Terrible Two’s: Independence Day – Resurgence
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
Much like the song by the group Third Eye Blind, Writer/Producer/Director Roland Emmerich, seems to live a “semi-charmed life,” with much of it happening during the 1990’s.
There was mild interest and praise when it came to his and partner Dean Devlin’s 1994 film Stargate, but 2 years later, the two would rule the worldwide box-office.
Enticing people with trailer imagery of aliens destroying The White House (which also elicited cheering from some audiences!), their summer release Independence Day, became one of their biggest success stories…and one that they failed to repeat over the years.
While many of us seemed to think the film was over-and-done-with, there were some die-hard fans who felt that there was more to the story. Some imagined that we had just seen the first wave of an invasion force, and hoped for more.
And so, 20 years later they got more…but it wasn’t quite the ‘more’ they hoped for, turning many a fan’s wishful dream, into a retreaded nightmare.
*Warning: this post will journey into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want to have anything about the film ruined, turn back…but who am I kidding? You didn’t see it, and want to know why to avoid this thing like an alien plague, right?*
Every director has a crutch they usually end up falling back on. For Roland Emmerich, it is that cruel mistress, known as ‘coincidence.’
While coincidence didn’t totally overwhelm ID4, going onward, I came to see it more and more in his films (from a taxi cab constantly avoiding his Godzilla, to John Cusack maneuvering a limo through a crumbling Los Angeles, and more!). One would hope Roland would have learned his lesson by now, but just like how Michael Bay seems to keep assuming that snarky jerks are the everyman of today’s films, Roland can’t escape ‘coincidence.’
Plus, by the looks of one scene, they finished building our moon base’s laser-cannon just in the nick of time, as the aliens seem to come upon us within mere hours of it’s being fully-operational (and which they quickly succeed in destroying).
Oh, and remember how President Whitmore mentioned in the first film, that ‘maybe it’s fate, that today is the Fourth of July?’ Well, would you believe the next wave of aliens decided to launch their attack 20 years to the day we fought back? Yep, that happens here!
Of course, one of the biggest moments where you might cry ‘enough,’ comes at the end, when the massive Queen Alien, stalks after a school bus, while also firing on it with her own personal laser-gun (yeah, her ‘subjects’ made her her own BFG!). But, just like such close-calls in Godzilla (1998) and 2012, this huge creature can’t seem to take down this tiny little school bus!
There’s plenty more ridiculousness to be had in the end as well, but I’ll stop, lest I drone on for another thousand words.
When it comes to sequels, it’s a given that most people want to see those characters they remembered from the last film. In the case of this film, it’s almost like going to a Hollywood Autograph Show, to see who needs some extra cash.
The biggest news was Will Smith turning down reprising his character (Captain Steven Hiller) in the sequel, but names such as Bill Pullman (as President Charles Whitmore), Jeff Goldblum (as David Levinson), and Vivica A Fox (as Steve’s widow, Jasmine) came back. However, they are largely relegated to supporting players, with Goldblum’s David being the only one who gets a ‘meatier’ role.
Fox’s character could almost have been written out entirely, as she seems to garner less than 5 minutes of screentime. Most likely, this was the writer’s ham-handed attempt to give us an emotional moment for her son Dylan to have (a moment that fails to deliver when the time comes).
One of the few moments where I was somewhat taken aback by a character’s appearance, was in the brief acknowledgement of General Grey (played by the late Robert Loggia). Grey was the gruff General by Whitmore’s side in the first film, and here, he is given a small cameo, along with a very quick eye-to-eye with Whitmore.
With the former film’s main cast now a bunch of ‘old fogies,’ Emmerich’s attempt to keep the series alive, falls on ‘a new generation’ of kids, who grew up in the wake of the 1996 attack. However, by the end of the film, I couldn’t even tell you what any of their names were!
Emmerich seems to be trying to pull a Top Gun vibe here with his pilot characters. They include Dylan Hiller (Steve Hiller’s stepson, played here by Jessie Usher), Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Charlie Miller (Travis Tope).
Plus, would you believe that former President Whitmore’s daughter (played this time by Maika Monroe) also is a former fighter pilot, along with being Jake’s fiance?
Of course, one of the biggest re-jiggerings of a character after they are presumed dead, comes in regards to Dr Brakish Oaken (played by Brent Spiner). It turns out that being an alien conduit in the first film didn’t kill Oaken, but just sent him into a coma for 20 years…one that he conveniently wakes from just as the aliens show up this time, and with no muscle atrophy, simply starts walking around and acting just as obsessed with aliens as he did 2 decades ago!
The film also does away with some characters, as if they never existed.
A prime example, is Constance Spano (played by Margaret Colin) from the first film. Having divorced from David a few years prior to the first film, the events of the first film made it seem that the two would reconcile.
Surprisingly, she is never mentioned once in Resurgence! Instead, we get a new love interest, in the form of Catherine Marceaux (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). However, she is little more than a talking head whom the film intends to make us believe, has “chemistry” with Goldblum’s David.
Also in regards to David, is the return of his father, Julius. In one scene, Roland could have given us the perfect opportunity to kill off Julius and make us actually give a damn…but instead, the elder Levinson becomes an adoptive father-figure to some displaced kids, and ends up taking the wheel of a school bus (I wish I was joking, but I’m not)!
Speaking of orphaned kids, we have ANOTHER group of characters missing-in-action: the children of Russell Casse (played by Randy Quaid).
The last time we saw these three, was at Area 51 in the first film, with Casse’s eldest son Miguel (James Duval) witness to his Dad’s sacrifice.
However, in this film, there’s no mention of what became of Russell’s kids. Plus, we get the subtlest of references to Mr Casse, when we are shown a brief glimpse, of a rebuilt Washington Monument. His name is carved into the structure, but it’s one name out of hundreds that passes by as we see a flying vehicle catch our attention (and, it’s several hundred feet in the air where even the most casual tourist can’t even read it!).
Of course, what happens in this film is nothing new, as Emmerich seems to fancy himself as some master of ensemble casting in numerous films. However, it seems rather odd that when it comes to a group of young persons who grew up orphaned in the wake of the last attack, a few of Casse’s kids wanting to join up wasn’t considered!
If you saw Back to the Future as a kid like I did, I assume you were just as surprised as I was, when the DeLorean Time Machine, folded in it’s wheels, and flew off into the sky!
With the kind of hover-technology and weaponry the aliens carried in the first film, one would assume we’d have had some big advancements 20 years in the future, right?
Well…only if you are the government, or the Military.
The alien technology seems to make flight and maneuverability so much easier (it’s no problem to just take off from Earth and fly to the Moon in a matter of minutes for those in the Armed Forces!)…so why do civilians still rely on fossil fuel-based vehicles (see right)? Or for that matter, still use helicopters with rotors? Heck, this world still uses massive seafaring cargo ships that seem to take a lot of time to cross oceans!
Apparently, the only other use this anti-gravity technology has been used for…is to create giant jumbo-tron flat-screens for events like this one in D.C.
To me, this could mean one of two things:
- Despite nations of the world working together, Big Oil survived the 1996 attack, and is still affecting fuel consumption around the world.
- The filmmakers had to make budget cuts, and severely limited how many flying vehicles they could have people using on-screen.
Anyone remember the film 300? That film seemed to live-and-die based on imagery of Gerard Butler yelling into the camera…but as to the rest of the film, most don’t recall much beyond Butler yelling, “SPAR-TAHNS!!”
The first Independence Day was rife with all sorts of one-liners that stuck in people’s heads (most of them recited by Will Smith). However, the one bit that almost everyone recalls, is President Whitmore’s big speech before everyone goes into the final battle.
For some reason, the aliens heard this speech (and somehow have visuals of it!?), and even the current President (played by Sela Ward), invokes part of it during the 20th anniversary celebration of the event.
We even get a rather mean tease, as it feels like Whitmore is going to give us this film’s ‘big speech,’ but instead…it just turns into a semi-boisterous declaration that fizzles out!
There’s also a small, eye-rolling cameo, as we see Will Smith: in a painting, as his son goes to meet Whitmore’s daughter in the White House.
Of course, one of the biggest throwaway lines comes when the current President (played by Sela Ward) is confronted by aliens at the secret bunker she’s been taken to.
“There will be no peace,” she says, in one of the strangest line references to the first film…a line that only the most die-hard of fans will get (or those of us who’ve seen the film a few dozen times).
in case you’re wondering, this line refers to a scene where Dr Oaken is being used as a vocal conduit by one alien, and Whitmore asks if ‘there can be a peace.’
“Peace…no peace,” the alien says through Oaken.
Over the years, I’ve seen this happen in a number of ‘second’ films. There becomes this uncontrollable desire by the filmmakers, that they need to make everything bigger and better than the first film (and a main reason why I started this sub-category).
That is definitely the case here, when the aliens attack. The first film had ships with a 15-mile radius descending on numerous cities. Here, we get one massive ship, over 3,000 miles wide, and threatening to break the planet’s crust (though it does land, we never get any follow-up regarding that crust-breaking claim!). It also comes with a detachable ‘Harvester Queen’s Lair,’ so her ship can approach Area 51, just like that one ship in the first film.
There also is an amped-up storypoint, regarding the harvesting of our planetary resources. The first film covered the aliens’ invasion with a quick explanation by President Whitmore. In this film, the keywords to their attack this time, are ‘our molten core.’ There is a hokey explanation at the beginning of the film (apparently, one of the first film’s ships landed and attempted to drill), and then plenty of science mumbo-jumbo happens, as it seems noone can calculate just how long it takes the aliens to drill to the center of the Earth.
It’s never explained just why or how they use this material to make their weapons and technology, but the film’s attempts to make this one of several ‘ticking clocks’ in the final third of the film, quickly gets rather humorous. One could almost make a drinking game for every time some actor tries to make the phrase ‘our molten core,’ sound serious.
The same kind of overkill, appears to also be prevalent in the film’s special effects-heavy scenes.
Much like how George Lucas seemed to peg an all-CG world as the next evolutionary step in his ‘universe,’ so too has Emmerich. The intricate models and miniature effects are gone, replaced with extensively-built CG environments.
This is largely on display as the Mother Ship’s own gravity, sucks up all sorts of things (including buildings) from China and the Middle East, and many miles away, deposits them onto London.
We’re meant to be in awe of what we are seeing, but it just struck me as rather ‘meh.’ Sure, we see the Burj Khalifa tower impacting the ground, disintegrating in a flurry of debris and glass shards, and London’s Tower Bridge being destroyed (again?), but it all seems so…impersonal (doesn’t help that our ‘heroes’ flying through the debris, seem rather detached from the fact that they are surrounded by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people!).
Strangely enough, I felt a bit more reality was given in the Chicago invasion scene in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The reason? We actually got to see people affected by the destruction…let alone people being obliterated by the enemy!
It could be that also like what Lucas did with his Star Wars prequels, Emmerich has also become detached from ‘humanity,’ and would rather try and distract us with what awesome CG effects he has at his disposal.
We even get the filmmakers trying to make a ‘small’ joke, as one of the massive landing legs on the ship, just seems to ‘nudge’ the rebuilt White House, before a piece of debris knocks it’s American Flag and pole, slightly askew.
Probably not since Transformers: Age of Extinction, have I seen a film try to pander so much to the Chinese marketplace.
We get everything from a voice telling of a Moon Milk drink, to the President’s daughter using the program QQ to chat with her fiance. I have used QQ in the past, but it’s largely a messenger program, related to the Chinese marketplace.
Plus, the film has no problem just making the Asian masses on-screen, be the human cannon-fodder this time as the aliens invade. We see the all-Chinese crew on the moonbase’s defense system obliterated, let alone see hundreds running for their lives and sucked up in one scene.
Plus, the defense system on the moon is considered to be part of a ‘United Global Defense Unit,’ but for being ‘united,’ it is heavily-controlled by the Chinese. So, what happened? Did the UGDU need emergency funding, and the Chinese were eager to buy them out?
When it comes to big-names from China, the film casts model-turned-actress, Angelababy (aka Yang Ying), as China’s representative pilot. However, she serves as little more than eye-candy, and relationship fodder for one of the American pilots, played by Travis Tope (who gives one of the worst pick-up line deliveries I’ve heard in awhile!).
If Emmerich had at least given Angelababy some decent character development, I probably wouldn’t be so unforgiving, but she serves about as much purpose here, as most women do in a Michael Bay film.
Some people I talked to online before the film’s release, had ‘starry-eyes,’ imagining that this sequel would shed more light on the exo-suited alien race from the first film.
As I expected, we got very little extra knowledge, except that these aliens just love sucking up planetary resources.
It’s also never fully-explained why the massive ship chose to come to our planet. It is commanded by a Harvester Queen, which there seem to be an abundance of in this species. There is a strange subtext that she seems to be zeroing in on Pullman’s character for revenge, but these creatures also seem to be intended to be devoid of emotions.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the Alien Queen from attempting to destroy a puny schoolbus or Whitmore’s daughter, rather than try and carry out her ‘master plan.’
In Resurgence, we also get the introduction of a new alien species: one that ported itself from biological, to digital many years prior, after an attack by the aliens on it’s homeworld. The alien appears in the form of a white sphere, that then holo-projects things to the humans. Though strange enough, the humans turn it on and off by touch, like a computer (then again, it looks like some futuristic Apple product!).
This is Emmerich’s attempt to try and make his Universe even bigger, but his concept here just becomes flimsier, the more information we find out regarding this new lifeform.
It doesn’t help that the alien came ‘to evacuate as many humans as possible,’ but didn’t make us aware of it’s intentions, and was attacked by the ESD’s moonbase cannon.
Plus, this entity is supposedly the leader of a hidden world that teaches other alien species to build weapons to counter the evil aliens…yet, was not smart enough to not send itself!? One would assume they would send out some sort of ambassador or ‘scouting party,’ on the off-chance a hostile entity would try to do them in.
Instead, the alien just goes, “My radioactive signature will be detected by the Queen, therefore, you must destroy me before she gets ahold of me.”
For an alien species that has gone digital, this one isn’t too bright. Plus, at the end, the rather coincidental way that the humans win the fight (like the first film, it all relies on sheer dumb luck!), is enough for the sphere to want the humans to come to it’s homeworld, and lead it’s planned resistance.
Of course, given how well this film went over, I seriously doubt intergalactic space-travel and that huge war across the stars, is ever going to occur. At the very least, we’ll hopefully be spared another stupidly coincidental way in which more of the evil aliens are destroyed.
While there were numerous tie-ins and much publicity, some sensed all was not well, when Twentieth-Century Fox claimed they would not hold early press screenings for the film. To many, this was a sign that something was amiss…and when the film was finally released, those feelings were allayed, big-time.
Personally, while many gnashed and complained about the 2016 Ghostbusters film being a ‘crime against humanity,’ I felt that Resurgence better fit the bill (hey, at least Ghostbusters had it’s own ‘Will Smith,’ in the form of Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann character!).
A lot of films related to 10-30 year old properties these days, seem to fall back on that unfortunate tact, of simply ‘recycling,’ and ‘punching-up’ the older story, and that’s what we have here.
Emmerich and Devlin caught lightning in a bottle in the Summer of 1996, and when trying to do the same thing 2 decades later, it just looks pathetic.
To me, Independence Day was a product of it’s time A film made when corporations were taking over Hollywood, actors were demanding $20 million+ paydays, and film and advertising budgets were also ballooning out-of-control.
At this point, it feels very unlikely that Fox will pony up more dough for Emmerich to make another feature film related to Independence Day…though maybe like how Stargate spun off into it’s SG-1 and Atlantis counterparts, a TV series might be the only way for Roland to continue his own intergalactic space opera.
Oh, and one more thing Roland…DID WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER ‘DOG IN DANGER’ MOMENT!? THIS ISN’T 1996!!!