Independence Day: Resurgence has to be one of the worst films I have ever seen. Its cynicism and contempt for its audience, and even its own characters, is simply breathtaking.
Twenty years have passed since the events of the first Independence Day, when Will Smith saved the the world for the first of many, many times. The world is grateful. The world remembers. And everybody is now preparing for this year’s July 4th celebrations. All except Bill Pullman’s now haggard ex-president who is constantly assaulted by severe migraines and visions of aliens. He thinks there will be another attack. He is proven right on Independence Day AGAIN. Perhaps the aliens could have spent their time more wisely learning about the element of surprise rather than dramatic timing.
Thankfully everyone, including Jeff Goldblum’s returning Doc, Will Smith’s son Dylan (Will Smith wisely turning down an appearance here) and Liam Hemsworth are prepared. Or so they think because even though the aliens’ attack plan sounds exactly – EXACTLY – like the one in the first Independence Day, it isn’t… because it’s bigger. Literally. The alien ship is bigger. And that’s what stumps everyone. So big in fact that Goldblum says, while slowly dying inside, “It’s got its own gravity,” to which his alleged romantic interest, a brilliant psychologist, asks “What does that mean?” as their plane gets dragged towards the alien ship (the movie’s first ‘head in hands’ moment.)
The ship’s incredible size (monsieur!) means we are of course exposed to multiple scenes of mass destruction simply as it docks on the planet. There are gratuitous shots of London getting eviscerated… but it still doesn’t look half as bad as a London out of Europe (Boom. Drops mic. Walks out.)
London’s destruction, in which Tower Bridge gets smashed to bits by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – because you know, gravity – is a good time to take a moment and reflect on the vacuum that is character development in this film.
Hemsworth’s character Jake Morrison is meant to be this renegade pilot whose self-destructing behaviour is fuelled by the fact that his parents were killed in the 1996 event, just after he had a fight with them. You’d think the film would explore this fa… NO TIME!!! Instead, having escaped from the pile of dust that used to be London, where all eight million people have just been killed, Jake leans over to Jeff Goldblum and asks him, smiling, if he wet his pants. Jeff says yes. Jake says he did too.
Sci-fi films like Man of Steel and the X-Men franchise have been criticised for taking a laissez-faire approach to presenting city-wide destructions without then exploring any of the emotional fallout – their protagonists just move on. Independence Day: Resurgence is different. Independence Day: Resurgence destroys cities then has a laugh about it.
Aside from the obvious criticism of this being incredibly gauche, the big downside of such behaviour is that it renders special effects, a sci-fi film’s raison d’etre, useless. What’s the point of having such massive spectacles that are then reduced to nothing more than a character quip? If there are no consequences to mass destructions, especially emotional consequences, then why would we care about them? At least films like Guardians of the Galaxy made the effort of putting characters we care about directly in the line of destruction and thus made us pay attention.
ID4:R’s insouciance contributes to the overall impression that character development is treated with outright contempt. Whiplash was a genuine concern as the film cut away from ‘emotional’ scenes so abruptly, so clumsily, you could almost feel the director impatiently rushing to the next pointless apocalyptic set piece. Very quickly this contempt infects the audience and after about 30 minutes I ended up rooting for the aliens; the very same aliens that murdered me in London five minutes prior.
After protagonists watch their loved ones die, shed a tear and then be seen cracking a joke in the next scene, one can’t help but feel the film has outright contempt for the audience. You come out of the cinema wondering whether you have just watched a 2-hour-long ‘fuck you’. No cliche was left unexploited at least five times. The film takes ‘near misses’ to the next level: that 3,000-mile ship that destroyed all of London? Miraculously stopped just before the White House. The big alien that falls from the sky? Misses a school bus by a millimetre. A fighter jet manages to fly through gates juuuust as they close, but Hemsworth’s plane… also makes it just a few seconds later. Had Jake died we wouldn’t care in the slightest because the film doesn’t care about him. Even poor Liam can’t muster the effort to make the character more layered than a single-ply square of toilet paper.
Even the actual threat posed by the aliens is a cliché. The alien mothership has come to suck the Earth’s core out to sustain itself and further its technology. That’s essentially a rewording of the plot of the first film. They couldn’t even be bothered to come up with a different angle. In the ultimate ‘near miss’, the heroes have one minute to kill the alien Queen and stop her ship from reaching the Earth’s core. Another head in hands moment: even if they succeed in killing the Queen, the alien ship still manages to penetrate the Earth (monsieur!) enough to destroy it. How could anything be remotely okay when the aliens have cracked a huge hole in the planet? It’s like a person stabbing someone in the chest and saying they will be fine because they didn’t actually puncture the heart.
As the film nears its end and I start congratulating myself on making it through without leaving or hurling, it reveals that in fact there will be another sequel and I slump back in my chair and cry. Cry because I know my editor will force me to watch it. Cry because I know some of those poor actors will have a contractual obligation to appear in that film and say lines like, “What goes up, must come down.” And finally, cry because it won’t actually matter that the film is execrable, it will still make enough money to guarantee Independence Day 4: The Prequel and Independence Day: TV show.
To those who love to say, “If you have nothing positive to say, don’t say anything at all,” I tell you to go watch Independence Day: Resurgence and see how you feel afterwards. This is the worst film that I have ever seen and .. oh would you look at that, I have found one positive point… it’s almost certainly impossible for the next one to top that.