In the span of my entire existence to date, when was my last chance to have lived a life in which I wouldn’t have to review Independence Day: Resurgence, the new sequel to the 1996 alien invasion/disaster movie mash-up?
Was it when I chose to leave my home for the movie theater, instead of spending the evening watching TV with my wife? Was it a week ago, when Fox announced it wasn’t screening the film for critics? Was it two years ago, when I convinced my bosses that Vox should review major movie releases?
Was it when I was born?
Independence Day: Resurgence is the worst kind of bad movie: one that seems indifferent about its own existence. Everything about it feels as if it just doesn’t give a shit about the audience watching it or the people who made it or even the fact that it’s unspooling before us. All it cares about is making as much money as possible.
So let’s talk about the six questions I had while watching this movie — and beware: I’m going to spoil this thing, because it’s the only way to explain why it's so bad, and doing so will hopefully destroy any desire you have to see it.
1) How does an alien spaceship drop seemingly all of Asia on London?
Look, Independence Day: Resurgence. I have seen Independence Day. I know this new movie will be about humanity fighting off aliens sooner or later. All you have to do to set that up is say, "Remember those aliens we fought off back in 1996? Well, they’re on their way back!"
But Resurgence spends roughly its first half-hour checking in with the handful of characters from the first film who returned for this installment (namely Bill Pullman as former President Thomas Whitmore and Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson), as well as a bunch of new characters, who are mostly the children of the first film’s heroes. (Will Smith, for example, passed on reprising his character, but Jessie T. Usher is here to play his son, Dylan.)
These scenes are dull and formless. They suggest certain character beats that are either paid off in the most perfunctory manner possible or not at all. (I have no idea what the divide between Dylan and former pal, Jake, played by Liam Hemsworth, is supposed to add to the film.)
Plus, once the aliens show up — presaged by a mysterious, spherical ship that seems to have no hostile intentions (more on that in a bit) — they immediately begin destroying the Earth in ways meant to be awe-inspiring but are instead quite confusing. In trying to vastly one-up the first film’s famous "White House destruction" shot, the movie instead ends up being incoherent.
At one point, the spaceship — 3,000 miles in diameter! — seems to be destroying Beijing, ripping skyscrapers from the ground up into the sky, sucking people along with them.
But then it almost immediately starts dropping those skyscrapers on London? And the last buildings we see fall to Earth are the Petronas Towers from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia?
2) What the hell is going on in this movie?
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie with this big of a budget where it’s as hard to discern basic facts as it is in Independence Day: Resurgence. Frequently, it’s just not clear where scenes are taking place or how the geography of the film is supposed to work, and in a story where the fate of the world is at stake, that’s a big problem.
For example: Julius, David’s father (played by the returning Judd Hirsch), is on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean when the aliens arrive again. His little boat races the gigantic spacecraft — one of the film’s few truly clever visual gags — only to be tossed ashore in some unspecified American city.
There, Julius is found by a group of kids in their family's car, who suddenly enter the movie at random. The next time we see them, the kids and Julius are in the desert somewhere, somehow, as Julius convinces them to head to Area 51 in Nevada. How did any of this happen? Who are these kids (who don’t seem to have names)? How did Julius get from the Atlantic Ocean to a car bound for Nevada? The film’s answer is the little shruggie emoticon guy.
3) Seriously, how many blockbuster movies are this incompetently edited?
At times, Resurgence feels like it was trimmed back from a five-hour miniseries version of itself. Characters will simply arrive on the scene out of nowhere. At one point, Dylan and Jake are stranded on the massive alien spaceship all by themselves, and the next time we cut to them, they’ve gained, like, six other squadmates to help them out. Where did these soldiers come from? Who knows!
Resurgence also fails some of the most basic tasks of good editing. Think, for instance, of a joke you’ve seen a million times: a character saying, "You’ll never catch me doing that," before the camera immediately cuts to a shot of the character doing the very thing they just said they wouldn’t do.
Resurgence has its own version of this — a character saying they won’t get on a spacecraft bound for the moon, only to immediately be put on that spacecraft — but when editor Adam Wolfe cuts from the character saying he won’t go to the character sitting down on the spacecraft, the second shot is framed to highlight a different character entirely, so the impact of the gag is muted.
To be sure, Wolfe might have been forced to go with a non-ideal shot as the best choice of whatever options Emmerich offered to him. But so much of Resurgence feels edited for maximum confusion. (I spent one sequence having no idea two comrades in arms were on the same ship, due to weird editing choices.)
And things get even worse when the film starts cutting between storylines. It will abandon whole plots for long stretches of time. There’s no logical progression to the story, making it very hard to get swept up by any of it.
4) Does a 3,000-mile-long spaceship sitting on the Earth so it looks like the Earth is wearing a hat really not cause fluctuations in our orbit?
I would be willing to overlook this detail if Independence Day: Resurgence was a better movie, but it really feels like the Earth would hurtle into the sun or something.
5) Are the US and China the only two countries with a major presence in this alternate reality?
Ostensibly, Resurgence takes place in a world where the planet’s many countries have banded together in the name of peace, prosperity, and killing aliens. But, really, the only two countries are the US and China.
Okay, yeah, there are quick shots of the leaders of various European nations when the new US president (Sela Ward) confers with a global council about how to handle world matters. London gets destroyed. And one semi-major character is an African warlord, who seems to exist in a far more interesting movie about the world community largely abandoning the people of the African continent to deal with the remnants of the alien horde on their own.
But most of the movie’s major characters and action moments involve either Americans or the Chinese. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that a film about the complicated formation of a new global order would primarily feature characters from the two most important box office markets, right?
There are so many other questions I could ask, like the one I have about how the film is interested in its women, but only insofar as they can help men seem more awesome. (The film is gratifyingly diverse in theory, but tends to use that diversity to prop up the stories of its straight white men.)
However, what I really want to talk about will require major, major spoilers. Like "spoil the ending" spoilers.
6) Does this movie really think we’ll want to see Independence Day 3?
The very last shot of Resurgence is a tease for a third Independence Day movie. It’s so blatant that I could almost feel my fellow audience members sag in frustration. There were audible groans from multiple corners of the theater.
The basic setup is that the spherical spaceship I mentioned earlier turns out to contain a member of a different alien race. Naturally, humanity blasts that spaceship out of the sky, but the new alien doesn’t seem too mad about this. Mostly, she just wants to help us defeat the bad aliens and their queen. (Yes, there’s a Godzilla-sized queen.)
The bad aliens travel the galaxy, erasing civilizations in the name of extracting their planets’ molten cores. (Resurgence doesn’t offer any thoughts on why they can’t just extract the molten cores of uninhabited planets.) The good aliens want to fight back against the bad ones.
And in the film’s last scene, as Earth is saved, the good aliens excitedly offer humanity the chance to lead the rebellion, as 20th Century Fox desperately hopes it can start its own Star Wars franchise to replace the one it lost to Disney.
That’s seriously it — a lazy tease for another film, tacked onto the end of a film that seemed to be an advertisement for making more Independence Day films. The whole thing might as well be delivered with all the brio of a corporate suit saying, "I’m excited for the many brand-extension opportunities this new marketing outreach will offer." Only imagine that line being uttered by a Brent Spiner who’s giving it his all.
I love trashy disaster movies. I love bad alien invasion movies. The original Independence Day is a ton of fun.
Independence Day: Resurgence is none of the above. It’s a snoozing housecat in a sunbeam on a hot summer day, but it thinks it’s a lion. Scratch it behind the ears on your way to do something else, to remind it who’s boss.
Independence Day: Resurgence is playing in theaters throughout the country. Heavy sigh.