Friday, July 8, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Independence Day: Resurgence

I really wanted to get this movie review out on July 4th, but sadly life intruded and it just didn't happen. Pretend you're reading it on the 4th, OK?

Independence Day: Resurgence was written by Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods and James Vanderbilt. It was directed by Roland Emmerich.


Emmerich has spent the majority of his career pumping out modern-day disaster movies, as he and his partner Dean Devlin co-wrote Stargate, Independence Day and Godzilla. Emmerich also wrote The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC and 2012, while Devlin also wrote Universal Soldier


Wright previously wrote a few independent scripts that you've never heard of. Woods is primarily a TV writer, again working on nothing you've likely ever heard of. Vanderbilt wrote Darkness Falls, The Rundown, Zodiac, The Losers, The Amazing Spider-Man and White House Down


Emmerich previously directed Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, 2012 and White House Down.


As a general rule, the more screenwriters there are on a film, the worse the finished product will be. That's definitely the case here. The first film had a very simple "connect the dots" plot that was easy to follow. Unfortunately the many cooks on Independence Day: Resurgence cobbled together a storyline that's muddled and overly complex. The tagline on the poster screams "We Had Twenty Years To Prepare." That may well be, but apparently the screenwriters didn't spend those two decades working on the script.


After the success of the first film in 1996, Fox Studios reportedly paid Dean Devlin a large sum of money to wright a sequel. After several abortive attempts, Devlin returned the money to the studio (!), as he was unsatisfied with his work. Fifteen years later, Devlin once again partnered with Roland Emmerich and at long last they were able to "crack" the story and come up with a script. Perhaps they cracked the story a bit too hard?


The original Independence Day is one of my all-time favorite movies. Yes, it's silly and the science is nonsensical, but there's something about it that just works for me. Anytime I see it playing on TV I stop and watch it. It's like a 1950s sci-fi movie with 1990s production values. 


A big part of the original film's appeal was its huge cast of characters. Most of them are  blatant stereotypes of course, but somehow we end up caring what happens to them. Without these characters, the film is just one long FX reel of buildings blowing up.


It's only natural that the audience would expect an ID4 sequel to feature their favorite characters back on the big screen and find out what they've been up to for the past two decades. 
Unfortunately only seven characters from the original film show up for Independence Day: Resurgence, as we're introduced to a mostly all-new cast. This was a huge misstep on the part of the producers.


I get that the filmmakers wanted this film to "hand off the torch" to a brand new cast, but they're all the blandest characters imaginable. Every second spent with these cyphers was a second we could have been catching up with our old friends. Surely there was some way to balance the old cast with the new.


Particularly conspicuous among the missing cast members is Will Smith, as Captain Steven Hiller. Smith was the breakout star of the first film, and his charisma and easygoing charm are sorely missed from Resurgence (although to be fair, I'm not sure that even his presence could have salvaged this movie).


Fox desperately wanted Smith to return, but balked when he reportedly demanded $50 million to return for two sequels. Smith denies these rumors though, saying he was simply too busy working on Concussion and Suicide Squad, and couldn't fit Resurgence into his busy schedule. So Captain Hiller is absent from the proceedings. Pity. Even worse, his character doesn't even get a heart-wrenching death scene, as he's unceremoniously killed offscreen, before Resurgence even begins! Lame!


The Plot:

It's been twenty years since the "War Of '96," in which humanity defeated a massive alien invasion from the Harvesters (which I guess is what we're calling the ID4 aliens now) that killed three billion people and destroyed most of our landmarks. The Earth is now a virtual paradise, as all the nations of the world live together in peace (!). Science has taken a huge leap forward as well, after we salvaged the technology left behind in the Harvester spaceships, reverse engineered it and and integrated it into our own. 

The planet's protected by the ESD (Earth Space Defense), whose headquarters is in Area 51. The ESD has early warning military bases throughout our solar system, including the Moon, Mars and Rhea (one of Saturn's moons). 


Former President Thomas Whitmore (played by Bill Pullman) is suffering from disturbing dreams and visions, as a result of his contact with the Harvesters in '96. He keeps seeing a circular symbol in these dreams, and fears the aliens are returning. 


Whitmore's daughter Patricia was a fighter pilot before she resigned to care for her father. She's engaged to Jake Morrison (played by Liam Hemsworth), a cocky pilot who's assigned to the Moon. Jake had a falling out with fellow pilot Dylan Dubrow-Hiller after almost killing him during a training mission. Hiller is the adopted son of the late Captain Steven Hiller (played by Will Smith in the first film), the hero of the War of '96. Got all that?


At Area 51, General Adams (played by William Fitchtner) is alarmed when the alien prisoners in the holding cells become agitated and begin "celebrating."


David Levinson (played by Jeff Goldblum) is now the Director of the ESD. He visits Africa, where he meets with warlord Dikembe Umbutu, whose tiny nation lies next to the only Harvester ship that landed back in '96 (Retcon alert). This ship was in the process of drilling a hole into the Earth's crust when the aliens were defeated. Umbutu and his people fought the surviving aliens for years, and are concerned that the dormant ship seems to be "waking up." Umbutu is also seeing visions of the circular alien symbol, just like the ex-President. After examining the Harvester ship, David realizes it sent out a distress call shortly before the aliens were defeated. Uh-oh!


Suddenly a wormhole opens above the moon. A spherical ship exits and hangs silently and ominously above the lunar surface. For some reason David believes the sphere is from a different alien species, and urges President Landford (played by Sela Ward) not to attack it. Landford ignores his advice and orders the sphere shot down. The moon base fires its massive laser cannon at the sphere, knocking it out of the sky. Landford and her team celebrate another victory against the Harvesters.


Against orders, Jake takes a moon shuttle and flies it to Earth, picking up David and his group (including Umbutu). He flies them to the crash site on the moon, where they find a large container in the wreckage of the orb. They grab it and head for Area 51.

Meanwhile, Dr. Brakish Okun (played by Brent Spiner) has been lying in a coma for the past twenty years, despite the fact that he seemingly died in the first film. He suddenly wakes up, no doubt due to all the increased alien activity. Despite the fact that he's been comatose for two decades, he somehow jumps out of bed and can even speak. He begins scribbling alien symbols (including the circular one) on the walls of his hospital room.

In Washington D.C., President Landford hosts a big bash to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the War Of '96. Among the dignitaries present is General Gray (played by Robert Loggia), now old and frail. Ex-President Whitmore, bearded and crazy-looking, staggers to the podium unannounced, and tries to warn everyone that the aliens are coming back before he's whisked away by security.

Just then Whitmore, Dr. Okun and Umbutu all "hear" high-pitched tones in their heads. Yep, the Harvesters are definitely back! And they're not messing around— this time the Harvester ship is a whopping three thousand miles across (!). It destroys the bases on Rhea and the Moon, and then moves toward Earth. The ship is so large that it has its own gravitational field, which lifts entire cities into the air (!!), before unceremoniously plopping them down hundreds of miles away (!!!). 
David and his crew, still in Jake's moon shuttle, miraculously escape from the massive ship's pull and make it to Area 51. 


David's father Julius Levinson (played by Judd Hirsch) is out boating when the massive ship descends. He hightails it across the ocean in a desperate attempt to escape from its landing gear. Jasmine Dubrow (played by Vivica A. Fox) is now an administrator at a local hospital, and tries to evacuate all patients before the building collapses. Dylan just happens to fly by, long enough to see Jasmine perish as the hospital's roof caves in.


The massive ship lands, hugging the surface of our planet. Somehow it doesn't crack the Earth in half or send it spinning out of orbit. Luckily for humanity the White House is spared this time, which is all that matters. The ship then begins drilling down to the core of our planet, which is probably a bad thing.

Whitmore visits Area 51 to talk to a captive Harvester. It grabs him by the throat and makes him tell Patricia and General Adams that "she" is coming. Yep, you guessed it! Despite the fact that no one ever mentioned it in the first film, the Harvesters have a Queen (another retcon!)! Patricia shows the Harvester the circular alien symbol, and it freaks out. Clearly it's terrified of the symbol for some reason. 


Area 51 scans the mothership and sees the gigantic Queen in the middle of the ship. David believes if they can kill it, all the other aliens will up and leave "to search for a new Queen"  (which makes absolutely no sense, but let's just roll with it). President Lanford, operating from her protected bunker in Cheyenne Mountain, authorizes an attack against the ship. Jake, Dylan and a diverse group of pilots fly their fighters into the mothership. The aliens attack Cheyenne Mountain, destroying it and killing everyone inside. General Adams is sworn in as the new President.


Meanwhile, four orphaned teens in Florida find Julius unconscious in his wrecked boat. They revive him, and he tells them to follow him to Area 51, where his son David will know what to do. They find a school bus with even more abandoned kids inside, and Julius drives them from Florida to Nevada.


At Area 51, Dr. Okun uses a powerful laser of his own devising to open the mysterious alien container that the Moonbase shot down. Inside is a large, smooth white sphere, looking not unlike something the Apple Store would sell. It turns out to be the last alien of its kind. Its race was wiped out by the Harvesters, who drained its planet's delicious molten core. The Sphere says it came here to evacuate humanity to a Refugee Planet, filled with resistance fighters from various worlds. Unfortunately we shot it down before it had the chance. People. What a bunch of bastards!


Inside the mothership, the Queen disables the human fighter planes with an EMP pulse. Jake, Dylan, Charlie and Rain Lao (played by Chinese superstar Angelababy) eject before their ships crash. They're surprised to find the massive mothership contains its own environment, including an alien swamp. They stumble across an airfield, steal a couple of alien fighters and fly them out of the ship.


At Area 51, the Sphere is afraid the Harvester Queen will capture it and learn the location of the Refugee Planet, and asks the humans to kill it. David has a better idea— he seals the Sphere in an isolation chamber. He then uses a fusion bomb-laden space tug, beaming a copy of the Sphere's signal, as a decoy to lure the Queen out of her ship. When she attacks it, they'll detonate the fusion weapons and kill her.


Whitmore volunteers to fly the decoy ship, which of course is a suicide mission. The Queen uses her smaller, personal ship to chase after the decoy. Whitmore detonates the decoy tug, sacrificing himself and destroying the Queen's ship. Unfortunately, like all good movie villains, it takes more than a few fusion bombs to keep her down. She crawls from the wreckage, and we see that her biomechanical suit is at least a hundred feet tall (!). 


The Queen rampages around the base as she destroys the attacking fighters. Just then, Julius and his bus full of kids appear in the desert, having apparently made good time from Florida, and the Queen tries to stomp on them. 


Patricia jumps into a fighter and attacks the Queen, disabling its personal shield. Dylan and his squad are then able to take her out before she can access the Sphere. With the Queen dead, the vast mothership stops drilling, takes its ball and goes home, which was damned considerate of it.


The Sphere then asks humanity to lead its Resistance, saying it'll give them advanced weapons and technology to use against the Harvesters. Dr. Okun says it's time to "kick some alien ass," handily setting up a third film.


Thoughts:

• As the film opens, we see one of the Harvester aliens somewhere in the galaxy as it's watching President Whitmore give his rousing "Today, we celebrate our Independence Day" speech from the first movie. Oddly enough, this video of Whitmore seems to be taken from the same camera angle as the one in the movie. Amazing! I don't remember seeing anyone film his speech back in '96. Maybe the alien somehow got ahold of the new blu ray release?

As Whitmore's speech concludes, a distress signal appears on the alien's screen, indicating the Harvesters must have called for help right before they were defeated in '96. The alien responds by sending the Harvester mothership to Earth, like a big brother swooping in to protect his younger sibling from a schoolyard bully.


I'm assuming it took this distress signal twenty years to reach the mothership, and they're using warp speed to high-tail it to Earth in just a couple of days. It seems like a useless gesture though— if the Harvester invasion went bad twenty years ago, showing up now isn't going to do much good. Maybe the Harvester Queen just wants revenge on us humans for wiping out her children?


• What a coincidence that the aliens just happen to attack us again on July 4. They must really hate that date. Maybe they're like dogs, and the fireworks drive them crazy.


• I really liked the worldbuilding in this film, as humanity salvaged the leftover Harvester ships to advance our own tech. Earth now has antigravity ships, laser weapons and bases throughout the solar system. This is exactly what we'd do if all this really happened.


That said, I'm much, much less convinced that the alien invasion would bring about a world peace. We haven't been able to accomplish this in the past fifty thousand years, so I don't see it happening any time soon, even against a common alien threat.


As a result, this utopian vision of Earth makes the film less grounded than the original, as it's obviously taking place on a parallel world.


• In Washington D.C., we see a large monument listing the names of those who died in the War Of '96. The name "Russell Case" is smack dab in the center of the screen, demanding our attention.


Case (played by nutsy cuckoo fugitive Randy Quaid) was the drunken pilot who sacrificed his life to destroy one of the Harvester ships in the first movie.


• In all, only seven actors reprise their roles from the first film: Jeff Goldblum (as David Levinson), Bill Pullman (as President Whitmore), Judd Hirsch (as Julius Levinson), Brent Spiner (as Dr. Okun), Vivica A. Fox (as Jasmine Dubrow-Hiller), Robert Loggia (as General Grey) and 
John Storey (as Dr. Isaacs).


What's that? You don't remember Dr. Isaacs? Sure you do! You remember, he was that… one guy… who did the thing… and said the words…

OK, I've seen ID4 probably fifty times, and even I have no idea who Isaacs is. I vaguely remember seeing him in a few scenes, but I didn't know his character had a name. I'm not even sure he has any lines in the first film! Jesus Christ, of all the characters to bring back...

Sadly Robert Loggia died shortly after filming his cameo scene.


• In the original film, Patricia Whitmore (the President's daughter) was played by eight year old actress Mae Whitman. Sadly, despite the fact that Whitman is still alive, kicking and acting, she wasn't asked back and her role was recast. ID4 fans immediately took to the internet to express their outrage, threatening to boycott the film unless Whitman was immediately reinstated. It's nice to know that people can still become passionate over important issues, like the casting of an actress in a film.


Roland Emmerich claims he approached Whitman about returning, but says she turned him down. She denies this, saying she was never contacted, so who knows what really happened?


In a similar vein, Ross Bagley, who played Dylan Dubrow in the first film, was not asked to reprise his role either. Instead Dylan is now played by Jesse Usher, whoever that is. 


• When the first trailer was released, many fans (including myself) were surprised to see Dr. Okun was alive and well after apparently dying in the first film. I re-watched his "death" scene in Independence Day, and his fate is very vague and open to interpretation. 


In ID4, a Harvester wraps its tentacle around Okun's neck and uses him as a hand puppet. It then tosses him aside, and he falls to the floor like a sack of wet cement. Major Mitchell rushes over to him and checks for a pulse. Mitchell looks up at President Whitmore and the rest of the cast, and the scene ends. Mitchell doesn't shake his head solemnly to indicate Okun's dead, or throw his head back and yell "WHYYYYYYYY" to the heavens. He doesn't even say "Get this man to the operating room, STAT!" In fact his face registers no emotion at all. This vaguely edited scene gave the producers some wiggle-room to bring Okun back.


In a recent interview, actor Brent Spiner said that Mitchell was actually filmed saying "He's dead," but the line was cut in the theatrical version, leaving Okun's fate up in the air.


• Speaking of Dr. Okun, we find out that he's been in a coma ever since he was attacked by the alien. His boyfriend Dr. Isaacs says that Okun's been comatose for 7,300 days, which works out to exactly twenty years (minus leap days). What are the odds!


As the Harvester mothership approaches, Okun suddenly regains consciousness. He jumps up and immediately starts running around and barking out orders, as if he just woke up from a good night's sleep rather than a twenty year coma.

Scientific accuracy has never been important to this franchise, but this is absolutely preposterous. A person who's been in a coma for twenty years wouldn't even be able to move without some extensive physical therapy. And there's no way in hell his voice would work either.


• In the first film, Jasmine Dubrow was an "exotic dancer." Apparently after the War Of '96 she decided to hang up her G-string and become a hospital administrator. I guess it's not completely out of the question, but it does seem a bit unlikely. 

On the other hand, we're told that THREE BILLION people died in the war, so there's probably a serious lack of manpower, and the remaining population has their pick of jobs.

• Where the hell is Constance Spano (played by Margaret Colin), and why isn't she in this film? She was a major character in Independence Day, and her reconciliation with David Levinson was one of the bigger story arcs in the movie. Margaret Colin is still a working actress, and quite attractive for her age, so I have no idea why they didn't include her.

Not only does she not show up in Independence Day: Resurgence, but she isn't even mentioned. Not even a measly cameo appearance! This is a huge slap in the face to fans of the character and the original film.


To make things worse, in Resurgence David gets all flirty with French scientist Catherine Marceaux, who he runs into in Africa. It's even implied they've dated in the past. With no mention of Constance whatsoever, this makes David look like an enormous cheating dick.


They could have easily brought Constance back by making her the new President. I'd have much preferred her as the new Commander-In-Chief over Sela Ward's bland as dishwater President Lanford.


By the way, supposedly there's some ID4 wiki out there that features bios of all the characters. It explains that after the war, Constance Spano became Governor of Nevada and was killed in a car wreck ten years ago. I shouldn't have to do homework to find out what happens to a character, so I'm choosing to ignore it.


Killing original cast members offscreen is a pretty sh*tty thing to do. It also dilutes and taints the happy ending of the first film. It's going to be hard to watch the original again now and feel good about Captain Hiller's victory and Constance's reconciliation with David, knowing they're going to die within ten years.

• Major Mitchell (played by Adam Baldwin) is another main character who's absence is keenly felt here. There's absolutely no reason why he couldn't have been promoted and placed in charge of Area 51, instead of the extremely lifeless General Adams. His character's so shallow and ill-defined I'm surprised his image sticks to the film.

• Judd Hirsch (as Julius Levinson) looks virtually the same here as he did in 1996. I wonder— is Hirsch just remarkably well preserved, or did they apply old age makeup to him back in '96?

• We're told that the Chinese were instrumental in building the Moon Base after the War. Chinese actor Chin Han plays Commander Jiang, leader of the Moon Base. His niece Rain Lao is a fighter pilot, played by Chinese singer/actress Angelababy.


I have a feeling these two were included in the film as an "insurance policy." If the film tanks in America, maybe their presence will guarantee it's a hit in China and generate some more cash.


• Many times in order for a sequel to work, it has to ignore or overwrite everything that came before. So it is with Independence Day: Resurgence. In the first film we were told that the Harvester's entire civilization traveled from planet to planet like locusts, consuming everything before moving on. At no time was it ever implied that there were any other ships or groups of Harvesters out there. 


Suddenly in this film we find out that there are hundreds of Harvester ships combing the galaxy, as well as a massive mothership. This is a massive retcon, to say the least.


There's also an enormous Queen this time, just like in ALIENS! Again, nothing like this was ever implied. Another retcon!

In Independence Day, all the alien ships hovered over major population centers. At no time did any of them ever land. Not so fast! According to Resurgence, one of the Harvester ships actually landed in Africa back in '96, and began using a powerful laser to drill down to the Earth's core. I guess it did so while we weren't looking. Retcon yet again!


• Umbutu tells David that his people fought a ground war with the Harvesters from the landed ship for many years. Later we're told that the Harvester mothership destroyed the human outpost near Saturn as it approached Earth. 


Those both sound like interesting plot developments— much more so than what we actually see in the movie. Note to filmmakers— don't mention events that happen offscreen that sound better than the actual plot.

• In the original film, the Harvester ships were fifteen miles wide. In Resurgence, the mothership is a whopping THREE THOUSAND MILES across! Now that's a big ship! 

In fact it's so big it burns up a huge amount of our atmosphere as it comes in for a landing. And it even has it's own gravity, sucking up cars, people and even buildings as it soars overhead.


The mothership is so colossal, it covers the entire Atlantic Ocean!

Once again, scientific accuracy takes a powder here. I have a feeling if something that mammoth ever landed, it would tear the Earth a new asshole. The massive quakes it would no doubt trigger would do far more damage than a million alien fighter ships could ever hope to do. In fact it would probably throw the Earth out of its orbit around the Sun!

• Fortunately the White House is spared in this film. Emmerich's already destroyed it at least three times in his previous films, so I guess he thought a fourth would be overkill.


• After the Sphere is freed from its container, it gets kind of snippy and says it was only trying to help humanity when we blew it out of the sky.


Sorry we got trigger-happy there, Mr. Sphere, but maybe if you'd have actually communicated with us, instead of hanging silently and ominously over the Moon Base, we wouldn't have shot at you.


• At one point David desperately tries to drive a school bus full of kids away from the gigantic, rampaging Queen. He shoots a glance at his side mirror, and sees her gaining on him. I'm betting that was a Jurassic Park reference. "Must go faster!"


• Once the mothership arrives, the film is pretty much a note-for-note copy of Independence Day. Aliens attack, there's a tension-inducing time limit, the ship needs blown up, someone sacrifices himself to do so, and on and on.


• 
When are alien civilizations going to realize that having a single individual control their entire invasion fleet is a bad idea? Once the Queen's dead, the rest of the invasion fleet drops like flies.


• Fortunately the Harvesters are defeated before the mothership can bore a hole all the way down to the planet's core. 


Hopefully someone will figure out a way to plug up this massive hole in the middle of the Atlantic, before the entire ocean goes down the drain.


Lucky for us the three thousand mile wide ship decided to bugger off after the Queen was killed, instead of sitting on the side of our planet indefinitely, blocking out the sun and disrupting the environment for generations.


• The film ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, as the Sphere promises to help us defeat the Harvesters once and for all. It's going to really suck if Part 3 doesn't get made.


Independence Day: Resurgence turns everything up to eleven, but somehow still can't capture the excitement, goofy fun and heart of the original. The absence of most of the characters from the first film, and the substitution of bland new ones doesn't help either. I give it a C+

6 comments:

  1. Hey. I never saw Resurgence because I know that the original was too good for a sequel. And I like your article because it feels like you agree with that. Kudos to ya! But here is one thing you forgot to mention in your post...If the aliens had a more powerful fleet of ships all along why didn't they just send it the first time?

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  2. Because they had to add a huge retcon in order for the sequel to exist. In the first movie, we were told the mothership contained the entire alien civilization, and they went from planet to planet consuming resources like locusts. Since the mothership was destroyed at the end of the first movie, so was the entire alien civilization.

    That kind of makes it hard to do a sequel. So they had to retcon the first movie and say, "Well, hold on. Maybe that wasn't the entire civilization... maybe there's some more out there."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Don't you agree that the original was too good for a sequel? I am in the process of writing an alternate sequel that preserves the original happy ending.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It definitely didn't need a sequel, as it was a perfectly self contained story. Maybe if instead of retconning the Harvesters, it might have been better if Earth had faced a new race of aliens that were even more powerful.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In my version on FanFiction we meet a new race of aliens. But they are benevolent and help us rebuild.

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  6. First things First, Dr. Okun's Back!! Second, I give ID4R an A+ because of the new Technology that this movie provided, the backstory of the African warlord and the Introduction to the "Android" were my best, especially when Dr. Okun ask the Android the "important Q&A's", then the Android Mapped it out for him(that was movie cinema genius in my part)so what im looking for in the 3rd film is the Resistance, I wonder what type of other species or "humans" like us are out there, are they friendly, do they come in peace? I hope its not a trap, that would really be a let-down :( the only way I can see the Human Race Winning the Big Intergalactic War is hacking in their mainframe with a mal-ware virus with Bluetooth and sending their ship(s) straight into the sun or the blackhole. ........what would be really cool if the 3rd movie did have Will Smith and he was in a coma hidden by the US government and out of nowhere he saves the galaxy, like the old cult-classic HEAVY METAL(and will has this Massive Gold Bezerker Sword! hahaha......but that's a dream. but in all, the fitting of the android was classic.

    ReplyDelete

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