Friday, July 22, 2016

"Independence Day: Resurgence" (2016)

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher
Written by Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright and James A. Woods
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Rated PG-13 — Violence, language
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Twenty years after “The War of 1996,” humanity stands (mostly) united. Salvaged alien technology has helped rebuild and enhance defenses around the planet, including a moon base and satellite systems with massive energy cannons. In Central Africa, though, one ship managed to land, and the people there fought a decade-long land-war against the invading aliens looking to reap our planet of all its natural resources.

This is where David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) discovers that the aliens managed to send a distress signal 20 years earlier that has no been answered by an even larger alien mothership. And so, on July 40, 2016, the aliens return and the war to stave off the destruction of humanity begins anew. But this time, even with all the advances in defense and weapon technology of the last two decades, the people of Earth may not be able to stave off the overwhelming forces stacked against them -- including an alien queen piloting a ship the size of the entire Atlantic Ocean.
At one point in this movie, Bill Pullman, returning as ex President James Whitmore, delivers another inspirational speech like in the first film. But this time, he does so with far less ferocity, and to a room full of nobodies that we give even less of a shit about than the main characters. That kind of describes how “Independence Day: Resurgence” is on every level.

Really, it should come as no surprise to anyone that this movie stinks. Sure, the original is no great piece of art, but it is a great piece of popcorn entertainment: a big-budget spectacle loaded with B-movie charm and shameless gusto. For all its laughable aspects like saving the world with a virus written on an old Macbook, it’s full of technical wizardry, a cast with real chemistry and palpable atmosphere. 

The sequel, two decades later, would like to remind you of that. I guess. “Resurgence” is colorful and loud, and even does a respectable job with world-building, but so poorly constructed and edited that it has absolutely zero resonance or charm. There are times when it seems self-aware enough to have some fun, like pointedly not destroying the White House this time around. 

Nearly the entire original cast returns, save Will Smith and Randy Quaid (both characters are referenced: Smith’s Captain Hiller is seen in a couple photographs while Quaid’s character’s name is shown engraved on the Washington Monument), and they work alongside new, younger cast members to fight off a new wave of aliens but there are now so many of them, and with a runtime some 20 minutes shorter than the first film, none of them have any room to breathe. When the current US President gets one of the film’s few legitimately badass moments (staring down an approaching alien strike force and declaring “There will be no peace”) the film cuts the moment off at the knees by immediately cutting away to another subplot with no time given for the audience to let that moment sink in, or even to let the other characters react in any way. This happens again and again as the movie rockets from scene to scene with no interest in ever exploring the consequences of what’s happening.

Some of the old characters are brought back for little or no reason, and some of them are dispatched so quickly that it doesn’t even matter. Vivica Fox’s character gets only two scenes before she’s killed when a hospital collapses on her, but Jeff Goldblum’s bumbling dad gets an entire subplot where he (somehow) drives across the entire country with a car-full of kids. 

And still the new characters are never developed or are particularly interesting. There’s not a single one of them that has the cocky charm of Will Smith to enliven the proceedings. 

On a technical level, “Resurgence” looks fine. It has the super-clean digital sheen of a modern Hollywood blockbuster, full of detailed CGI effects but still the occasional fake-looking green-screen. But it’s bright and colorful and has lots of things that go boom, so at least in that respect, the filmmakers did something right. Sadly, David Arnold, the composer who crafted the boisterous, rollicking score for the first film, did not return. Thomas Wander and Harold Kloser provide the music here, which is entirely functional, but only really comes alive when they utilize Arnold’s themes — and those moments are few and far between, reserved for the end credits and the aforementioned silly scene with Pullman’s speechifying.

The occasional funny moments or cool ideas in “Resurgence” are all overshadowed by editing problems. It’s another piece of popcorn entertainment like the first film, but a disappointingly inert, lesser one, with all of the noise but none of the charm. The potential is there, but it’s all been choked out in the effort to jam too many characters and bigger action set-pieces in a shorter running time.

Speaking of potential... the film does end with the promise of a truly bonkers, badass third entry as humans (the only species in the universe to have successfully fought off the aliens, twice) are invited to join and lead an intergalactic war for independence. Really my only hope that “Resurgence” is ultimately successful is the possibility that a third movie might feature Jeff Goldblum flying into deep space and meeting all kinds of wacky and absurd new creatures to deal with. But, of course, that’s really only cool if Roland Emmerich manages to get his shit together and do it right.