It’s been 20 years since aliens blew up the White House but Roland Emmerich’s sequel to his much loved; green-shit-shooting behemoth is very much stuck in the past. Independence Day: Resurgence is singing from the same hymn sheet as its predecessor in every way, which is charming up to a point.
There’s not much by the way of build-up, as we’re shown a slightly alternate present in which alien tech has allowed us to create gravity-defying aircraft and build a military installation on the moon. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is in Africa investigating why a downed alien craft’s lights have turned back on after all this time, and realises that the distress call sent at the end of the first film has been answered. Suddenly an Atlantic-spanning enemy ship has arrived and humanity’s taking its last stand again.
Plot-wise, it’s the same film. There’s a certain degree of self-awareness in the way it goes through the motions, but not really enough to make it interesting. However, for those who of us who have seen the original (and we have to assume that’s most of us), there’s a warm sense of nostalgia as the film begins and reveals itself to be exactly the same shade of silly, and Emmerich and co lean heavily on your goodwill. Will Smith’s absence is absolutely felt, but Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Judd Hirsch are back, while Brent Spiner gets an expanded comic relief role. We’ll get to the comedy in a moment, by the way.
But Goldblum is positioned in the slightly awkward role of elder statesman and only really sparkles when he’s allowed to have some fun, like his back and forth with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s psychiatrist/alien expert. Pullman, on the other hand, does get to charge about unpredictably as the mentally unstable ex-President Whitmore and the twinkle in his eye brings some invaluable humanity to proceedings.
It’s invaluable because the new additions are mostly awful. The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth is the film’s nominal lead, a pilot demoted to flying a lunar tug as punishment for Top Gun-esque maverick antics but also engaged to Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (The Guest’s Maika Monroe, stepping in for the original’s Mae Whitman for, presumably, Hollywood reasons), who gave up being a pilot to become a Presidential aide. Hemsworth is mostly fine, but suffers from sub-Armageddon dialogue, characterisation and relationships.
Meanwhile, Jessie T Usher’s Dylan Hiller is essentially a non-entity, and every single character that has been brought in to add humour isn’t funny (the writing for his BFF Charlie (Travis Tope) is especially heinous). Seriously, we never thought we’d miss Harry Connick Jr this much.
However, Hirsch is still game, Gainsbourg classes up proceedings just by being there (she’s not given a huge amount to do) and the always-reliable William Fichtner (as the military head honcho) manages to ground a lot of the nonsense through sheer force of will.
But what about the spectacle? Well, Emmerich can still deliver on that front and does so. “It’s definitely bigger than the last one,” is the film’s self-aware refrain, and it is hard not to get swept up in the excitement of fighter pilots taking on swarms of enemy spacecraft, going inside the cavernous alien ships, and tangling with the tentacle-flailing monstrosities. It’s also hard not to be giddily entertained by the filmmaker’s determination to bring in moments of pure silliness: school buses, tiny dogs and pee jokes. We often couldn’t tell whether we were giggling with the film or at it, but we were giggling.
So, despite being ID20, it’s stuck in the ’90s and that’s a problem, but also its biggest redeeming feature. The film’s faintly nostalgic humanitarian message of uniting regardless of nation is sweet, the whole thing is incredibly goofy and frequently stupid, and every character gets their big heroic moment and rousing speech because of course they do. It’s certainly not a great film, but it’s definitely an Independence Day sequel. For all its many, many flaws, that’s kind of fun.