Monday, June 27, 2016

Film Review: Independence Day - Resurgence

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

The power of the original Independence Day was that it looked at what would happen if a massive alien invasion imposed itself on our "real world."  Watching the wholesale destruction of our landmarks and seeing how our fighter jets went up flying saucers was iconically impressive.  Those of us old enough to really remember the first time we saw the streets of New York during the 9/11 attack would all visually compare it to the destruction we saw in Independence Day.  This mixing of the real and the fantastic is completely missing from the sequel Independence Day - Resurgence.

Also missing: most of the fun.

The story takes place twenty years after the original.  The Earth has united under one government and its main goal is to defend itself against another attack.  The human beings have appropriated much of the alien technology to make us and advanced, space-faring society.  If this had been explored properly, it would have added much to the movie.  Instead, by setting the movie in a science-fiction alternate 2016, it loses the emotional real-world anchor that the original had.  The original was about aliens attacking us as we are now.  This movie feels like aliens attacking us in a now that is more like our distant future.

The sequel also tries to do what Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens did: mix new and younger characters with members of the original cast.  Unfortunately, none of the fresh-faced heroes are very compelling.  We've got the cocky pilot (Liam Hemsworth) and his partner Charlie (Travis Tope).  There's the cocky pilot's girlfriend (Maika Monroe), daughter of the President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) from the first film.  She is best friends with Will Smith's character's son (Jessie T. Usher).   These characters are so bland and generic that I cannot remember any of their names. The only real positives to the cast are William Fichtner as the commanding general and Deobia Oparei as an African warlord who fought a ten-year ground war with the aliens (which we never get to see).

The best part about the movie is the returning cast.  Jeff Goldblum is still as Jeff Goldblumy as ever and can carry even the silliest scenes with great charisma.  Brent Spiner actually does a fairly good comedic turn as the crazy Dr. Okun.  Vivica A. Fox and Judd Hirsch really add nothing to the story, but at least Hirsh has a cranky charm.  And it was touching for me to see the late Robert Loggia one last time on the big screen.

But the best returning actor is Bill Pullman as President Whitmore.  I would have loved to have seen a whole movie based around him.  Because of his telepathic communication with the aliens in the first movie, his mind has been flooded with visions.  He has been pushed to the sidelines like Churchill after WWII, and yet he desperately needs people to take him seriously.  Whereas Pullman played this character originally as a weak but good man who learns to become strong, this time Whitmore is a broken man is ready to do whatever it takes to save the ones he loves.  This is some Pullman's best work in years and it is a shame it is going to be lost in this mediocre film.  But his story and Pullman's performance make this movie worth watching.

The loss of Will Smith, though is a huge blow to this movie.  Imagine The Force Awakens without Han Solo.  The reason why the first ID4 made Smith such a star was that he brought strength, dynamism, and an overall sense of fun to the movie.  His reaction to firs seeing the alien was so joyfully unexpected that it solidified his relationship with the audience.  No one in this current movie comes close to matching what his character did in the original.

The action is top of the line.  But it does suffer from a third-act action fatigue.  This is where the action set piece goes on so long that a lot of its excitement and forward momentum is a bit deflated.  You can only sustain that level of intensity for so long before the audience needs a breather.  This can be managed well (like in The Avengers), but more commonly it is getting a bit out of hand (like in the last two Transformers movies).

There was nothing specifically Catholic or anti-Catholic in this film.  Although I did very much enjoy the moment when General Adams address the world right before the third act and asked everyone to pray for them as the moved ahead with their final plan.  There is a gay couple in the movie, but they never explicitly address their relationship as romantic.  The only reason I know with certainty that the couple is gay is because I read an interview with the openly gay director Roland Emmerich.

And the movie also cuts out a lot of the emotion that was in the first.  Yes, the original had an often silly tone.  But I still get a little chocked up at the final scene with Whitmore and his wife saying their goodbyes.  And this emotional resonance held out throughout the end of the movie.  In this movie when a character dies, everyone else seems to get over it fairly quickly.

Ultimately, this movie makes the mistake that a lot of sequels, especially direct-to-DVD sequels have: they ape the plot structure and characters of the original but just make everything bigger.  In this movie, all of the story beats are essentially the same in a compressed time frame.  Only this time, the main ship is as big as the Atlantic Ocean.  There are a few other differences, set primarily to push us into more sequels, but they don't add much.

This isn't a terrible film.  But if you had two decades to make this movie, more time should have gone into fixing the story.  Because with just a little tweaking of plot and character, something very good could have come out of this.

But if you just want to go and have some fun watching lots of explosions and visual spectacle, then you could do worse.

At least it doesn't have drunk Randy Quaid saving the world.

3 out of 5 stars

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