Movie Review - Independence Day: Resurgence

The film that made Will Smith a movie-star finally gets a sequel some 20 years later. Unfortunately, Will Smith isn't in it and his character is killed off. That factoid seems like it should mean something, but it doesn't. Yet, as the film goes along, we see more deaths and not just the nameless and faceless millions who perish in mass when the alien invasion begins but actual or supposed characters in this narrative played by actors who get close-ups. Yet, as each character died, I felt nothing for them. I didn't care in the least. That's when it dawned on me that this film is horribly written and directed in such a way that nothing matters. It's all just empty spectacle.

The movie juggles way too many people. Neither of whom are able to be fully, fleshed-out characters because there isn't enough time for them and time that could have been given to them is instead utilized for ridiculousness that only drags this thing along. Most of the cast, except Will Smith, who were in the 1996 film, returns, including Vivica A. Fox of which there was absolutely no need.

Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games and The Expendables 2) stars as Jake Morrison, a lieutenant and fighter pilot who works on the moon. In the 20 years since 1996, the Earth has used captured alien technology to grow their capabilities. Humans now have better weapons and space-craft that can hop from the Earth to the moon in a matter of moments. Jake can operate all this technology, but the only, real thing we know about him is that he's an orphan. His family was presumably killed in 1996 and he has a girlfriend, along with a best friend who's also a fighter pilot.

His friend is Charlie Miller, played by Travis Tope (Boardwalk Empire). Later, Charlie develops a crush on a Chinese pilot named Rain Lao, played by Angela Yeung Wing. Both these characters feel like padding or placeholders. They are not developed or are interesting at all. They should have been cut from this movie. They are absolute wastes of time.

Jessie T. Usher (Survivor's Remorse) co-stars as Dillon Hiller, the fighter pilot who has become a captain, promoted over Jake due to a mistake that Jake made that nearly killed Dillon. There is some tension between them as a result. It leads to Dillon punching Jake. Instead of the two of them dealing with their issues, the movie abandons them emotionally. Dillon is supposedly the son of Will Smith's character. Instead of him dealing with that or addressing that relationship, the movie leaves Dillon as a one-note figure. A potential, Will Smith substitute is left as a discarded shell, and Jessie T. Usher's performance is nowhere near as dynamic or charismatic as Will Smith.

Last year, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, it basically was a carbon copy of the first. The same could be said of this, except this movie feels derivative of so many things, including Star Wars. There is a scene toward the end that is very reminiscent of the rebels trying to destroy the Death Star. It then pivots and becomes like the ending of James Cameron's Aliens. Director Roland Emmerich does rip off Cameron and George Lucas, but he is able to have some fun with it and put his own spin on it.

Yet, what kills the movie is not only the atrocious acting but more specifically the atrocious writing, which again abandons the characters. It's ironic that Brent Spiner who plays Brakish Okun is in this movie. Spiner is probably best known for starring in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and there have been two Star Trek movies about large vessels coming to Earth and trying to dominate it, as is the premise here, but each of those Star Trek movies puts characters and character-development first, focusing on only a couple, and not haphazardly juggling a dozen or more, as is the problem here.

I get the impulse to want to flesh out every person who passes on screen, but, as the director, Emmerich shouldn't give into that impulse every time. He has to maintain focus. He has to maintain economy. We never get to know or feel anything about anybody because he bounces between ten too many, and it felt like certain people were thrown in just to satisfy certain demographics and then do nothing with them, while other demographics were completely ignored.

There is the aforementioned, Chinese girl, Rain Lao, who is in this movie but she's given nothing to do. She seems like she's only there to satisfy the Chinese demographic, given China has become a major film market, industry-wise. Her presence ticks a box and nothing else. Actually, her presence is more offensive because she's mainly just an object of sexual desire for Charlie, so she's basically fetishized. I'm not sure which is worse.

I suppose it's commendable that Emmerich has such a diverse cast, but one demographic he skips is the gay demographic. Emmerich is an openly gay filmmaker whose last film was Stonewall (2015), which was about the defining moment in the LGBT movement. If any filmmaker is primed to put gay or lesbian characters in an action blockbuster, it's Emmerich. There is a moment when it looks like Spiner's character is going to kiss a guy, but alas no! For all we know, Brakish had a strong bromance and wasn't actually gay. There are even two guys who are paired, an African warlord named Dikembe, played by Deobia Oparei, and a dorky white guy named Floyd, played by Nicolas Wright, and at one point by the end it seems like they might also kiss, but again no! It would have been nice to see overtly gay expressions in a mainstream action film but here instead it's just a ton of missed opportunities.

There was also no depth to this film. The movie is sheer superficiality put on display. An example is a scene when General Adams, played by William Fichtner, tells the world to pray for them to succeed in their mission. There is then a shot of Tibetan Monks, a shot obligatory to pander to China, but I don't recall seeing shots of priests or rabbis or imams. It raises the question of how has religion been affected by the discovery of alien life. Yet, this movie has no real interest of exploring that. It wants to remain empty and hollow in that aspect.

One Star out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and destruction and some language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.


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