Independence Day: Resurgence is what fans always fear when they hear the word ‘sequel.’ Can it live up to the original? Will new characters be as compelling as the old? Can the sequel stay grounded in the story of the original?
No on all three counts. Yes, Roland Emmerich has a disdain for our planet that rivals no other. Give him the budget and the man will wreak untold havoc on the planet. Typically, it works out to a great popcorn movie. It won’t win any awards, but it’s the type of movie you flip past on HBO and say: ‘Sure, I’ll give it another watch.’
Independence Day: Resurgence will not enjoy that mantle in cinematic history. It completely loses the charm of the first film. Hey, most of the old characters are back. Wait… Where’s Will Smith? Look, new characters we are supposed to care about.
Oh, you wanted to know more about the African warlord battling the aliens on the ground? Sorry, we are going to drop Dubai on top of London. Why? Because 20th Century gave Roland Emmerich the budget and he was damn determined to blow shit up.
I would have happily sat through the movie with popcorn, but one area kept bothering me. The sense of scale.
Independence Day: Resurgence Gets Comically Big
It sounds weird considering the first Independence Day was about aliens trying to destroy the world. Grand scale, but you felt like you were there on the action. Exhibit A? The alien ships. Here’s what we were treated to in the first film:
In each, you see Earth is in for a hell of a fight. But even in the face of the massive city destroyers, you knew if David was as smart as everyone hoped he was, the man would figure out a way to beat the aliens back.
Now, the sequel. Larger ships? Oh hell yes. Comically large. Here’s an image of a landing strut sitting atop multiple cities.
And here’s the mothership swallowing up a nice chunk of Earth.
Sequel equals a bigger alien ship. But landing on Earth to drill into the core? That’s a bit extreme. And then comes the destruction. What made the first film was you knew each of the spots getting hit.
The destruction, while grand in scale, never felt outsized. Here’s the alien superweapon in action from the first film:
The sequel? No massive weapon. The craft is so large it generates its own gravity. Dubai gets dropped on London. Massive tsunamis from it landing on Earth.
The film instantly loses its visceral appeal from the first. We don’t see the extended shots of NYC, LA and DC getting destroyed. There are no edge of your seats moments of the leads trying to escape the terrifying weapon.
Instead, it feels like the film said ‘supersize me’ and the studio was happy to oblige. We don’t have Air Force One taking off, barely escaping the destruction of DC. No cuts to the destruction roiling Los Angeles. No iconic imagery of the Statue of Liberty lying in the ruins of NYC.
Abandoning the Grand Scale
Scale matters in films. The sequel was always going to be bigger, and it delivered that. Then, it stopped. What felt like an assault on your senses suddenly became a rehash of the Area 51 battle of the first film. Without the intrigue of characters. No iconic speech – though they tried. No classic scene of Randy Quaid being crazy before he actually went crazy.
What the movie thought would be intimate moments with the viewer instead fall flat. The great scene in the first film of Bill Pullman leading the remains of a battered Air Force against a city destroyer is replaced with our new heroes attempting to kill the queen.
It’s a point of the movie that demands grand scale but chooses to contain it in the smallest of footprints.
The result is jarring at best. It completely flips the entirety of the film. We had a Moon base. An outpost near Saturn. All of the grand scale reduced to a small section of dirt in the new Area 51.
All the grand scale was lost in an instant. Add that to the lack of compelling characters and general lack of focus; the film becomes a mess. I watched ID4 the other day, and it’s remarkable how well the film holds up. You are drawn to each of the characters, and it has a clear ending.
Did we need a sequel? No, but I wanted one. It turns out what we received wasn’t even close to matching the original. And it wasn’t because there was no Will Smith to be found. Not even his charm on screen could have saved Resurgence.
Now? We are teased with the hint of interstellar travel, but looking at the box office receipts is a scale not tipping in favor of future sequels. It’s a sequel that should have vanished without a fight.