Twenty years ago, director Roland Emmerich and his producing partner Dean Devlin showed what might happen if aliens invaded the earth with their mega-hit Independence Day. It quickly became one of the precursors for the modern summer blockbuster with filmmakers like Michael Bay building upon that successful formula Emmerich created.
Where the original Independence Day was very much a “What If?” story, its sequel is just as much about “What Next?” In other words, what would the world look like 20 years after that disastrous alien invasion that killed millions? We learn pretty quickly that the leaders of earth have embraced the alien technology in order to prepare for another possible alien invasion. This includes a Space Defense Base that’s been built on the moon (and possibly on other planets) to keep an eye out for possible alien invasions.
As the world is preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of fending off the aliens in the first movie, some of those originally involved are already getting worrying signs of an alien return. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), now director of Earth’s Space Defense program, travels to Africa to examine one of the alien motherships that crashed there and has suddenly gone back online. Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), who has been in a coma since the previous invasion, comes out of it just in time to have visions of the aliens’ return.
Due to the enhanced technology, Independence Day: Resurgence feels even more like pure science fiction than the original, because we’re now looking at an alternative world where humanity has benefitted from the alien technology to prepare for another possible invasion. You can safely assume that invasion does indeed happen but maybe not as some expect, because the alien’s new spaceship is now the size of a planet and is so immense it has its own gravity field.
During the first 20 minutes, there are a lot of new characters introduced quite quickly (maybe too many). But more importantly, most of your favorites from the first movie are back—other than Will Smith, whose character has died “during a test flight” and there’s enough connection between the new, younger characters and the established ones for it to make some sense.
Rugged Hunger Games vet Liam Hemsworth does a fine job filling in some of the vacuum as pilot Jake Morrison, while Maika Monroe (It Follows) is given more to do as his girlfriend then just being “the pilot’s girlfriend.” She plays Patricia Whitmore, a former pilot herself as well daughter to former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman’s character from the original movie) who is also back looking worse for wear. Newcomer Jessie Usher is fine as Dylan Hiller, the son of Will Smith’s character without deliberately trying to be as key to the fight as his father was.
Other fun new characters include Sela Ward as U.S. President Lanford and Deobia Oparei (Game of Thrones) as an African warlord who joins the fight on the ground. Travis Tope’s Charlie offers some of the comic relief among the pilots with his amorous aspirations towards Angelababy as China’s pilot Rain.
As much as Emmerich manages to instill new life into his original alien invasion idea with new characters, it’s seeing the original cast twenty years later that’s fun in a similar way as The Barbarian Invasions or Richard Linklater’s Before series. Actors like Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch have clearly gotten more in touch with what makes them so enjoyable on screen since their previous work with Emmerich, and they bring so much more to their characters with that added experience. And when it comes down to it, Will Smith is barely missed much at all.
20 years later, Emmerich still finds a way to bring a similar sense of patriotism and “us against them” mentality that helped make the original movie so popular among Americans, although one character’s call to arm all civilians against the alien threat hits a little too close to home. Otherwise, the correlations to our own world is kept to a minimum.
There are a couple ideas that don’t work (some which we won’t reveal because they are pretty big spoilers), and the aliens themselves look like a slightly sillier mutated version of the originals at first, although you do eventually get used to them as well. There’s also the requisite suspension of disbelief that comes with almost any Emmerich film, especially in the way the film’s heroes are always able to stay one step ahead of imminent danger with most of them surviving ridiculous odds of survival in any given situation. At this point, that’s part of the charm of Emmerich’s films and why his movies still play so well as escapist summer popcorn flicks.
Emmerich has mastered his craft to the point where he can keep a bunch of stories happening at once, as well as being able to throw in humorous one-liners despite the harrowing events taking place on screen. A few times, he even pokes fun at himself and what people expect from his movies, which just makes those jokes that much more enjoyable.
Independence Day: Resurgence leaves you hoping it won’t be another 20 years until we see more of this world and characters, although these days, hoping for any sort of sequel or franchise is just asking for trouble. If you want it, it won’t happen; if a sequel is unnecessary, you’re guaranteed to get at least three.
With the troubling times the world has faced in recent years, this seems like the perfect time for escapist fare that remains relevant to our world without getting too blatant about it. For what it is, Independence Day: Resurgence works on enough levels that even the most intellectual film snob should find something to enjoy.
If nothing else, Emmerich’s return to familiar territory shows his evolution as a filmmaker well in-tune with what it takes to keep mass audiences entertained.