There is a saying that I think could apply to the current trend for reboots, remakes and long-delayed sequels as well as to good eating habits: “The feast is in the first bite.” While watching Independence Day: Resurgence and trying to practice moderation on the movie treats, I reminded myself that my enjoyment of the sweets could be prolonged by continuing to eat them, but at some point, more sugar is just more sugar.
Independence Day: Resurgence picks up twenty years after the original-so, today, basically-in a world that was dramatically improved thanks to the unity humans showed in fighting the aliens. Not only has our technology developed exponentially, the nations of the world managed two decades without armed conflict. It’s enough to make you wish for some aliens to show up in real life. Instead, they return in the movie, threatening a much bigger smackdown than before. It turns out that they are a predatory species who flies around devastating planets by stealing their molten cores to use as fuel. It’s like Home meets the classic so-bad-it’s-great thriller Core.
Back for the battle are familiar characters, including President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and his father (Judd Hirsch), and Dr. Brakish (Bret Spiner). The president’s daughter, Patricia (Maika Monroe) and Will Smith’s character’s son, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher) are also reintroduced as adults. Plus, there are new characters added to the mix, including troublemaker Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth); his surrogate brother, Charlie (Travis Trope); a celebrated Chinese fighter pilot, Rain Lao (Angelababy); a French psychologist studying the telepathic link between aliens and humans, Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg); and an African war lord, Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei).
In working with this large ensemble, the writers try to use the same tactic as in Independence Day, by following separate groups of people as they responded to the crisis, then bringing them together for the climax. In Resurgence, this technique does not work as well, as the plots do not feel as intimately connected to each other, and the pattern is predictable. It looks like an attempt to replicate the success of the previous movie by just replicating the story structure. Despite this weakness, I did appreciate that the film dove right into the conflict without much exposition. It also did not shy away from some difficult consequences for its characters, resisting a straight-forwardly happy ending, even as it set itself up for a third installment.
What this film was not able to replicate, to its own detriment, was the sense of playfulness and humor that made Independence Day so much fun. Although the shadow of Will Smith does not loom over the entire film, the banter between him and Jeff Goldblum is palpably missing. Similarly, Goldblum’s character and his father are separated for most of the film, cutting out their repartee as well. As a result, Resurgence is sometimes thrilling, but is hardly funny.
While I did not miss Will Smith, I did miss Mae Whitman, who played Patricia Whitmore as a child. I think Whitman is a vastly underrated actress and I would have liked to see her return to the role, instead of the waif who they cast in her place. This disappointment aside, the ensemble cast does work well together. Although there are no real stand-out performances, the element of the film that I think works best is the diverse portrayal of love that comes out between the characters. Inter-ethnic relationships, bromances, father-daughter admiration, a longing for family, and a long-term same-sex partnership motivate the characters in a way that gives the film some sweet moments in an otherwise shallow script.
Independence Day: Resurgence is fun, but not on its own merits. It features some cool special effects and brings back some characters who I really enjoyed in 1996. It does not have the charm or the heart of the original, however, making it a second helping at best. It keeps the enjoyment for Independence Day going, but it is nowhere near as satisfying as the first bite. 2/5 stars.
Independence Day: Resurgence was written by Nicholas Wright and James A. Woods and directed by Roland Emmerich. It runs 120 minutes and is rated PG-13.
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