Independence Day: Resurgence is a chip off the alien block

 

independence_day_resurgence

Nutshell: Second verse, same as the first: ID4R dusts off the same comfortable chestnuts that made its predecessor so popular.  And while ID4R doesn’t seem to suffer from the same tech hiccups – the aliens don’t seem to be Mac compatible – it does suffer from an emptiness of feeling.  Try as the game, up-for-it cast might, this is one resurgence that lacks surge.  Grade: B-

I’ll keep this short and sweet. Why?  Because I’m writing this on a Friday, rather than my usual post-screen wrap-up during the week.  Why am I writing on a Friday, you ask?  Because this film wasn’t screened for press here in B’more.  Typically, that means one of two things; either the studio figures it’s got a sure-fire hit on its hands, and ditches screenings for all but the real critics, or has decided to jettison any attempts at publicity because they realized they’ve got a turkey on their hands.  With Independence Day: Resurgence, it’s not really strong on the former or the latter.  It’s simply a case of having too little substance to back up the whole lotta style this film serves up. 

I won’t spoil the plot, but the story is almost exactly the same; aliens coming to earth to take us down.  But with the sequel of course it’s MOAR ALIENS and a faster “they’re here” arrival time.  Viewers get lots of aliens on the ground, and lots of stuff getting blown up, sucked into a vortex, crushed, and otherwise pulverized.  And there’s definitely a tip of the hat to the international market, with the always adorable Angelababy (Angela Yeung Wing) as a fighter pilot who battles the armored alien anorexics alongside Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher (subbing in wonderfully as Dylan Hiller, the son of Will Smith’s character from ID4) and a score of other redshirts fliers.  And it’s cool to see worldwide Everyman Viewpoints that include Middle Eastern nomads alongside the usual all-white, all the time reaction shots.  But I think my favorite bit of inclusivity is African warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei, Game of Thrones), the only guy who seems to know how to take those outer-space suckers down.

ID4R flirts with deeper themes, like the tendency for humans to shoot first and ask questions later, and the bonds of family and friendship.  But there’s not much time to really dig into them with the non-stop actionfest on display.  It’s sad when I hold up the original as a better way to showcase the ability to form bonds with characters even in the most action-packed film.  Don’t get me wrong, I love ID4.  It’s my guilty pleasure.  But to paraphrase a character in ID4R, they had 20 years to get better at telling this story.  And they dropped the ball.  Instead, they seemed too interested in bringing back characters from the original, even if they have to be shuttled off to babysitting duty.  I’m not kidding.  And it all feels like empty pandering to fans of the first film.  Which I’m absolutely sure it is.  Pity, as Hemsworth is excellent here, looking more comfortable in his character’s skin that he ever was in the Hunger Games franchise.  This is an actor I’d like to see more of.  But we get Pullman, Goldblum and Hirsch, mugging for the camera.  All well and good, but I couldn’t help but think that every time a plot point got extremely short shrift, it’s because director Roland Emmerich and his gaggle of 11 screenwriters decided to stick with what worked before rather than letting a new story tell itself.

Still, with all that?  If you’re looking for something to do besides hit the 95 gridlock on the 4th of July weekend, hitting a movie theater filled with folks overflowing with patriotism while bad guys aliens get gunned down blown up feels like a modern day B-reel western.  And like those Saturday morning westerns, ID4R is just as much fun, and just as disposable.

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