Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi sequel is predictably vapid, emotionally tone-deaf, and the dizzying orgy of CGI does little to mask its glaring missteps.
The original Independence Day (1996) saw a rag-tag team of American heroes, helmed by Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, battle and defeat an invading alien army. The film helped launch Smith as a credible blockbuster presence, and the scenes of national landmarks being eviscerated by alien lasers somehow transcended their role as cheap thrills and wormed their way into the broader pop culture consciousness. For Resurgence, the plot can essentially be boiled down to ‘it happens again’.
Planet Earth, enjoying global peace and technological prosperity following the fallout from the original, is once again in peril when attacked by aliens (this time, bigger aliens). The film’s conspicuous Will Smith-shaped hole is filled by Liam Hemsworth, insufferable as a supposed maverick pilot, and Jessie Usher, as Smith’s character’s son, also a pilot. Circumstances conspire to reunite the disparate band of characters from the first film, along with a whole new set of generic, unnecessary mannequins, in order to defeat these new, similar foes in the most uninventive, repetitive way possible.
“The narrative, at once threadbare and overstuffed, lurches from one visually cacophonous, achingly unremarkable scene to the next”
The acting ranges from the utterly disengaged to the earnest-but-terrible. The script is lifeless beyond resuscitation; Goldblum, normally a fountain of natural charisma, is here barely more watchable than the rest of the insipid cast. If films such as The Hunger Games or The Force Awakens had given you lofty expectations of say, actual female interiority in the Hollywood blockbuster, Resurgence brings those hopes crashing down to earth. Maika Monroe is the largest casualty; after showing genuine promise in indie horror It Follows, she is reduced here to essentially a stimulus for male emotion. The daughter of Pullman’s ex-president, and the girlfriend of Hemsworth’s irritating pilot, Monroe’s character seems to exist purely as a function, characterised exclusively through her relation to men. Deobia Oparei’s character is another regrettable inclusion: a Congolese warlord inexplicably brought to Area 51 to help stave off the onrushing alien forces. Armed with twin machetes, he is both outfitted and scripted like the rank, lazy cliché he is. For all the futuristic alien technology on display, Resurgence’s regressive sensibilities whisk the viewer back to the 1970s.
There is at least some half-hearted attempt at levity. Lame, laughless jokes scattered throughout the runtime betray ambitions of a lightness of touch clearly beyond Resurgance’s capabilities. Part of the trouble is the sheer unoriginality of it all; even the most basic attempts at colourful characterisation are moves we’ve all seen countless times before (for instance, Hemsworth’s character is seen listening to bouncy retro-pop while piloting a space vehicle, in a move lifted from, most recently, Ridley Scott’s The Martian).
It is not just the humour that is misjudged throughout. Pretty much any human emotion is filtered through such a charmless, mechanical blockbuster script as to be rendered unrecognisable in the actualisation. After the aliens (tediously) destroy a massive, genericised city, it is but hours until a hangar full of pilots are on their feet cheering. There is a painful lack of any emotional resonance. When Charlotte Gainsbourg (Goldblum’s love interest and little else) sadly exclaims that her mother lives in London, the city destroyed mere minutes ago, Goldblum’s only response is to suggest that maybe she wasn’t actually there. No condolences. No sympathy. Rather than betray any complexity of character, this strange exchange is simply the result of a script that has a staggeringly loose grasp of human emotion.
The film boasts battle scenes sloppily cribbed from the rulebook of Michael Bay. The narrative, at once threadbare and overstuffed, lurches from one visually cacophonous, achingly unremarkable scene to the next. The CGI is as colourless as it is ubiquitous, offering nearly as dismal a screen presence as the actors themselves. At no point is Resurgence ever outwardly enjoyable. When the ending looks to shamelessly line up the franchise’s next instalment, one can’t help but wonder who can possibly intervene to liberate us from such a threat. Save us, Will Smith. Save us.
Image: 20th Century Fox 2016