INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
Independence Day: Resurgence boasts white heroes, black heroes, and Chinese heroes and is still, by a considerable margin, the most colorless movie of the year. It doesn’t even resemble a typical 21st Century blockbuster sequel so much as those sad, 20th Century sitcom reunions – The Brady Girls Get Married, say, or The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island – that existed only to remind you how old beloved figures had gotten, and just how stale “timeless” material can become. Roland Emmerich’s 1996 original was an easy film to laugh both at and with, but despite the derisive chuckles it inspires, the most proper response to the director’s wildly unnecessary follow-up would be a two-hour yawn.
Armed with a bigger mother ship, more sizable armada, and convenient awareness of Earth-calendar anniversaries, Independence Day’s aliens return in Resurgence to wreak havoc 20 years to the day of their last attack, and find themselves facing many of the same warrior eccentrics they did two decades (to the day!) prior. Will Smith, in one of his few wise recent career moves, opted not to participate, although he is seen in paintings and news footage commemorating his fighter pilot’s passing. But we do get Jeff Goldbum’s computer wonk and Bill Pullman’s former president, plus fan favorite Brent Spiner as the stringy-haired loon in charge of Area 51 research. Because Yiddish Catskills comedians never go out of style (even though they really, really did), Judd Hirsch is back as Goldblum’s pop, kvetching about his lack of grandchildren and calling people “schmuck” and “putz.” And Vivica A. Fox returns, briefly, as Smith’s wife, at one point appearing in a white lab coat on the roof of a hospital, and heroically escorting a new mother and her infant onto a rescue helicopter in the midst of an alien assault. It’s such a selfless act that you may not even stop to think, “Wait a minute ... in Independence Day, wasn’t Fox playing an exotic dancer?!” (Yes, she was, and I’m praying that the threatened ID3 fills in the blanks on her inspiring career trajectory.)
You might think it would be fun to be reunited with these people after so many years, and it is, kind of, for a little while. Goldblum, thankfully, is never away from movies or TV for long. But I’ve missed Pullman’s gravelly decency and have missed Spiner period, and even Hirsch’s Jackie Mason mugging is such a stale joke that, in the actor’s initial scenes, its return feels almost fresh. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that the ID returnees have no purposes aside from nostalgic ones, because Resurgence, unlike its forebear, could hardly give a damn about its characters or their fates. The film’s first third is nearly nonstop babble regarding the aliens’ incipient return, with Pullman, Spiner, and others suffering from nightmarish visions that cause them to incessantly sketch images of an orb the way Richard Dreyfuss and company kept drawing Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters. (In case the parallel wasn’t already clear, a climactic dogfight finds one of our heroes blasting away at an alien ship with “Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”) Its second third is nearly nonstop CGI annihilation, with tourist destinations destroyed – Goldblum: “They do like to get the landmarks” – and the mother ship’s gravitational field lifting and dropping cars and humans just like in the most recent Transformers sequel. (Its gravitational rules, however, are puzzling: If the spacecraft can’t help but suck up everything beneath it, why, when things get dropped, are they landing amidst throngs of running and screaming passers-by? Shouldn’t these folks have been midair, too?)
And its final third, of course, is the inevitable retribution, which might’ve been enjoyable – or rather, given the debilitating sameness of the visuals, more enjoyable – if Resurgence’s true stars, the actors who weren’t yet teenagers in 1996, weren’t so dismally boring. There’s one close-to-sensational action sequence in the film, in which Goldblum, Hirsch, and a shamelessly packed school bus of children attempt to outrun a marauding alien beastie – a snappily edited piece of bombast that climaxes with a great windshield-wiper gag. And while the dialogue by Emmerich and his four (!) co-screenwriters is continually quippy without being the least bit amusing, there is some solid professionalism provided by franchise newcomers William Fichtner, Sela Ward, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. (Many of the latter’s lines sound oddly looped-in, but I still relished seeing Gainsbourg slum in a Hollywood blockbuster after so many years of torment at the hands of Lars von Trier.) Yet time and again, we keep returning to the blank gazes and vacuous feigned emotion of Resurgence’s young-hottie heroes, and every time we do, the movie’s theoretical momentum and rooting interest die slow and painful deaths. Forget approximating Will Smith’s magnetism; these dullards don’t approach the charisma of those Will Smith paintings.
Our lead is Liam Hemsworth, and how this young man hasn’t yet found himself starring in a Nicholas Sparks weepie I’ll never know. [July 1 author's note: Through a completely unrelated Web-search, I realized that Hemsworth actually did star in a Nicholas Sparks weepie: 2010's The Last Song, opposite Miley Cyrus. Apologies for the error and for my forgetfulness ... though that might say something about just how memorable both Hemsworth and the Sparks film were.] Chiseled, cocky, flirtatious, and several leagues away from being at all interesting, Thor’s little brother plays the requisite daredevil-hotshot pilot sublimating the requisite Painful Memories, and is granted his very own Top Gun arsenal of support: a Goose-like bromantic partner (the blah Travis Tope), a Charlie-esque girlfriend (the blah-er Maika Monroe), and an empathetic-Iceman rival (the blah-est Jessie T. Usher). Add to this underwhelming quartet the eye-candy starlet Angelababy, employed as Hollywood’s now-mandatory nod to the Chinese market, and the unfunny nattering of Nicolas Wright, who’s like Goldblum if he were 35 years younger and less gifted, and you have a millennial ensemble bland enough to bring out the cranky “Get off my lawn!” codger in all of us. (These performers are dreary even when firing artillery while shrieking “AA-A-A-A-AH!!!”, which happens with almost satiric regularity.) Whether you’re staring at the movie’s busy yet awe-less effects or just wincing at its formulaic, deadening blend of portentous hysteria and baggy-pants “comedy,” Independence Day: Resurgence is a drag, and one made all the worse for being populated by so many empty vessels. Emmerich’s latest wants you to fear for the planet’s future, but the only fear I felt was for the future of movie stardom.