If someone were to use a line from one of Roland Emmerich’s films to describe his body of work, that person might rightfully say his movies “will not go quietly into the night” like the freedom-lovin’ Americans of Independence Day. Roland has always had a thing for big and loud. Even in his period-set dramas like Anonymous and Stonewall, he can’t help himself from turning things up to eleven, but that’s always been his brand of action. Unfortunately, it is a brand that hasn’t stood the test of time. The best I could say about Stonewall was that it was well-intentioned and at worse offensive. I was more excited for White House Down than many, but still, it left me feeling empty. Independence Day, on the other hand, is the Citizen Kane of blockbusters. Not just in its quality, but rather that it was ahead of its time. If Citizen Kane were made today with all the technology at our disposal as we now have, I doubt its technical wizardry would stand out nearly as much. To paraphrase a line from Independence Day: Resurgence, Emmerich had 20 years to prepare, but so did the rest of Hollywood. Where does Resurgence fit into a world where blowing up landmarks has become the norm?
So where do we find things? What has Jeff Goldblum been up to in the past two decades? Apparently, he’s been trying to prepare the earth for the inevitable alien retaliation. For the most part, this seems to mean uniting most of the world and repurposing their extraterrestrial aggressors’ technology into a bunch of cool lasers, moon bases and space jets they call Earth Space Defence. On the anniversary of that fateful Fourth of July the aliens finally return for their sweet revenge, promising the ultimate popcorn rematch for movie goers everywhere. Right?
I find it very difficult to believe that Independence Day: Resurgence was made by Roland Emmerich as it doesn’t seem to be made by someone who really enjoyed the original all that much, or even has seen it for that matter. Yeah, we get the glorified cameos, references, and props that remind us that first film did exist, but Resurgence lacks those vital elements synonymous with the title Independence Day. It’s got a bigger ship, but it feels smaller. It’s got stronger weapons, but really they do nothing. The film isn’t paced for maximum impact, but rather moving at breakneck speed, making ridiculous location jumps and rookie editing missteps.
What hurts me the most about Resurgence, beyond everything listed above, is that this is supposed to be the new united humanity and it barely feels human at all. Independence Day was one of the few disaster movies in the past decade and a half that was about people. They weren’t justification for a CG meltdown or soulless rag dolls used to “humanise” the death count, they really meant something to the viewer. When POTUS Pullman delivers that famous speech, it means something because it stood in the opposition to the very real loss we felt throughout the movie. It made us feel like we had a stake in this fight. When Crazy Old Man Pullman delivers his speech at the end of Independence Day: Resurgence, it feels like he was getting a paycheque, the writers were getting a paycheque, and I was wasting mine.
But there was one gleaming diamond in the rough that came in the form of Brent Spiner’s Dr Okun and John Storey’s Dr Isaacs. It isn’t explicitly stated, but Emmerich heavily implies a relationship between the two and in particular in the last act. Roland, himself openly gay, seems to be trying to include LGBT characters in ways that would normally make studio execs nervous. It isn’t the crux of their characters or the arch of their plot, it simply is a part of who they are. Forget the rest of the film: this is what I want to be seeing more of.
Sadly, we can’t just go forgetting Independence Day: Resurgence despite the fact that most of it has already blurred together in my mind. So what line would I pick to describe it? “What goes up, must come down” is the one that comes to mind, a line that Goldblum mutters as Tokyo falls on top of London. It sums up my emotions thus far on the Independence Day movies, even though I can’t help but feel like there’s a better line.
Maybe “that’s a lot of fish”. It doesn’t fit all too well, but I can imagine they at least stunk about the same.