My wife and daughter and I went to see the new Independence Day movie on the Fourth of July, sitting in air conditioned comfort while rockets were red glaring and bombs bursting away outside. Twenty years separate this Independence Day sequel from the original Independence Day film, and I say this with some confidence: the original film was at least 50% dumber than this one. And correspondingly at least 50% more enjoyable.
In both films, the Evil Aliens attack Earth with such advanced technology that our pathetic earth weapons are useless, at least initially. In both films, we Earthlings have to figure out how to overcome the aliens’ superior firepower. The pleasure of these films is watching human (read American) ingenuity come up with a solution. But in the original ID, what we came up with is so sublimely, wonderfully idiotic, I still laugh thinking about it. In this new one, the solution, the breakthrough is just not very exciting or original or cool, plus it requires help from other aliens who turn out to be on our side. Frankly, it’s kind of a confusing mess. The old one is clearer. And it’s much much sillier, which is a good thing.
Specifically, in the old film, the unbeatable alien energy shield is circumvented by a computer virus, which Jeff Goldblum uploads from his Macintosh. He’s able to sneak past the force field in the first place, because of an alien space ship found in Area 51 back in the ’40s, which Will Smith is able to fly all the way up to the alien mother ship. Also, Smith and Goldblum bring a nuclear warhead with them on their trip, which they’re able to launch, and then fly away from, and ultimately, survive the detonation of.
I love everything about this plot. It’s really kind of the perfect B-movie storyline, for a fun popcorn movie. And some version of most of that appears in this movie, plus too much else. Plus, Independence Day had Will Smith, kicking alien ass with palpable glee. Plus Bill Pullman’s hilariously rousing patriotic speech. Plus Brent Spiner’s mad scientist. Plus Randy Quaid’s crop-duster pilot saving the day. And Adam Baldwin awkwardly offering tough guy solace to a kid who just lost his father, after which the kid is totally fine. Great stuff.
The plot in Independence Day: Resurgence just isn’t as much fun. It starts with an alien ship, which doesn’t seem like an Evil Alien ship, but which we shoot down anyway, on the moon, just ’cause. Authorized by the new President, Sela Ward. (But President of what? They never quite answer that, but it appears that there’s a new one-world government, dominated by Americans, obviously, but with cabinet officers from all over). Anyway, without orders, tough guy Jake (Liam Hemsworth), stationed on the Moon, commandeers a space tug and retrieves the enemy ship, taking it to Area 51, where Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner again, having way more fun than actors should be allowed), who has been in a coma ever since the last movie, now leaps up from bed, improbably spry, and figures out that this round ball alien thing is benignly intentioned towards us, and that we can use it to our advantage.
Meanwhile, this really big scary Evil Alien ship shows up, and takes out all our space defenses, just swats them into oblivion. So up goes the Earth airforce; complete mismatch. As in the previous movie, we’re initially crushed. In fact, the aliens have this new weapon, which essentially allows them to scoop up Hong Kong and drop it on London. And they send a ginormous laser thing out to the ocean, where it digs a hole that should reach the Earth’s core, destroying our planet. (A sub full of underwater treasure hunter/pirates are in place to monitor their progress, and send reports to Earth HQ. The drunken buccaneers were a fun touch, I admit it.)
Jeff Goldblum is in this movie, though Will Smith isn’t, his character having died in the twenty years between movies. His son, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher) is frenemies with Jake (Liam Hemsworth), and a fighter pilot of fearsome renown, and limited charisma. Goldblum’s Dr. Levinson is apparently in charge of Earth’s space defenses, though he’s dogged by an accountant, Floyd (Nicolas Wright) presumably from some future version of the GAO. In my favorite character transformation in the movie, this nebbishy bean counter eventually picks up a weapon and becomes a major alien combatant, guided by an African war lord he befriends. (I don’t mean it’s not silly, just not silly enough).
So anyway, the good guys, all of them, work up this plan. They’ll fly a captured alien fighter into the massive alien mother ship, and detonate a neutron bomb. It’s a suicide mission, and President Whitmore volunteers. Yes, Bill Pullman from the first movie. Over the wishes of his daughter (remember the cute little daughter from the first movie? Her. Different actress, of course; Maika Monroe this time), who is in love with Liam Hemsworth.
So this varsity team of great flyers, including Jake, Jake’s BFY Charlie (Travis Tope), Dylan, and Chinese flyer Rain (Angelababy), all agree to clear the path for the President’s suicide mission. And they all get shot down and trapped inside the alien mother ship, which has, like, hydroponic gardens and stuff they can hide in. So they’re able to steal alien fighters, and escape. (Missed opportunity, IMHO. What if, instead, they’d figured out how to attack the alien ship from inside it? Improvise something cool.)
Anyway, Bill Pullman shoots off his nuke, and dies, and the All-star fighting team manages to escape the alien ship, which crashes. But the main alien, an all-but-unbeatable ginormous queen alien, escapes. And the fighters all attack it. And Jeff Goldblum lures the queen out to the desert, fools it into thinking that’s where the good-guy alien sphere thing was, covers it with a force field and sets off another neutron bomb. And still doesn’t quite kill it. But the All-star pilots attack the queen, and finally, at (of course) the last second, succeed in killing her. Yay for us.
You see what I mean? The earlier movie was a simple three part process. 1) set off the computer virus, 2) set off the nuke to destroy the mother ship, and 3) send Randy Quaid on a suicide mission to destroy the big (but not biggest) alien ship. This one involves a suicide mission, which doesn’t entirely work, plus an escape, plus various ways for the fighters to survive, plus this desert fake-out thing, plus a final battle.
Plus, Judd Hirsch is back, playing Jeff Goldblum’s Dad again, and the movie spends an inordinate amount of time on a subplot in which he bravely rescues a school bus full of kids who were already pretty safe and in no need of rescue. Plus, there were romances galore, between Jeff Goldblum and Charlotte Gainsbourg (playing Francois Truffaut in Spielberg’s Close Encounters), between Jake and Bill Pullman’s daughter, plus between Jake’s friend Charlie and the Chinese pilot. Also, I think, between Brent Spiner and his caregiver.
It was a bit of a wade, honestly, striding through a swamp of a too-convoluted plot and too many personalities. I mean, William Fichtner, one of my favorite actors, was in it, playing a major character, and I didn’t even mention him in my plot summary.
Plus, this has to be said, some of the actors were–how to say this?–not good. Most conspicuously, Jessie T. Usher, playing Will Smith’s boring son. Sorry, but it’s true; the actor just never was able to make the character exciting. Will Smith held the earlier movie together. Liam Hemsworth comes closest to that role here, but gets lost in all that plot.
I suppose it’s a little more realistic. I mean, defeating a malevolent alien entity wouldn’t be easy, I suppose, and probably would require multiple approaches. But we don’t see an alien invasion movie to model various scenarios for probability. It’s an escape; it’s meant to be fun. And this sequel just isn’t all that fun. I didn’t not enjoy it. It was hot out, and everything was closed for the Fourth, and there wasn’t much on TV. It passed the time agreeably enough. But it’s not a bad enough movie to be great entertainment. And it’s the sequel to a movie that was.