Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) (Review)

Yesterday, I watched Independence Day for the first time in order to prepare myself for the twenty year old sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, which is out today in UK cinemas and worldwide tomorrow. Despite the extensive gap between events, a lot of the original cast is maintained, as well as a new legion of newcomers to carry the torch as the aliens return and target Earth. Liam Hemsworth essentially steps in for Will Smith, joining newcomers Maika Monroe, Travis Trope, Jessie Usher and William Fletcher, and returnees Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner and Bill Pullman, both of who reprise their roles from the original film.

Picking up twenty years after the 1996 Independence Day, the world has almost completely recovered from the attacks and used incoming technology from other races to develop an advanced world, including military defences on the Moon, Mars and Area 51. When new signs of alien life arrive and the spaceships come, a group of Air Fighter pilots and scientists assemble to save the world from the bigger, badder and deadlier attacks the second time round. Jake Morrison (Hemsworth), Charlie (Trope) and Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher) form the fighters going into the eye of the battle, while the scientists work on the logistical side of stopping the threat before it causes complete destruction of the world.

In all honesty, the film feels like three or four distinct stories that only wrap up in the final minutes of the film and I am still undecided how I exactly feel about that. In one sense, it demonstrates the different aspects of this apocalyptic event but also doesn't boast the unity the previous film portrayed so profoundly. Each aspect of the story brings something different, with varying levels of success; I was surprised to find that the new cast generally aroused a sense and feeling of new blood, important in preventing the film feeling like a complete rehash of the original. Hemsworth bordered on likeable and cocky - generally falling on the preferred side - and had a particularly magnetic chemistry with Trope, if this is still fully explored as much as one would hope. This is definitely the most compelling element of the story, along with Pullman's former president and his own personal challenges with the weight on his shoulders from the previous Independence Day; this human side of the story helps ground the otherwise sense-shattering destruction the rest of the story bring, as well as his relationship with his daughter, played by Monroe - a strong addition to the cast.

The trendsetting original won an Oscar for the visual effects back when they weren't so commonplace in cinema, meaning they aren't quite the revelation (or nearly as impressive) as I imagine they were back in the original days. That said, they are well realised and executed to a high-standard, making the film more enjoyable on the whole as spaceships zoom through different cities and in diverse settings. To be fair though, with a $150 million plus price tag, it would have been quite a travesty if it was anything less than this. The film goes through the motions in a formulaic manner but this was to be expected and thus I do not find it too much of an issue that the film is as generic as they come (ironic in that the original is the one that defined and kickstarted the genre) - the phrase 'victim of its own success' springs to mind here.

Despite the world-ending scenario, the film lacks that sense of urgency that grows ever-more frustrating as the film gets closer and closer to the grand finale, which in itself never really hits the heights one hopes for after one false start and the preliminary cheers.  It also lacks compassion or solicitude as human after human gets crushed, killed or possessed by aliens, resulting in the film feel tonally misplaced and misguided. I mean, I see the American optimism and can let it pass by given the titular celebration, but the upbeat nature throughout just does not sit right. As well as this, the scientific side to the story rarely offers the clarity needed to fully understand the threat (but maybe that is down to never truly engaging with the first film until it was too late?). Nobody can complain that it didn't offer what you expect - I just hoped for a lot more than we actually got

I find it very ironic that the film, centring around Independence Day, is released in the UK on the same day as we go to the polls to decide the independence of Britain. Coincidental or not, it sure offers some interesting thoughts - maybe Independence never quite works and we should all bound together... - but it does some offer some thought on unity and togetherness, demonstrated well though the film's combination of new and old. Fast-paced and relatively enjoyable, if frustrating and uneven, you get what you pay for going to see Independence Day: Resurgence, as well as hints as to where the theoretical franchise is going, if not a lot else.

Summary: Independence Day: Resurgence is exactly what you expect from the CGI alien fest (possibly more if you went in with low 'sequel expectations') and is supported by the film's new blood, who help momentarily distract from the uneven and disconcerting mix of tones found throughout.

Highlight: On this double-edged sword, a character watching this mother die brings the shock and heartbreak the moment requires, but it never really sticks and unbelievably falls by the wayside twenty minutes on.