Friday, 30 December 2016

Movie Review: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)



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There are few filmmakers working today that I so thoroughly despise as much as Roland Emmerich. The jester pretending to be the king of the modern disaster film, his understanding of science and history is matched only by his ability behind the camera; i.e. he fails at all of them. Ever since the late 90’s, the man has maintained a steady reputation for absolute garbage, latching onto conspiracy theories (or, in the case of The Day After Tomorrow, what the popular consciousness has warped into a conspiracy theory despite the reality of things) to create stories about that honestly feel like an alien’s attempt to understand humanity, relating to the common man only through the broadest and laughable of stereotypes. People give Michael Bay crap for making money out of dumbing down his own audience, but Emmerich is far guiltier of the same sins while not getting nearly as much widespread loathing. His 1996 work Independence Day, the first real taste the world got of how he thinks the world works, is held in relatively high regard but, quite frankly, I don’t see it. I’d say that I welcome the chance to proven wrong in thinking that this sequel is going to suck, but let’s be honest: There’s no chance of that happening. This is Independence Day: Resurgence.


The plot: 20 years after the aliens first attacked Earth, a series of warning signs have gone off that indicate that they might be returning to finish humanity off once and for all. Director Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) reunites with the people who helped him save the world two decades earlier and they prepare for the oncoming attack… although it seems that this larger-scale assault may prove too much for humanity’s forces this time around.

True to Emmerich’s filmmaking mannerisms, he has once again gone with a cast of thousands in a typical shotgun attempt to get the audience to connect with the film through any means possible. Now, as much as I really take umbrage with the original, it at least had real star power in front of the camera. Even I got a kick of Will Smith’s charismatic performance, not to mention him punching an alien square in the face before lighting a cigar in true action hero fashion. Nothing of the sort to be found here as, both out of aging and general disinterest to be involved with this crap again, we instead the children of the characters we knew as our leads. Aside from Goldblum and a very tired-looking Bill Pullman, we get Maika Monroe as Pullman’s daughter and Jessie Usher as Will Smith’s son, with Smith being explained away as having died between films. Even with the presence of big-name actors like Liam Hemsworth, this has nowhere close to the same pull as the first film did. The closest it gets is Brent Spiner returning as Dr. Okun, who may have gotten a PC-friendly character upgrade that seems to exist solely to appeal to modern political hot buttons, but he still gives the film the closest thing to pathos and fist-pumping excitement when it takes up arms against the aliens. He’s pretty much the only thing about this film that shows definite improvement over the original.

In contrast with the incredibly hideous cultural stereotyping that Emmerich made his mark in Hollywood with, this actually starts out on an interesting note. Since the events of the first film, Earth has not only united together but also reverse-engineered the technology they got from the aliens into weapons and equipment that has helped them colonize the Moon as well as Saturn’s moon Rhea. Unfortunately, while the cultural landscape appears to be on a better level than before (aside from some African tribal stereotypes and a ship full of money-grubbing Europeans), the narrative stereotypes are still rampant. Name any clich├ęd character or character component, from love-at-first-sight to the roguish fighter pilot to the presidential figure cast just to get brownie points at the time of release (which, given who is the president now, makes this a little awkward), and you’ll probably find it here. I’m chalking the initial competency up to James Vanderbilt’s original script, before Emmerich and his cronies got their hands on it.

Emmerich’s perceived talent for disaster films, far more so than his inability to write even tangentially realistic characters, is out of his sense of scope and ‘child playing with his toys’ approach to set pieces; if it looks cool, it is cool. With that in mind, the action here is about on par with the Emmerich pedigree with a lot of damage done to the world. It’s basically 2012 with roughly the same adherence to the laws of science, that is to say completely ignoring them, and I can imagine this film being rather impressive to see on the big screen. The effects work likewise is pretty good when it comes to the environmental elements and dogfights… but not so much with the aliens. Yeah, it’s pretty much the old “Practical > CGI” argument again but the fact remains that these aliens just don’t have the impact of the original. Then again, considering this film goes out of its way to make the obvious Aliens comparison even more obvious, they don’t have much impact textually either.

Roland Emmerich has never been good with feature-length narratives, especially with his disaster movies. By stuffing his films full of half-baked characters and far more focus put on the destruction itself rather than the characters that it is affecting, they end up feeling like explosive action scenes intercut with faux-dramatic holding patterns. And wow, no other disaster film he’s done yet has gotten that across like what we have here. As much as his sense of character is just awful, even in the original, there were still moments dedicated to establishing them; here, it’s just blazing through who these characters are (sometimes just making them related to characters we already know just to make their jobs easier) and wasting no time in getting to the carnage. Not only that, we keep getting new attempts to artificially raise the tension from the drilling into the Earth to the emergence of the queen to the MacGuffin sphere that needs to be protected to the general destruction of what rests on the planet’s surface; do we really need all this plot for what is essentially just a video game without the controls?

All in all, this is weaksauce to the extreme. Lacking even the charismatic performances of the original, the near-endless string of CGI-sploitation action beats and embarrassingly shallow characters results in a film where even the glorious carnage isn’t enjoyable because the film doesn’t give the audience a single reason to care about anything that we’re seeing. It doesn’t even have the surface-level interest sparking thanks to ridiculous conspiracy theories, as this treats the existence of Area 51 as relatively normal; fair enough, it fits in with the narrative, but when an Emmerich film can’t even get that across, you know you’re in trouble. It’s worse than Nerve, as failing to understand Internet culture pales in comparison to failing to understand any culture, which this film certainly does. However, for as drawn-out as this is, its characters just fell within the realms of bland; Spin Out, on the other hand, seemed determined to annoy the audience to death through its even more egregious use of stereotypes.

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