When disaster master Roland Emmerich first cast the shadow of Independence Day across our cinemas, it promised 80’s kids like myself something in the region of Top Gun meets Aliens. An entire generation of nerds were united in their anticipation of the cinema event of summer ‘96. What we got was much more divisive. My own recollections centre around the cigar-smoking Will Smith, strutting over to a fallen spacecraft to punch an alien pilot on the nose and utter the immortal line “Welcome to Earth”. While much of the audience were erupting into wild cheers, no doubt the response Emmerich had intended, others were experiencing an acute disconnect from rest of the room.
The problem then was mainly tonal; Independence Day was heavy on spectacle and light on substance – all of which would be fine if it weren’t for Emmerich’s insistence on pseudo-earnestness. Ultimately the film suffered from an identity crisis – falling between two stools. Emmerich was asking you to invest emotionally in his protagonists while knowingly have them do and say supremely silly things (not least defeating an entire alien fleet while armed only with Windows ’95). Pulling that off would’ve required the kind of tonal dexterity that John Landis’ American Werewolf In London had in spades – a horror comedy that shifted seamlessly between genuinely frightening and genuinely funny. Independence Day wasn’t ‘genuinely’ anything.
Perhaps the Emmerich faithful would defend the film for its tongue-in-cheek sense of fun (I’m guessing) – but his sequel will surely test that love. Independence Day might have lacked sincerity but it did have character, no matter how amorphous and flawed. It was memorable, regardless of whether you wanted to forget it. While Independence Day: Resurgence shares all of the above faults of its predecessor, it is utterly indistinct.
The central conceit is that the characters are living in an alternate 2016 to our own, one where the aliens who were defeated in 1996 left us with alien technologies that have advanced our global defences and allowed us make incredible scientific leaps, ushering in an unprecedented era of world peace. However, unbeknownst to Earth, the defeated aliens sent out a distress signal so that, ever since, a whole new fleet has been steadily making its way across space to finish the job.
It’s a welcome return for the ever-affable Jeff Goldblum who is joined by Charlotte Gainsbourg, doing her best to lend some credibility to the proceedings – but they’re both undermined by the time spent on prize fighter pilots Liam Hemsworth, the wet white dreamboat and Jessie T Usher, the banal black beefcake. Most of their dialogue is used to give us status updates on the plot. There’s also a plethora of not-so-subtle attempts at appealing to the Chinese market, with the Hong Kong actress and model, Angelababy, being chief among them. She also plays a seasoned fighter pilot which, of course, ticks at least two boxes in one. In fact, Independence Day: Resurgence covers demographics so aggressively that it’s essentially an automated inclusivity exercise with little in terms of gender, ethnicity or sexuality left unrepresented – and watching it is as lively and vibrant an experience as witnessing someone cross off items on their shopping list.