Half an hour into Roland Emmerich’s un-eagerly anticipated sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, an underling informs a general (William Fichtner) that an alien vessel is about to displace much of the Atlantic Ocean: “Sir, the ship is over 3,000 miles in diameter!” The general is incensed. “How the hell did we miss this?” he snarls. How the hell did we? We’ve barely seen that ship, let alone gotten a sense of its scale. It’s as if someone hacked the effects budget a week before shooting and all the connecting tissue went into the bin.
Say what you will about the 1996 Independence Day (me first: it stunk), its makers had obvious affection for the invasion-from-space genre and seemed genuinely excited to use fledgling computer technology to pulverize the Earth. This hodgepodge has been thrown together in so slovenly a way that it’s no surprise the studio didn’t show it to the press. Does Emmerich even care? Soundly ridiculed for his heartfelt Stonewall, he and his co-writers seem too depressed to put conviction into their trademark soap-opera subplots. So, there aren’t even any good-bad laughs — as in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), when virtually the entire U.S. population has been flash-frozen, but Jake Gyllenhaal is still trying to summon the courage to tell Emmy Rossum that he, you know, likes her.
The romantic lead here is Liam Hemsworth, a piece of deadwood that floated over from The Hunger Games series. The only spark in his scenes comes from Maika Monroe (It Follows) as his fighter-pilot girlfriend who’s also the daughter of haunted ex-president Bill Pullman. (Pullman: You should be with Jake. Monroe: He’s on the moon, remember?) All the main characters lose loved ones except, alas, Jeff Goldblum, whose tiresome dad (Judd Kirsch) is still dodging death beams and giving elderly Jews a bad name. For the record, Jessie T. Usher is the son of dead hero Will Smith (he didn’t need the sequel money) who’s angry with old pal Hemsworth over a lethal mishap I never quite understood, though it seems similar to the one that killed George Zipp in Airplane! Usher gets to hurl the climactic insult at the ugly alien queen who turns out to be the source of all power: “Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”
Among the other casualties is Charlotte Gainsbourg as the researcher who rushes around with the dazzled Goldblum, setting up the scene in which Judd Hirsch exhorts his unmarried son to kiss her. Brent Spiner is the gaga scientist from the first movie who wakes up from a 20-year coma to scratch his butt in semi-close-up and tell the president that he has a plan to send cold-fusion bombs up the ass of the big alien ship. I’ll let you parse the metaphor. (Apropos Spinner: If the mad scientist from Independence Day can get resurrected, why not Data? Can’t Paramount give the TNG crew a last hurrah — on TV, say — before the old crew gets even longer in the tooth? Even that embarrassing mouth-breather Wesley Crusher could be redeemed, given Wil Wheaton’s internet-age fan base!)
Independence Day: Resurgence’s only real outrage is its use of an African strongman (Deobia Oparei*) who has reportedly murdered a ton of his people — but gets a chance to redeem himself by disemboweling select aliens from behind with a pair of machetes. Evidently Emmerich’s rainbow coalition of earthlings has a place on the team for mass murderers. No wonder his Stonewall movie rang so hollow. At heart, he wants to make the world safe for predators.
* This review originally misidentified the actor who plays the warlord. We regret the error.