What's the one thing everybody still remembers about Roland Emmerich's Independence Day, now twenty years later? No, it's not Will Smith; it's the White House being blown to smithereens by a giant alien laser beam. The sight has pretty much defined Emmerich's career as a master of disaster, and honestly few can create the kind of havoc he regularly dreams up. While the White House is mercifully and knowingly spared this time around, Independence Day: Resurgence is every bit as fun, every bit as silly, and every bit as destructive as the original.
Independence Day really helped define what our expectations for a summer blockbuster is supposed to be. It was simple, mindless entertainment; point the heroic humans at the invading aliens and have a ball. 'Resurgence' doesn't change the formula much, if at all. It's sill one gigantic war between us and then, and most of the characters we remember from the last battle are back, only a bit heavier and definitely more grey.
While there's no Will Smith this time as his Captain Heller character died in some freak accident, his son Dylan (Jessie T. Usher) is the new hero pilot in the family. A flurry of new characters are introduced in rapid fire succession; so many that it becomes overwhelming. But many of them have connections to the original crew which makes it worth it once things settle down. There's heartthrob Liam Hemsworth as Jake Morrison, a skilled but reckless pilot who nearly got Dylan killed. Maika Monroe ( It Follows) plays Patricia, the daughter of former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) who has lost his marbles since the first alien encounter. There's also the surprising and unusual presence of Charlotte Gainsbourg as a scientist and love interest for neurotic activist David Levinson, played by a returning Jeff Goldblum who hasn't skipped a beat. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and this doesn't include Sela Ward as the current President of the United States, Brent Spiner who is back as Dr. Brakish Okun, Deobia Oparei as Dikembe a machete-wielding African warlord, plus William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Joey King, and other notables either return or debut. There's even Vivica A. Fox, back as ex-stripper Jasmine Dubrow-Hiller, but we only get a glimpse of her new life as a doctor (!?!?) before she's saying farewell to her son, Dylan.
It's all a bit daunting, and as the screenplay by Dean Devlin (and multiple others) skips around like a hot potato we're able to pick up a few things. The upshot of the previous invasion is that humanity set aside its differences and came together as one. There has been global peace ever since, real "We Are The World" type stuff, but that hasn't stopped them from using recovered alien technology to craft high-tech weaponry and space ships. But there are signs that the enemy is returning. Those who have had prior contact with the aliens, such as President Whitmore, Dikembe, and Brakish are receiving "messages" that the aliens are coming back, and this time they're being led by the powerful queen.
But there is more than just one extraterrestrial race to contend with this time, and when an unknown spacecraft arrives it's us war-like humans who strike the first blow. That sets off a chain of events that leads to much earthly destruction and much alien butt being kicked. Emmerich is at least self-aware enough to have a little fun with the genre and his "bigger is better" reputation. One alien spacecraft is so big it practically engulfs the entire planet. The odds are so stacked against humanity that it's a little ridiculous anybody survives, but then that's part of the fun, isn't it? Audiences rallied around the patriotic underdog spirit before and while the flag-waving is kept to a minimum this time it's still all about American exceptionalism. It's no coincidence the other world leaders are seen on tiny video screens while our President seems to be calling the shots for every nation.
Emmerich continues to have a skillful hand juggling numerous subplots at once, although some could have, and probably should have, been dropped altogether. The return of Hirsch as David Levinson's father is especially egregious, and his storyline is little more than a distraction until it miraculously converges with the final battle against the alien queen. With so much going on there isn't much room for any particular star to stand out, but if there had to be an MVP it would be Brent Spiner as Brakish, whose nervous, excitable energy is infectious. He overshadows Goldblum who is surprisingly reserved even though his character is given a serious bump in stature. The rest of the young gun cast performs well, in particular Monroe, but they're best when in the cockpit gunning down enemy ships. The upgrade in human technology helps the aerial dogfights resemble something from out of Star Wars, a progression that feels natural and sets up some interesting things for the future.
Speaking of which, there is clearly the expectation of more movies to come. Emmerich had originally planned this as a two-parter (titled ID Forever) and the door is left wide open for a sequel. Given the way he was able to make Independence Day: Resurgence fresh for old fans and new, let's hope it won't be another 20 years before the next one.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5