Independence Day Resurgence feels like someone took the original film and fast forwarded to only the action scenes. Maybe that sounds good to you, and certainly the sequel’s epic scope exceeds its predecessor. But without characters that mean anything to us, there’s no drama or tension to the second round of this intergalactic war.
Once again directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day: Resurgence is set 20 years after the first film and that set-up is excellent: In the 20 years since the War of 1996 (as it’s referred to), humanity has come together and rebuilt itself with the technology from the aliens. It’s a smart and interesting place to begin, and it gets better when it explores several other strands explaining how the war changed various parts of the world.
The biggest change, however, is the Earth Space Defense group. Lead by David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), it’s placed alien-tech-augmented defense bases all over the solar system to defend our planet. Through the ESD we not only meet our new characters, we set the stage for what Independence Day: Resurgence is going to be. Where the first movie was more grounded, everything in Resurgence is extreme: humanity can travel to the moon like it was down the street; we have the same weapons as the aliens; we think we’re ready for anything. That is, of course, until the aliens return.
Giving humanity all this technology and opportunity is one of the film’s biggest positives and negatives. On one hand, it makes perfect, smart, narrative sense. However, it also makes almost everything in the film feel incredibly easy. Remember in the first film when piloting an alien craft felt like a big deal? When there was no way humanity was going to win? Here, everyone can fly an alien craft and our weaponry is just as powerful as theirs. Nothing ever feels difficult or earned. There’s no hopelessness or despair. The wonder is gone.
Plus, for an Independence Day sequel, the destruction isn’t nearly as shocking as you’d expect. The ship that arrives this time is exponentially bigger (the size of the Atlantic, as revealed in the trailer) so all cities on the shores of the ocean get decimated. But…we only really see a fraction of that. It’s pretty obvious Emmerich dialed back the destruction to avoid just repeating the same formula as the first film, but in doing so, the aliens never feel as threatening as they were in the first film.
On the positive side, the aliens are much more prominent this time around. We learn more about them, see more of them, and that’s definitely interesting. Sure, their plans and motivations are the same as virtually any alien invaders’, but at least we get to see them interact with the heroes, new and old.
Returning for this sequel are Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Brent Spiner, and a few other surprises. Then there are the new characters: the main ones being break-the-rules pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth); Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the son of now deceased Steven Hiller (Will Smith, who does not return); and daughter of the former President, Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe).
These characters are generally likable, but only Hemsworth and Spiner really provide a dose of charisma. Everyone else is restricted by a lack of development and or things to do. There are so many characters, in fact, and so much ground to cover narratively that there’s never a chance to connect to any of them. Several characters perish throughout the movie, but their deaths go by without much fanfare. (Other characters, including one played by Joey King, seem to serve no purpose at all.) The film really doesn’t have time for that. It’s as if the film thinks merely having these characters show up makes them interesting.
Put all of that together and you have a two-hour movie that goes by so fast and with such little tension that it may as well be on in the background on a Sunday afternoon. Things start, escalate, and by the time the big final battle begins, it’s almost unfathomable this movie is already over. So much has happened, but it feels like so little.
When the first Independence Day was released, it felt like the biggest movie ever made. It wasn’t revered because of its aliens and massive ships, though they didn’t hurt. It was revered because you cared. You laughed, you cried, you gasped, and you cheered. It was practically impossible to hear President Whitmore’s “Independence Day” speech to the troop and not get goosebumps.
Resurgence doesn’t have any of that. It tries—it actually includes three supposedly rousing speeches instead of one—but it fails. It’s like every other aspect of the film. Resurgence wants to give you more of what you loved about the original film, but every increase in quantity is accompanied by a decrease in quality. It’s watchable, but Resurgence remains a sequel in the worst sense of the word.