“We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our independence day!”
It was with these words in Roland Emmerich’s 1996 film, U.S. President Whitmore, played by Bill Pullman, sent Earth’s finest to battle alien invaders who had been destroying the planet like arsonists setting fire to a model village.
Whitmore’s speech has become one of the more famous in movie history, exemplifying 1990s bombast and American optimism. It’s only fitting therefore, that Emmerich’s long-awaited follow-up to his definitive movie, Independence Day: Resurgence should begin with the same words.
A lot has changed since 1996 however. In the real world, it’s fair to say that the notion any problem, no matter how big, can be solved by an inspirational speech, some all-American heroes and Jeff Goldblum hasn’t aged well. In the Independence Day universe, President Whitmore is now a decrepit old man tortured by memories of the alien attack.
The world of the films has however fared better, with the defeat of the aliens sparking unity across the world, and the capture of their advanced technology allowing humanity to build a seemingly impregnable defence against future attack.
These defence efforts are led by new President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward), veterans of the first film, including Goldblum reprising his role as idiosyncratic scientist David Levinson, and a younger generation of new characters trained to fight the aliens off in the event of an attack.
Liam Hemsworth leads the young guns as Jake Morrison, an unruly space pilot who is engaged to President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe). The couple are joined by Jake’s best pal Charlie (Travis Tope) and Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the son of the first film’s hero Steven Hiller, who with Will Smith not returning this time has died in a test flight accident.
The movie is full of nods to its predecessor. We are introduced to Patricia and Dylan in front of a giant portrait of Smith as Steven Hiller, minor characters from the original turn up to remind you they exist, and a number of scenes strongly resemble the 1996 film’s more memorable moments.
Most importantly for fans, Independence Day: Resurgence keeps the spirit of the earlier movie. When the aliens inevitably arrive they’re on spectacular computer generated world smashing form once more and our plucky heroes fight back with quips and one liners as well as sophisticated weaponry.
Goldblum is again charged with devising a way to beat the aliens, with his investigations alongside his love interest, psychologist Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg), centring on a mysterious spherical spaceship which arrived alongside the destructive invaders.
The movie may be bigger than the original, with technological advances allowing Emmerich to smash up the world’s landmarks even more spectacularly than before, but it’s not clever. The plot is just as simple and even more daft. Its actor’s performances are largely perfunctory, getting us from scene A to scene B and the next action sequence or battle scene with the odd humorous aside.
It also lacks the emotionally resonant moments of its predecessor. Despite there being scenes which are clearly designed to pull on the heartstrings, nothing matches the moment in the first film where President Whitmore must says goodbye to his critically injured wife.
Usually this lack of depth would be a fatal flaw, even in a big budget blockbuster, but in a political climate that’s decidedly darker than 1996’s there’s something about its simplistic, brash, nostalgic confidence which wins you over. With even spandex clad comic book movie heroes requiring dark, brooding back stories it’s also refreshing to watch a film which just gets on with the action and whose heroes are unambiguously courageous.
Independence Day: Resurgence is no masterpiece, it’s not meant to be. But it delivers the same formula of epic destruction, obvious if witty dialogue and patriotic bombast as its predecessor, and in difficult times it’s two hours of fun we could perhaps all do with.
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