INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE was released here in San Francisco without a press screening. And for good reason. I’m putting The Golden Raspberry Awards Foundation on notice that we might have a new frontrunner for next year’s Razzies.
We begin on the eponymous holiday. Twenty years have passed since Steve Hiller (Will Smith, appearing in this film only as a heroic oil painting and a sentimental photo) kicked alien tushy. It’s a different world than the one in which we live. Science has successfully, and this time openly, integrated alien technology with ours, resulting in moon bases (ours and one of Saturn’s), and anti-grav engines that have removed those pesky blades from helicopters. We’ve also achieve world peace, with all nations working together for the common good, which includes keeping a watchful eye on the skies, and keeping an array of super cannons in good fighting trim in case those aliens ever come back.
But all is not peaches and cream. Retired, and very grizzled, President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is having a nightmare when we first meet up with him again. He awakens from his, but ours is just beginning what with another 120 minutes or so of film to endure. He’s also compulsively doodling an almost perfectly bisected circle, and babbling about another invasion. All this prompts daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), all grown up and engaged to the world’s worst pilot, the unreasonably cocky Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), to tell Dad to take his meds. Meanwhile, on the moon, Jake and his buddy, the barely post-pubescent Charlie (Travis Tope) are busy almost destroying one of those super cannons I mentioned before with bad aerial steering. Further meanwhile, Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) is following in his step-father’s footsteps as part of the hot-shot International Legacy Squadron, whose mission seems to be to fly cool planes, sign autographs, and look good while doing both. He is also nursing what seems to be a perfectly reasonable grudge against Jake.
Elsewhere, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), who is now overseeing interplanetary defense technology, is visiting, I kid you not, an African war lord (Deobia Oparei) with and, again I kid you not, a nebbishy auditor (Nicholas Wright) in tow. He’s not, I must point out, auditing the war lord, but rather tagging along to audit David. He’s there to figure out why the lights have suddenly come back on in the only alien craft that landed safely when the others were destroyed, and to have the psychiatrist (Charlotte Gainsbourg) with whom he has a past, explain things for him that he really ought to already know, considering his job description.
This is a ramshackle hodge-podge of recycled tropes from ID4, called back into active service with a formidable ineptitude. Where the original had fun characters that we could care about playfully bantering with one another, the sequel has special effects and characters who repeat key ideas over and over again to make sure that we have understood what is going on. Understanding, we should note, does not make the film better. Au contraire. The more we know, the less we respect anything that is going on. People zip about from Africa to the moon and, of course, Area 51 with an unseemly alacrity and for no better reason than to give the illusion of forward momentum with the plot, which is a very silly thing indeed. At one point, when the worst possible choice for a suicide mission steps forward in what is undoubtedly meant to be a moment of high drama, the audience with whom I was sharing this debacle burst into laughter. Derisive laughter. Bitter laughter.
Even the host of screenwriters, there are five credited, seem to know that this is hopeless mess. Why else add a gaggle of doughty kids wearing rabbit ears and then drive them in a school bus to Area 51? With Judd Hirsch driving? A plea for sympathy? A cry for help? Or just a way to amuse themselves as the proverbial ship goes down?
If it weren’t for Brent Spiner, it would be a total loss. He returns as head Area 51 scientist Dr.Brakish Okun, who did not die as we all thought he did, but rather has been in a coma all this time. His geeked-out bliss over all the new hi-tech play-pretties in the brave new world to which he has awakened, and the resulting complete obliviousness to humankind’s imminent destruction, energizes the screen even more than the continent-sized spaceship that takes a slice out of the moon.
The special effects in INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE are certainly bigger and more rambunctious than in ID4. If only they were more imaginative. I’d settle for >as< imaginative. Actually, I’d settle for 120 minutes of Brent Spiner and that scary laser he uses to crack an alien ship’s hull. Now THAT was fun.