FILM REVIEW – INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. With Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe. Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language.
A garbage sequel to a garbage movie, the spectacularly awful INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE will hopefully serve as an antidote to the millennial nostalgia for all things 1990s that’s currently strangling popular culture amongst our wayward youth. Like sad dad Ray Velcro from “True Detective,” we who lived through the original Clinton era might not be able to keep our children from watching “Friends” reruns on Netflix, but we can at least slap the kids away from “Fuller House” and let them know summer movies once upon a time were more than this.
Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day” is commonly credited with creating the modern summer blockbuster, which is kinda like saying it invented the lobotomy except it’s not that smart. Short on movie stars and high on concept, the original picture blew up the White House during a SuperBowl ad and that’s pretty much the entire claim to fame. Rinky-dink pew-pew laser battles rocketed Will Smith to stardom, and there was admittedly an underdog appeal to perpetual second bananas Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman somehow saving the world.
But the movie itself was a pokey bag of low-rent rubbish, fusing moldy Irwin Allen disaster-picture stereotypes with crummy spaceship battles that only passed muster because we’d been sitting out a long historical hiatus between “Star Wars” pictures. Like most Emmerich films, it’s chintzy, annoying and seems to go on forever.
Twenty years later, we still don’t even know what these aliens’ names are nor what planet they’re from. (The creatures’ powers once again come and go depending on whatever the screenplay demands at any given moment.) Will Smith is too expensive so he’s politely killed offscreen before the opening credits, and his hotshot pilot son (Jessie T. Usher) is engaged in some sort of ill-defined love triangle with the former President’s daughter (Maika Monroe) and a resplendently dull Liam “The One Who Isn’t Thor” Hemsworth. Complications ensue.
A couple decades only made these aliens tougher, much to the consternation of Goldblum’s nattering know-it-all and his hotcha bickering ex. (She’s played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, the most overqualified international art film goddess to co-star in a stupid American disaster movie since Juliette Binoche was eaten by Godzilla a couple years ago.) The entire eastern seaboard is wiped out in a blink of an eye but nobody here is very sad about it. London is reduced to smithereens yet not a single tear is shed. Mass destruction is boring to the filmmakers and inconsequential to the plotline. It’s just there for you to get off on.
“Independence Day: Resurgence” is an insanely crummy-looking picture. Minus any movie stars and skimping on production values, it’s the off-brand blockbuster equivalent of shopping at the Dollar Tree. At least ninety percent of this movie appears to have been shot on a soundstage in front a greenscreen, with Goldblum and the gang weirdly set apart from their two-dimensional surroundings. None of the lighting matches, let alone their eyelines. Everybody’s backlit in that cheapo digital way with a sickly algae-colored pallor, actors melting into the murky backgrounds.
The whole thing is bizarrely tone-deaf and makes you wonder if “Emmerich” might actually be a German word for dopey slapstick in the midst of a genocide. Beloved characters die agonizing deaths, and then we cut to Brent Spiner (who was killed in the previous film, but I guess whatever) in a cartoony hippy wig, spazzing out because someone just told him his bum is hanging out the back of his hospital johnny. Millions have just been murdered and he’s bereaved because “everybody can see my butt!”
It doesn’t even do carnage right. The first movie at least had the lean visual precision of big-ass flying saucers casting shadows over national landmarks then annihilating places like the White House with a single beam of light (much to the insanely scary satisfaction of the audience). “Independence Day: Resurgence” just has a giant ship with its own gravitational field ripping up your lawn and dropping shit on your neighbors.
It’s ugly and noisy and you can’t tell what’s going on. Much like the rest of the film.•••
Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.