Since Independence Day became a massive commercial hit Roland Emmerich seems to have consistently invented new ways to fetishize the end of the world. Indeed he does a good enough job capturing an apocalyptic spectacle of carnage and destruction but, as per usual, gives little consideration to the psychological consequences that could give his films the weight he obviously strives for. This naturally wouldn’t be too much of problem for his films if he took the Michael Bay school of thought of “I make movies for teenage boys” and completely strip his film of anything dramatically interesting, but Emmerich’s films seem to take a completely different approach. Infused into his end of the world scenarios are a kind of self-seriousness that his breed of popcorn entertainment normally reject—an optimism rooted in bogus political sentiment but grounded completely in good intentions. Independence Day: Resurgence is more or less what I expected out of a sequel, a moderately entertaining follow-up inferior to the original in every way.
One of the few things that immediately stuck out to me in Independence Day: Resurgence is the integration of modern and future tech. It looks as if Earth has progressed hundreds of years into the future (with moon stations, helicopters without rotors) as opposed to twenty—this is explained through the planet’s duplication of scrapped alien technology. The types of visuals here are video game-esque, a sumptuous mix of high tech space opera and doomsday annihilation. However, I believe by rooting Earth’s existence into a technologically advanced age, I think Emmerich completely contradicts what actually made his first film so resonant—an Everyman facing insurmountable odds in the face of a more technologically advanced alien race.
It’s not for a lack of trying, but even similar beats in Independence Day: Resurgence seem to fall flat in comparison to its predecessor. Liam Hemsworth’s loose cannon act lies limp in contrast to Will Smith who could counteract his ridiculous hubris with sly charm and a comic edge. Unfortunately, the film isn’t graced with his star power. There’s also a strange contrast in the movie between the two returning stars of the original, Jeff Goldblum returns with a relaxed confidence to his scientist character and a surprisingly stiff Bill Pullman as the PTSD-suffering former president. Maika Monroe stars alongside a fresh faced cast, it’s an unworthy but not unwelcomed star vehicle for the actress. Unfortunately she only seems to appear in the majority of the film as eye candy for sedentary cutaways.
Roland Emmerich seems to have honed his craft after years and multiple depictions of characters trying to navigate their way through apocalyptic wastelands. Unlike Michael Bay who sees his characters as ornaments to chaotic spectacles, Emmerich knows how to frames chaos to a centralized plot, creating clearcut objective and defining character motivation. It’s a shame his characters never seem to break a sweat in these moments, no doubt the special effects are impressive but Emmerich never truly knew how to integrate them with the tangible components of his film.
Overall, what this sequel seems to lack is just the light charm that made the first one immensely watchable, if not terribly complex. I would also complain how Jeff Goldblum’s character is capable of making witty quips about landmarks being destroyed in the midst of a mass genocide if the film itself wasn’t already insufferably self-serious. Since The Day After Tomorrow it seems countless films tried to emulate Emmerich’s doomsday scenario—all of them encountering a similar problem of trying to counterbalance schlocky popcorn entertainment and the inherent tragedy that comes with a disaster of such a scale. Emmerich rarely makes one or the other work to his advantage. Independence Day: Resurgence has its moments but neither its elaborate images or overstuffed cast can replicate the sheer star power and by the numbers plotting of the original which saw Earth not as a victim but an underdog.