Independence Day a graceless pile of space rubble

Originally written for scenome.com

The main argument used against any critic who doesn’t like big, explosive, mind-numbing orgies of chaos and destruction is “Well, it’s not supposed to be smart! It’s supposed to be dumb and mindless.” That is hard for me to disagree with. Movies are supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to provide an escape from the struggles of life, like grocery shopping, work, and political news. But just because they don’t have to be smart, doesn’t mean they have to be stupid either. They don’t have to be obnoxiously loud, vapid, emotionless, cloying, illogical, or flat-out heartless. I go to the movies to be entertained, not to fear for the future of humanity.

And that, right there, is the biggest problem with that latest addition to the Destroy-the-Human-Race-Beyond-Measure series, Independence Day: Resurgence. It’s not just that the movie is beyond stupid, it’s that it embraces and furthers the desensitization of modern audiences by exacting complete, immeasurable destruction while showing zero reaction to it. Continents and countries are obliterated, and no one gives a shit.

This blatantly unnecessary sequel takes place 20 years after to the 1996 smash-hit (well, at least they got the timeline right). Humanity has learned to come together in harmony after the massive alien invasion that could only be stopped by the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. But he was smart enough to stay away from this mess, so the world has determined that the only way to fight big guns is with their own big guns (America!). The moon has been turned into a military base with large satellite guns that blast cool green lasers, the Earth is surrounded by satellites with cool green lasers, and the army has big, new assault rifles that shoot cool green lasers, mostly because they couldn’t make smaller satellites to give them.

Notice how throughout this I never mentioned a global defense shield, or an advanced extraction plan to get people away very quickly in case the alien evildoers come back. That’s because that legislation clearly took a back seat to “Guns! Big guns! And big spaceships! Yeah, big guns and big spaceships!” If Bernie Sanders were running for president in the movie his platform would be “free college, free medicine, and a global defense shield capable of deflecting long-range extraterrestrial missiles.”

And when the aliens do actually come back, everyone was probably regretting not listening to that crazy old man when they had the chance. The aliens, with a ship the size of the Eastern hemisphere, make easy work of our new weapons by casually blowing them up with their better weapons before ours even turn on. Once that happens, the world leaders throw their hands up in the air, saying, “Now what? The guns are gone! Why are guns always gone!” This allows the aliens to enter Earth freely, landing their ship on, well, all of China, Japan, Russia, Europe, etc. We see China obliterated, London evaporated and Paris annihilated (The Eiffel Tower is illogically spared, as it was clearly made of adamantium). This movie has, without a doubt, one of the highest death tolls in cinema history. And in the next scene, Liam Hemsworth and Jeff Goldblum are making jokes about how they pissed their pants. Har, har, har! The world is ending, you dumb trucks! Give a shit!

But no one does. No one cares that half the world’s population has just been eliminated. Maybe someone important would care if they said this sent Wall Street into a panic. I personally couldn’t get the horrific images out of my head while Brent Spiner’s character was scratching his bare ass, for what I imagine was comedic effect. Does this make me better than the seemingly emotionless characters onscreen? I surely wouldn’t think that, so instead I’m going to say that: Yes, yes it does make me a better person.

In fact, there are very few likable characters navigating this alien conflict. There are the new heroes, mostly hot guys and girls with names like Jake (Hemsworth), Dylan (Jessie Usher), and Patricia (Maika Monroe) wearing cool, sexily unzipped military jackets to show their shirts with collars so low you can see the tops of their sweating chests. Jake is loud and “funny”, and Dylan relishes the fame of being the son of Will Smith’s character and the associated perks (like a high-ranking position in the military), but only briefly seems to struggle with the expectations of it all. I could care less about these tools saving the world. Couldn’t they have been in London on vacation?

I would have rather had a movie with just the returning characters, like David Levinson (Goldblum), Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) and Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch). These seasoned vets steal the show from the younger characters. David is a better hero than Jake or Dylan; Julius is better comic relief than Floyd Rosenberg (Nicolas Wright), a screaming imbecile whose only purpose is to be a screaming imbecile; and Dr. Catherine Marceaux is a far more interesting heroine than Patricia. These guys do everything so much better than their younger co-stars, and yet they have to share screen time with them despite the latter group being so useless beyond hooting like idiots and shooting everything in sight. And in the end, who do you think are touted as heroes: the scientists or the hot military people?

Your guess is probably the correct one, because this isn’t a movie that honors logic or thought. Director Roland Emmerich and the litany of writers (about five or six of them) put their stock in the sort of destruction the former always focuses on. There’s destruction, it’s resolved in ways junior high students watching the movie could’ve thought of before the characters did, guns are fired, and then the day is saved after the aliens, when witnessing the defeat of their queen, flee like Monty Python characters from a killer bunny. If this movie doesn’t seem special, it’s because it doesn’t give itself a reason to be. We saw this same movie come out 20 years ago, except that this time the visual effects are better.

In the process, character arcs (like a forgettable shot at a love story) are abandoned, characters I forgot about reappeared out of thin air, and when one of the many, many characters have nothing to contribute they are shown simply shooting at stuff. If there’s one thing that makes you valuable in this country, it’s having a gun in your hand, right?

Ignore the general “bad movie crimes” this movie commits on a minute-by-minute basis, because there is something much bigger about the awfulness of the movie. Though one group of characters is undoubtedly more interesting than the other, they all suffer from the same flaw given to them by inept writers and a director stuck in the past: lack of empathy. During the movie’s 2-hour runtime cities are obliterated and people are killed or displaced, but no one cares. Not a tear is shed or a moment of unbelievable awe experienced by any character. Why do none of these characters care about the chaos happening in nations they’ve supposedly grown closer to? Is it an excuse so that only America can be seen saving the day? It sure seems that way. I just hoped that in the end there would be a eulogy, a moment of silence after the chaos has subsided. But no, what do the filmmakers go with? “Hey guys, there’s stuff going on near other planets! Wanna go kick alien butt? Yeah!” End credits. Setting up the sequel is more important than showing even the slightest bit of emotion. Welcome to the future.

Grade: D+

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