocean. Ho hum. Sequels, of course, have to be bigger but this is taking things farther than the leniency shown to people who gun down their girlfriends on a pee break. So while the ship drills down to the core, the familiar human contingent try to figure out how to attract the alien queen from her fortified ship...

Independence Day: Resurgence

The old-timers are joined by a young cast that acquits itself as well as it can, given a script that defies rational analysis. The basic problem is that despite the script's attempts to introduce reasons to give a crap about any of them, they all fall flat. You can't just have a character say "You are my family," and expect us to care whether he lives or dies. The caring has to be wound into the fabric of the whole and not hung on a blithe one-liner. To be honest, the filmmakers were more concerned with delivering the (I have to say impressive, minus the 3D) computer-generated visuals that modern audiences now take for granted. There were moments of Jupiter Ascending excess where it was unclear what the hell was going on but Emmerich is on record saying that he is not crazy about rapid editing but there were moments in the movie when I had to question that. Ex-Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Brent Spiner awakes from a coma (to be fair, he was presumed dead in the original) and manages to steal the movie with his over the top mad scientist routine. He is a good reason to see the movie but not enough of a reason to pay for the privilege. Because of the hippy hairdo, it doesn't seem like he's aged at all. We don't miss the reported 'too expensive' or 'unavailable' Will Smith either. Bill Pullman is still a vanilla (ex-) president and walking off with his scenes is Goldblum's father played by Judd Hirsch. He seems to be following in his screen son's footsteps, taking the movie's events as seriously as I take Stan and Ollie. Poor old Robert Loggia who died last year, saddled with a blink and you'll miss him cameo, this movie is also dedicated to him. I really don't want to be unkind so I won't even finish the thought of this talented actor being forever associated with this piece of...

OK. If you go knowing that this movie is never going to knock on the door of great cinema, and you appreciate the pleasures of cliché without apparent irony as well as a taste for alien CG ships and creatures, you'll have a ball. You may exit the cinema using the same word in the plural. Have fun.



Independence Day: Resurgence poster
Independence Day: Resurgence

USA 2016
120 mins
directed by
Roland Emmerich
produced by
Dean Devlin
Roland Emmerich
Harald Kloser
written by
Nicolas Wright
James A. Woods
Dean Devlin
Roland Emmerich
James Vanderbilt
story by
Dean Devlin
Roland Emmerich
Nicolas Wright
James A. Woods
Markus Förderer
Adam Wolfe
Harald Kloser
Thomas Wander
production design
Barry Chusid
Liam Hemsworth
Jeff Goldblum
Jessie T. Usher
Bill Pullman
Maika Monroe
Sela Ward
William Fichtner
Judd Hirsch
Brent Spiner
20th Century Fox
UK release date
23 June 2016
review posted
7 July 2016

See all of Camus's reviews