Had Independence Day 2: Resurgence been a simple case of suck, it would have been no great surprise, as it would have merely been continuing the status quo of its predecessor.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
Beneath its charismatic actors, its memorable speeches, and some particularly striking bits of 90s effects work, it’s a mediocre-as-hell blockbuster subsisting on a thin stew of patriotism and poorly formulated scripting.
But I think everything that doesn’t work is also why it’s stuck so firmly in the craw of American pop culture. It’s a film built on succeeding despite itself, which means that there was almost no chance that its sequel would be a worthwhile film.
Sure enough, it isn’t, but probably exactly in the way that you think. ID2 comes 20 years after its predecessor, when all of its original tricks have faded away through never-ending summer blockbuster escalation and the slow death of the star system.
As such, ID2 finds returning director Roland Emmerich scrambling to ply his circus tricks for a new generation and finding them wanting, escalating his scale and expanding his universe to a world that’s had much bigger, much larger blockbuster universes.
There could be no other plot for this film: The aliens are back. This time bringing in a 3000 mile long mothership (“It’s touched down over the Atlantic.” “Which part?” “All of it!”) with even more ships and even more vague goals of conquest. Earth is slightly more ready for them though, having adapted the alien technology left behind to give the world anti-grav aerial vehicles and sick-ass laser guns. So, you know, use those to kill some aliens.
There’s also what I’m told are people in this film. Some of them you already know, and the film is sure hoping you still like them.
Jeff Goldblum David Levinson returns to do science things. President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) returns to be Presidential. Will Smith doesn’t return because that would mean this film might have an entertaining military character, so his character is dead.
He’s replaced by his son, Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher). Replaced in function only, because Usher doesn’t seem to have or seems to be trying to give 1/100th of the effort or charisma that Will Smith has…or Jaden Smith as for that matter.
It’s okay though, it’s Jessie Usher’s first big role. Liam Hemsworth playing Military Dude Type D proves that he has all the screen presence of rotting plywood. At least rotting plywood might appear to have some life inside it.
Not even Maika Monroe, that fantastic final girl from It Follows and The Guest (the two best thrillers of the last two years), can save the film’s acting credentials, though that’s not on her. It’s more just the film gives her nothing to do as a character. Because it gives none of the characters anything to do at all. None of these characters have arcs or much interesting. They’re in one place, and then they end up in a different. And I mean that physically, the only thing different that any of them have done is save the world, and some of the characters have already done that.
That’s the overwhelming feeling of this film. Been there, done that. I can dump on Independence Day all I want to, but the film feels remarkably distinctive. It has its own identity, there are uniquely recognizable elements that can be pulled from it.
Time and attempts to keep up with it have made ID2 feel bland. Not hopelessly, there’s actually some interesting marginalia in the film. The 20 years that have passed between the film seems to create a society and a history that would be far far more interesting to explore than anything that actually happens in the movie. There’s a gay couple as one of the central storylines and it goes completely unremarked upon. Liam Hemsworth pisses on an alien ship.
Perhaps most strikingly considering the recent venomous nationalism that has injected itself into the veins of Western society is the seeming focus on global unity and the commonality of human struggle. ID2 can’t go a scene without commenting on this as a moment for the human race, the need for us to unite to overcome our problems, and it hit home in a world where we want to tear our unions apart.
But as wonderful as it is, it’s largely lip service, afflicted with the same American Sci-Fi disease of being “global” with the focus entirely on the American effort. It feels like a checklist that the movie feels like it’s running down to be a modern blockbuster, wanting to hit those international markets. Looking at you China.
It’s admirable, but there’s just not much to it. In fact, everything this film tries to do well, the escalations, the global nature of the response to the conflict, the need for unity? It’s all done by Pacific Rim and with much better character work and more individuality. It’s a shame that the sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters of the 90s was outmoded by a 3 year old box-office flop.
ID2 is interesting solely in its margins, because its central drive is just so bland. What’s admirable is outmoded by what’s generic and safe in the modern blockbuster era.
Let’s put it simply: ID2 is the film that officially loses Roland Emmerich to the decades. He still makes every attempt to pull off what he once could, once the P.T. Barnum of explosion films, but he’s outmoded by technology and filmmaking that passed him up and made what he tried to do much easier for anyone. His lack of storytelling prowess and his excessive need to please has resulted in a film that kills unique identity for generic studio ephemera.
But hey, at least it’s not Stonewall.