Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Independence Day: Resurgence" Review: The Sequel That You Never Thought You Didn't Want


What is more strange, that we finally got a sequel to the mega hit Independence Day after 20 long years or that it took this long for 20th Century Fox to realize they had a possible franchise on their hands? How about if I told you neither of those are stranger than the fact that we are now faced with a sequel to what was one of the most monumental blockbusters of the 90s and nobody really seems to care? No matter which way you slice it, Independence Day: Resurgence is an anomaly of a film that seems to be stuck in a time warp as much like the future Earth it depicts still delivers all the expected thrills of a 90s Sci-Fi action film using modern day technology but can't seem to shake all the inherent problems that come with it. Read the full review after the break

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital 
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  1 hr 59 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: June 24, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: The alien invasion premise, using alien technology against the aliens
Likes: Independence Day (1996), Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner
Neutral: No Will Smith, the return of the cardboard cutout characterizations
Hates: The horrible screenwriting, lack of fun
What happened to Smith's Captain Hiller character?: He apparently died in a training exercise...yep, that's what they came up with...sigh.

Jeff Goldblum's expression when he learned that they were actually making this movie.

Over 20 years have passed since the alien invasion was thwarted. Life on planet Earth has changed a lot since then with a jump ahead in technology thanks to taking the left over alien tech and reverse engineering it to help protect the planet from any future invasions. Likewise all nations have squashed their differences and now operate as a single unit (aside from the fact that America seems to still be in charge somehow) which has allowed mankind to blossom into a future where we can fly to the moon in a blink of an eye and establish colonies throughout the solar system. It has taken a long time for the people of Earth to unite and move forward from that pivotal moment in human history but their true test is just around the corner when the alien threat returns to wipe them out.

Independence Day: Resurgence (henceforth to be known as IDR) is a film that feels stuck between two worlds. One where it wants to adhere to what people would expect out of a sequel to the original ID and one where it wants to push the franchise to new places and unshackle itself from those expectations. It wants to appease fans of the first film by keeping most the original characters involved in the action and it wants to appease the younger crowd by including a big selection of much younger actors with new characters. The problem here though is that the film does absolutely nothing with any of them as it often times feels more like a pale imitation of the original that despite having bigger ships with even bigger stakes doesn't feel nearly as epic in comparison to that 1996 flick.

As they proved with their Godzilla movie, bigger isn't always better.

Director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin (both of whom made the first film) do have their hearts in the right place though as they have created a sequel that does incorporate many of the elements many fans (this one included) had imagined back in the 90's would have made for an fun follow up. The idea of taking the alien technology and reverse engineering it to protect the planet from future invasions may seem like a "duh" sentiment but the truth is this concept has never been explored before in film and was the most logical place to take the franchise. This aspect of IDR proves to be its strongest and most well executed selling point as both the tech and its integration into society feels properly organic with where you would imagine humanity would be 20 years after the events of the first film.

However, while science nerds and geeks will be in love with all the new tech on display the rest of us are unfortunately left with poorly written characters and an even more baffling set of events they get stuck in. As already mentioned the characters, both old and new leave a lot to be desired. Returnees such as Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson and Brent Spiner as Dr. Okun are still fun for the most part but Bill Pullman as the ex-President and Judd Hirsch as David's father are still as bland and uninteresting as they were 20 years ago but now have the added benefit of not really being all that necessary either. Sure they try to add some value to their inclusion with Pullman's ex-President being some sort of radio beacon to the alien mind (which was actually set up in the first film surprisingly enough) and Judd Hirsch by having him drive across the country with a bunch of....kids? OK, time for a small rant.

This is about as useful as Bill Pullman's ex-President gets, as a ventriloquist dummy.

What the hell? Seriously, what the hell was the point of this? Throughout the film we cut back and forth between things like Goldblum discovering new alien secrets, the Will Smith stand-in Jessie Usher shooting stuff, Spiner being a looney mad scientist and the white Will Smith stand-in Liam Hemsworth trying his best to form a personality. But then you add in this distraction (I refuse to call it a subplot) of Hirsch's character doing a mid-alien invasion road trip. To make it worse is that it ultimately serves no logical function, not even in the realm of the standard disaster movie handbook. The kids don't do anything to get anyone in trouble, when they show up at Area 51 they just sort of hang out and watch what is happening and Goldblum's plan isn't effected in either a good or bad way by their arrival. So what gives? Why did we need this? OK, end of rant.

And if you think Hirsch's character is pointless then don't even think about the return of Vivica A Fox as baby Hiller's former stripper-turned-doctor mother whose one job here is to provide a character arc for her son but proves completely pointless as outside of one quick moment of reflection doesn't ever seem to be a point of contention for the kid. When a film that hinges itself this much on the dated structure of the disaster movie and fails to adhere to even the most basic of character arcs it really calls into question what Emmerich or Devlin were trying to accomplish with this sequel nobody asked for. Even the goofy comic relief best friend character, who in ID was played with annoying perfection by Harry Connick Jr. fails to do what is asked of him and remains alive by the end credits roll leaving both or our heroes, Hemsworth and Usher without even the usual cardboard cutout character arcs.

Just because they TELL us their in love doesn't mean we care.

Then there is the ex-President's daughter played by the talented up and coming actor Maika Monroe who from all the ads and trailers was being hyped as a big part of the film yet in actuality is just the same old girl in distress character. Yes, they suit her up eventually and put her in the fight (which wasn't set up in the most subtle of ways) but even then she proves to me mostly useless and only in the fight so she can witness a tragedy that just like Hemsworth and Usher doesn't seem to affect her in any real significant way. Hell, the only time we see any character in the film feel any sort of real emotion over any sort of loss is when Dr. Okun loses his assistant whom we didn't even really know at all. This is some of the worst and most baffling character work ever committed to screen and should be examined with scrutiny at whatever screenwriting school wishes to torture its students.

Lastly there are the aliens which are a whole other problem. If we use the events of the first ID as a basis for understanding who these aliens are and what they want which was more than evident that they just wanted to obliterate us as most movie aliens are want to do, then the action of the aliens in IDR make absolutely no sense. Despite being heavily indicated in all the promotional material for the film, these aliens do not return to Earth for revenge (which is sort of simplistic but at least it makes sense) but instead have come back for...wait for it....the Earth's core! That's right, apparently that is all they wanted from the get go. Blowing up landmarks and national monuments is just what they do to pass the time until the alien queen arrives to drill our planet. Oh yeah, that's another thing. They have a queen. Yep, totally original. A queen who when killed and/or destroyed apparently makes all the other alien minions just sort of not care anymore. Yeah, that happens.

If you are looking for mass destruction then check out Roland Emmerich's 2012 instead.

To the film's credit though, much like the first ID it's strongest part is most of everything that happens with the aliens in its first half. There is a bit of intrigue with a mysterious alien ship that arrives prior to the alien invasion that brings with it tons of possibilities for future sequels (which judging by this films performance isn't likely to happen) and the idea of the new alien mothership being so huge as to have its own gravitational pull is kind of awesome. Those fleeting moments as cool as they are still don't make up for the inherent lack of excitement that all these expensive special effects should evoke (don't even get me started on the lame audio design). This has to be one of the least epic feeling epic movies of all time. Even the finale which does switch things up a bit (although did we need the final conflict location to be Area 51 again?) doesn't do much to raise an eyebrow as it borrows heavily from much better representations of the genres it takes from.

It may be sounding as if I hated my experience with IDR but the truth of the matter is that I honestly just don't care enough about it to hate it. Like most audiences at the time, I found the original ID to fill a gap left by the lack of big budget Sci-Fi fare after the original Star Wars trilogy ended and it helped me look past many of its flaws such as its bland cardboard cutout characters and cliche-ridden doomsday alien invasion plot. It just looked cool and blew stuff up really really good. That sort of stuff doesn't fly in this post Marvel/Force Awakens world filled with spectacle and well written characters. If the film had a better sense of humor to its silliness and perhaps had one or two characters we could at least relate to in some way then it may have been easier to sit back with a bucket of popcorn and shut my brain off. As it stands now IDR is representative of everything that was and still is wrong with the Hollywood system as it delivers everything it thinks we want instead of taking the time to make something worthwhile and more importantly fun.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Independence Day: Resurgence makes a strong case for letting sleeping dogs lie. Perhaps if there were something unique or interesting about the original film that stood out and made us yearn for a sequel years past the franchise's expiration date then there might have been good reason to revisit it. But as it stands the film just doesn't make enough of an impression to either denounce it nor sing it any praises. It just sort of sits their limp and uninterested, just like its audience.

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