Twenty years after setting the gold standard for big screen destruction with Independence Day, Roland Emmerich returns to his old stomping grounds to deliver Independence Day: Resurgence, a big, loud, dumb, and utterly fun summer joy ride through CGI destruction that makes the antics of Superman look like child’s play.
The aliens are back, and this time they brought a much bigger ship in hopes of accomplishing the same things they set out to do in the first film. This somehow comes as a surprise to the human race, who has spent the past twenty years living without war and using the remains of the alien war ships to improve their technological capabilities. Planes and helicopters all look largely the same, except now their engines and whirling blades have been replaced with glowing alien tech. We also added to our global arsenal, with outposts on various planets and a ring of what can best be described as laser-shooting satellites circling Earth.
As impressive as all this is, our best defenses are no match for the inexplicably large alien ship that settles over the Atlantic Ocean. London is destroyed. Washington D.C. is destroyed. Cities and highways without names are destroyed. As the body count almost immediately races into the tens or hundreds of millions, the people of Earth scramble to find a way to defeat the unwanted visitors all over again. Copious amounts of destruction porn and witty dialogue in the face of utter chaos soon ensues.
Most of the major players return for Resurgence—including Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson and Bill Pullman as now former President Whitmore—but Will Smith and Mae Whitman are nowhere to be found. Smith’s character is written out with a single line of dialogue told to his onscreen son, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher), who is now a fighter pilot himself. Whitman’s character, however, has returned with a different actress in the role. One has to imagine Maika Monroe was chosen for purely aesthetic reasons, as her talents on screen cannot hold a candle to that of Whitman, and if true, that’s a damn shame on the part of the studio.
There are plenty of new characters and talent present as well, led most notably by Liam Hemsworth. The former Hunger Games star essentially serves as a replacement for Will Smith’s character, offering snarky comments and an endless amount of cool, while serving on the front lines of a battle that feels larger than life in every way. He’s joined by fellow newcomers Jessie T Usher, Angelababy, Nicolas Wright, Deobia Oparei, and the ever-wonderful and ever-underutilized Charlotte Gainsbourg, each of whom do a fine job of existing to give us someone to root for in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The total number of female characters is much greater than the first, as are the numbers for people of color, but at the end of the day their presence in the film feels meant more to meet a series of marketing-focused diversity guidelines than to add dramatic heft to the story.
The other star of the film is no doubt the CGI-heavy set pieces, which run the gamut from cities falling apart, to burning skies, devastated planets, open oceans, and, of course, Area 51. The pacing of the film is similar to the first and the structure is almost a perfect match. If you don’t feel a sense of deja vu at least two or three times you might need to have your memory checked, as even the characters within Resurgence cannot help being self-referential. Levinson, for example, watches a bridge in London collapse while muttering, “They like the landmarks.”
Tongue-in-cheek humor like this aside, it’s incredibly hard to not get lost in the spectacle of it all. Emmerich and his circle of CGI wizards have, if nothing else, delivered a two-hour cinematic celebration of digital effects and their capabilities. A lot has changed with this technology in the twenty years since the first film, and every bit of that evolution is on display in Resurgence. That doesn’t mean you haven’t seen this type of destruction before, it just means it’s never looked as good as it does here.
Watching Independence Day: Resurgence is akin to sneaking into your kitchen late at night and gorging yourself on all the sweets and junk food you otherwise avoid. You know what you’re doing is wrong, and part of you understands that you will most likely regret your decision down the line, but in the moment you’re completely fine indulging in all the sugary, starchy goodness your body can hold. Emmerich has never delivered his signature fireworks with a more artistic flair than he does here, and he opens the door to an otherworldly set of possibilities in what seems like the inevitable third Independence Day film. If it doesn’t happen it will be a loss on the level of Guillermo del Toro’s never-made (yet admittedly still considered ‘in development‘) Mountains Of Madness adaptation, and my CGI-loving heart will weep for its nonexistence.