Saturday, June 25, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence Review

Independence Day: Resurgence Review
Of all my memories I have over the course of my life, one of my most cherished is going to see "Independence Day" in theaters. It was a movie that seemingly chemically rewired me. On Saturday mornings, I did not watch cartoons, I watched "Independence Day." I had every toy, I had every action figure, I had every piece of memorabilia I could get my little hands on. I used to stay up all night, hoping for a sequel that never came. Five years passed, and then ten years passed and I figured the sequel would never come. After fifteen years passed, I had not thought about a sequel in a long time.

Now, a sequel to "Independence Day" is finally here, and my biggest curiosity was going to be "is this sequel twenty years too late?" Yes, "Independence Day" was one of the biggest movies of 1996, even of the 1990's. Does that mean we revive the franchise twenty years later? Even though I was very young in 1996, I remember seeing "Independence Day" in a pact theater. Tonight, I bet less than half was filled for "Independence Day: Resurgence." 

Why did I like the first film so much? Well, for starters, I was and continue to be fascinated by aliens. So a big, crazy alien invasion movie was super-cool to me at the time. I liked that the film was slow burn, I liked that we didn't catch a glimpse of the aliens until deep into the movie. Even though it was a silly and adventurous movie, I liked there was a small authenticity to it. I liked the action and the characters and how the movie really got you to care about all of it. Up to that point, we never really saw an invasion movie on that scale. Seeing flying saucers the size of entire cities had never been done before, and how the aliens destroyed the cities was big fun.

Everything that made "Independence Day" special and memorable is completely missing in "Independence Day: Resurgence." The movie feels almost like a student film, or like one of those fan films you find on YouTube only with an impressive budget. Everything about this sequel is so radically different that I am dumbfounded that the same team who made the first film are behind its sequel. Characters who we grew to love in the first film act radically different in the sequel, some come back, do absolutely nothing then vanish. We connect with new characters in the laziest of character tropes (one guy begins caring for a girl because he's attracted to her, another character is a rival with another character who he will have to work with in order to survive). The film bulldozes through itself, rushing anything resembling story-arc and character development. The effects look so fake that you'll prefer the puppet versions of the aliens. Worst yet, "Independence Day: Resurgence" is just plain boring.

In the first movie, aliens attacked us with city-sized spacecrafts. They had shields, mini-ships piloted by aliens, and the aliens themselves had psychic powers. "Resurgence" picks up twenty years later, the world has come together after surviving the alien attack, we have used the alien technology to enrich our military and lifestyles. But there was a ship left behind from 1996 that sent a stress call to their planet after David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and Steven Hiller (Will Smith) destroyed their mothership. The aliens come back, with even bigger spacecrafts and even bigger weapons to destroy our planet once more. Levinson reunites the world, including former president James Whitmore (Bill Pullman) to battle the aliens once again. Its what you'd expect from a sequel, just a bigger version of the first film. What made "Independence Day" good was the story was simple, in "Resurgence," they introduce other aliens, more characters, new character story lines, new alien weapons and ways to destroy those weapons all in a much smaller time frame compared to the first film that it almost becomes overwhelming. The first movie may have been two and half hours, but at least got to know the characters and understood what they were doing, here its too much.

Director Roland Emmerich also decides to make up new qualities of the story that completely contradict things in the first film. There was a character in the first film named Dr. Okun played by Brett Spiner. It was pretty clear that his character died in the first film, but apparently we learn he's been in a twenty year coma and wakes up as the aliens arrive on Earth again. I've never been to medical school, but I figured with his eyes were dead and wide-open and he since he had no pulse he'd be dead. I guess I was wrong. James Whitmore also makes it clear that the aliens are like locusts, but evidently, they work as a hive and we meet the alien queen in this movie. I almost wanted Levinson to ask Whitmore "so how were the aliens like locusts" at some point in the movie. Why the contradiction?

Characters we liked in the first film barely register in this movie. One character shows up for not even five minutes, then dies. Another character just sits in a chair and waves for a minute. Pullman's Whitmore has a couple bad visions of aliens attacking, then gives another inspirational speech to rally the humans near the end of the movie, then he's done. Goldblum's Levinson doesn't come off nearly as smart or resourceful as he was in the first movie. Judd Hirsch, returning as Julius Levinson, is not given nearly as much to do as he should have. Dr. Okun is just a typical mad scientist we usually see in these movies. Sadly, the new characters aren't much better. Liam Hemsworth is playing a type. William Fichner is playing a type. So is Sela Ward, Charolette Gainsbourg and Patrick St. Esprit. Plus, these characters aren't nearly as heroic as they were in the first film. When people died in "Independence Day," the characters mourned. In "Resurgence," characters crack jokes about the aliens destroying landmarks and hoping the houses they want to buy are still standing when the war is over. Nice to know mass destruction and death is a joke to these people.

How are the special effects in this movie? They are painfully mediocre, I liked that the weapons still looked the same as they did in the first film, but the aliens themselves looked too fake as computer generated characters. Had this movie come out in 1998, I'd probably be a little more impressed by the chaos and carnage on display, but after twenty years of cities being destroyed in a variety of ways, seeing destruction is becoming less and less impressive. It seems special effects workers aren't challenged enough, because there are only so many ways one can destroy New York before its no longer interesting. In speaking of the sequel being made in 1998, "Resurgence" feels like a movie made in the 1990's. Nobody behaves or acts like they are living in the twenty-first century, and it gives the film an odd vibe.

I had a bad feeling this movie may not be good, but I did want to kind of like. But sadly, I didn't know that there would be no hope to love it. "Independence Day: Resurgence" fails as a sequel, and it even fails as dumb, summer entertainment. Its a movie that looks and feels twenty years too late. It whimsically forgets everything that made the first film great and sprints to the end of the film like The Flash. Telling from how big the audience was tonight, and after the returns for "Alice Through the Looking Glass," I hope Hollywood is getting the idea that they need to stop reviving things for no reason and stop making sequels nobody is asking for. There is a big set-up for a third film in this franchise, hopefully Emmerich can reevaluate his franchise and what he wants to do with it. I am not sure this film will make enough money to warrant a third outting.


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