Thursday, June 30, 2016

'Independence Day: Resurgence' review

Whether you love it or hate it, I think that most people would have to concede that Independence Day is not a good movie. Bloated, poorly scripted, occasionally dull, and filled with excess, the 1996 sci-fi flick is a deeply flawed film. And yet, it's a classic. Independence Day paved the way for many blockbusters to come and became one of the most flashy and unique examples of Hollywood filmmaking of all time. Because of that, it will forever be viewed by many people as a shlocky masterpiece. It's also probably director Roland Emmerich's finest achievement. Despite bigger, more expensive blockbusters in recent years (see- The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), the master of disaster never had a movie strike a chord with audiences quite like the Will Smith-starred classic. With that in mind, along with the success of recent "legacy-quels" like Creed, Jurassic World, and The Force Awakens, it's easy to understand why Emmerich is returning to the Independence Day universe.

After a two decade-long wait, Emmerich has finally returned with Resurgence, a futuristic sequel that brings back most of the main players with the notable exception of Will Smith. Trailers for the film promised everything that fans of Independence Day could possibly want- massive-scale destruction, sly one-liners, rampant patriotism. On paper, Resurgence seemed like a gleefully entertaining time at the movies for audiences to just shove popcorn in their mouths and have fun. So how in the hell did things go so terribly, horrifically wrong? Independence Day: Resurgence barely feels like a movie. It's so profoundly empty, constantly searching for a character to latch onto, or a story that is even worth telling. The script is pure garbage, the film is as anti-climatic as humanly possible, and there's no sense of pacing or flow. It may come as a shock, but Resurgence is the worst film of the summer so far. 

Set 20 years after the cataclysmic events of Independence Day, Resurgence reunites us with some of our favorite old friends, while also introducing us to a new generation of characters. After saving the entire world, Dr. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) used the remaining alien technology to create a safer Earth, one that would be adequately prepared in the event of another alien attack. And for those two decades, things were pretty quiet. President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) retreated back to his home, Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) was stuck in a coma (he somehow survived the first movie, I guess), and President Lanford (Sela Ward) takes over. Oh yeah, and we catch up with Vivica A. Fox and Judd Hirsch too. They're in this for some reason.

But as our film begins, the characters who survived the War of 1996 begin to have premonitions of the aliens returning to Earth, and this time, we probably won't be so lucky. It'll be up to a new generation of fighters, led by the fighter pilot trio of Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), and Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher). They used to be close, but after a near-death incident between Jake and Dylan, a great deal of animosity comes into play. Jake (now working on the moon) and Patricia (a White House aide) are now engaged, and are preparing for their life together when suddenly, an alien mothership the size of the Atlantic ocean returns to wreak havoc on Earth. Once again, everyone will have to band together to save humanity and destroy the alien threat.

Warcraft and Independence Day: Resurgence are two movies that have been greeted by critics in a very similar manner. Both are hovering around the 30% mark on Rotten Tomatoes and they have the exact same Metacritic score of 32. And they're movies with similar problems. Pacing, tone, dialogue, characters, etc. Except there's a fundamental difference between how Duncan Jones treats the material and how Emmerich does it. Despite how messy Warcraft is, there's always a propulsive sense of importance to the proceedings. The audience may not always be keenly aware of what exactly is happening, but Jones tells his story with energy and creativity. Resurgence is almost the opposite of that. Everything feels mundane, it moves at a sluggishly erratic pace, and the whole thing just seems to be fighting the basic rules of movies. It's almost like the filmmakers didn't care.

That sense of "Who cares?" runs through every single frame of the film, all the way from the tedious, mind-numbing action scenes to even the most basic of conversations. If aliens invaded Earth, I have a feeling that people would panic just a little bit. You know, even if we'd gone through it before, it would still be a harrowing, frightening event. Resurgence has none of that urgency. The characters greet the return of the aliens with a "Oh? They're back? Okay then," mentality that almost feels inhuman. There's a strange normalcy to the behavior of the characters in Independence Day: Resurgence. They don't feel like people. In fact, they barely even feel like movie characters. Everything is so by-the-numbers, done with such little energy that this movie becomes a slog real quickly.

It'd be easy to blame the actors, who seem to have absolutely zero interest in being in this movie at all, but that would be totally and completely unfair. They don't have characters to work with, and if there's even a sliver of possible development, it's rote and cliched at best. The new characters are given the thinnest of backstories, while working within the most basic archetypal boundaries. Jake Morrison, Patricia Whitmore, and Dylan Hiller are empty shells of characters. Nothing defines them beyond what we're told. We know there's a history between the trio, but we get so little of it. Hemsworth, Monroe, and Usher don't help matters. I won't blame them, but it would be hard to deliver performances that are any more devoid of charisma and charm than the ones that they give in Resurgence.

The other new characters are pointless as well, especially Charlotte Gainsbourg's Catherine, Sela Ward's President Lanford, and William Fichtner's General Adams. Emmerich and the other four screenwriters decided it would be best if we knew absolutely nothing about these new players, which continues to increase the disconnect between the audience and the film. And as for the old characters? The screenplay just ends up being the gift that keeps on giving. Despite the 20 year gap, this film decides that either everything changed or absolutely nothing changed at all for our old friends. And unfortunately, all that does is raise questions in the minds of the viewers. How did Dr. Okun survive the alien attack? Wait, is it actually possible to be in a coma for two decades? What exactly happened to President Whitmore? Hold on, why hasn't David Levinson changed at all?

Ultimately, the most important question is- why do none of these people feel like characters? This question suffocates the film, only to be overshadowed by an ever bigger question- why does this not feel like a movie? For the first question, I'll point to the beyond lackluster screenplay. The second one is a tad bit harder to answer, but I think it goes back to the fact that I still have a very hard time understanding why they made this movie. They had no story to tell, which is demonstrated by the absolutely atrocious pacing, alternating between gigantic scenes of destruction, random alien fights, and tedious dialogue with clunky difficulty. Was this merely a horrendous, two-hour long trailer for the movie that Roland Emmerich really wanted to make? That's a theory that has been floated around in the last few days. Resurgence leaves on a cliff-hanger, promising an intergalactic war. But when you've made a movie so nonsensical, so aggressively stupid, and so profoundly uninteresting, I can't see anyone wanting to return for another adventure.

Independence Day: Resurgence should have been poppy, all-American blockbuster fun. The kind of movie that you desperately crave around this time of year. How they screwed up so monumentally is a question that moviegoers will be asking for a while. It's not a confounding movie, or a misguided attempt- it's just flat-out awful. The story alternates between boring and incomprehensible, the actors are free of any charisma, the characters are robots, and the action is quite possibly some of the worst large-scale destruction in recent cinematic history. Nothing of intrigue happens in this movie. Nothing. I could have watched a blank screen for two hours, and the effect would not have been any different. Watching Independence Day: Resurgence is like staring into the soul of the worst of modern blockbuster filmmaking. And it is a truly terrifying experience.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D-                                               (3/10)

Image Credits: Guardian, Forbes, Coming Soon, Variety Latino, Joblo

1 comment:

  1. "Watching Independence Day: Resurgence is like staring into the soul of the worst of modern blockbuster filmmaking."


    - Zach