Like a burp only vaguely reminds of the “flavor” of the Coors Light that you just shot-gunned, Independence Day: Resurgence is a hollow echo of its overly-popular predecessor. The plot of this sequel was seemingly generated by five screenwriters throwing darts at a board composed of better science fiction films and filling in the blanks with shoe-horned references to the original, at least when they aren’t ret-conning exposition into the original that was never there. Though not quite as offensive as last summer’s moronic ‘90s nostalgia capitalization called Terminator: Genisys, Independence Day: Resurgence is arguably more of a horrible mess and embarrassment.
First, the basic plot (which will not take long). It has been 20 years since the invasion of 1996, and in the interim the entire Earth has banded together to re-build and fortify our planet in anticipation of the return of the aliens. We’ve got hovercopters and a moon base, really big weapons and a network of attack satellites, and even space planes that go really fast. A new kind of ship arrives on the moon and we blow it up, but then the aliens return in an even-larger ship than before, which is intent on landing on our planet and drilling out our molten core for fuel. In an astonishing twist, we have to stop this.
The rest of this piece contains explicit spoilers (I’m even going to “ruin” the final line of the movie). I feel justified in this course of action because I was subject to experiencing the “plot” of this film in agonizing real-time, and there is no reality where a shortened, spoiler-filled recount of this plot is any worse. I feel that Plot and Theme can act as a shelter for others who share my fate to come together and discuss the baffling cinematic choices that they have witnessed. And for those that do not yet know true horror, perhaps we can act as a warning to not expose a sober brain to Roland Emmerich’s latest disasterpiece.
Now – onto some of the ret-cons, which already put me in a bad mood. First, it is revealed that one of the ships in the first film had landed in Africa and was already starting to drill to the core, but stopped when the mother ship was destroyed. Not only am I mad because no it didn’t – but because it somehow took 20 years to understand this information? Apologists will point to the fact that this area was heavily overrun by the aliens and disputed by the African warlords in a bloody ground conflict, but that is not an excuse for the idea of the drilling not getting out, it is just 100% lazy, backwards-ass-focused writing. Furthermore, at some point in the narrative it is revealed that there are Queen Aliens and there must have been one on board the original mother ship (which we destroyed unknowingly). It’s hard to remember exactly when this information was revealed, because the design of the queen so resembles the one from Aliens that I fantasized about watching that movie instead for the next twelve minutes, so it is entirely possible that I missed more hackneyed exposition in the interim.
Anyway, once the very big alien ship crashes into the Earth, the drilling commences. A group of gold-miners are in their ship right next to the drilling site. I refer to these men as “the countdown crew”, as they exist only to rattle off how much time our heroes have left to destroy the queen before the planet is doomed. Nice characters, but a better film (like the first one) could have replaced them with a laptop screen. Predictably, in our first foray against the queen, things go exactly as they did in the first movie, except everything is way more confusing. So, the plan is to drop “cold-fusion” bombs (which sounds sciency!) onto the “big heat signature” in the center of the ship, which they guess is the queen. For some reason, though, this was all a trap by her to accomplish . . . something. All that really comes out of it is that some pilots die in the assault, which would have happened no matter when or where the battle took place. Later on, Ian Malcom, oh, I mean David, remembers about this trap and applies the same principles to a ruse of our own involving an intelligent alien sphere. Maybe the “trap” is included in the script as a kind of foreshadowing? Did David just reverse-engineer the basic concept of a trap and the screenwriters pass it off as plot? What the Hell is going on here? Oh, right – intelligent alien sphere, got ahead of myself there.
That new ship that arrived before the familiar aliens contains a spherical digital intelligence of another alien species. The sphere is the last of its kind, having fought a war against the other aliens for millennia and it possesses myriad secrets that could be used to combat and destroy them (but somehow didn’t during this eons-long war?). So, its goal in life is to collect the refugees of the aliens’ attacks on a secret planet where they can all work together to help destroy the big baddies. Of course, the Queen desperately wants to destroy this sphere and its planet of misfit toys, and the movie has worked really hard to establish that she is afraid of the power that this sphere holds, so there’s our third act conflict.
The hardest part about actually explaining this movie is that the majority of the plot lines are useless, distracting, and shallow. Nothing really makes any sense, and characters randomly veer off on weird side quests and then walk back into the room just in time like it’s a bad sitcom. The less said about the subplots the better, but suffice to say that every significant character from the original movie is absolutely ruined or dismissed in this iteration. Vivica A. Fox’s character is on screen for less than a minute, I would guess, and could have easily just been edited out of the film. Judd Hirsch’s character is a gigantic middle-finger to anyone with a brain. He’s got a boat for some reason, survives the initial attack, then starts driving a group of literal children around – first in a station wagon and then in a school bus. Thankfully, they manage to drive right into the major conflict at the very end (don’t think about the geography of driving from the East Coast to Nevada in just a few hours) and crack a bunch of jokes and look stupid. Even Brent Spiner’s eccentric scientist character fails in this film, as he is dialed up to 11, wears a really stupid scarf, and is asked to emote for the death of characters we could never care about in a vain attempt to generate some kind of pathos.
And what’s worse – there are some fantastic actors in this film, but they are wholly wasted. Maika Monroe plays the president’s daughter, and once I realized that she was from It Follows, I spaced out for another five minutes as I was briefly reminded what good movies felt like. When Charlotte Gainsbourg was on screen, I just pictured all the horrible things that happened to her character from Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac films and started feeling sad that she had succumbed to the much worse fate of appearing in this movie. As I quipped earlier, Jeff Goldblum is playing more of a weird mix of himself and Ian Malcolm than his David character from the original, and it is jarring. The laundry list of wasted talent could continue with Bill Pullman, Sela Ward, and William Fichtner, but the point has been made.
So, the end of the film just turns into a monster movie as the Queen escapes and is really big and begins punching things (yes, literally). Her death is anticlimactic and I didn’t understand at all why she acted certain ways or why the alien ships hijacked by our 20-something heroes were able to escape her psychic control, but those complaints are way down the totem pole at this point. And at the end, the alien sphere is astounding by how resourceful we humans are, and it wants us to command the rag-tag group of refugee aliens in a battle against the baddies! In the closing words of Dr. Brakish Okun, “We are going to kick some alien ass!” That’s just the end, it ends like that. Whatever. This movie won’t make enough money for that sequel, so good riddance.
Independence Day: Resurgence is an absolute embarrassment. Story, character, theme, and even visuals are all sub-par, and the idiotic insistence on cramming callbacks to the original at odd intervals does nothing to help. This movie should find a home on most “Worst of 2016” lists, but falls far short of the “so bad it’s good” feel that can sometimes rescue such absolute messes. On a July 4th weekend, Independence Day: Resurgence makes me regret we parted from Great Britain in the first place; if we hadn’t, this movie might not have existed.