It will not surprise you to learn that Independence Day: Resurgence is full of things blowing up real good. Nor that it consciously ups the ante on every set-piece from before, and cribs liberally from every genre movie that director Roland Emmerich has watched in the past 20 years. Nor, indeed, that the dialogue is terribly dumb, made up of either cliches or characters explicitly telling us who they are and what they do. And the science—well, it’s just willfully ignored. “Alien technology” is basically just a hand wave here that allows anyone to do anything, physics or anything else notwithstanding. And for most other movies, these would be major strikes against it.
But this is an Independence Day sequel. And if you’re any kind of follower of Emmerich’s filmography, it’s exactly the sort of thing you want.
It may seem hard to believe now, but there was a time when Emmerich and his screenwriting/producing partner Dean Devlin were known for being relatively thrifty. In an era when Jurassic Park was just beginning to tap the potential of then-expensive CGI, Emmerich often used miniatures and animatronics to save some bucks, and padded out his big sci-fi movies with long stretches of talking between money shots. It’s why his Godzilla, for example, had so many scenes without Godzilla. And it was hard to enjoy them as pure dumb fun, when the fact was that nobody could manage to care about the relationship between Matthew Broderick and Maria Pitillo.
But since embracing CG wholeheartedly, Emmerich has truly unleashed his inner Beavis and Butt-Head. 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow are, for my money, his masterpieces—utterly preposterous at every turn, yet very much in a “Heh heh… cool” kind of a way. And now you can add Resurgence to the list, even if the 3-D is a (passable) post-conversion. It’s non-stop stoopid and amazing. Though you should know this review is coming from a guy who thinks that the best thing about the first movie is that it makes Mars Attacks! even funnier.
In an utterly unironic take on Adrian Veidt’s master-plan from Watchmen, the alien invasion of 1996 has indeed brought about world peace in this sequel’s reality, despite the fact that it has also given us huge laser weapons, flying cars, and jet fighters that can just go into space now… because (magic) science. Ronald Reagan’s dream of a space defense array right out of Star Wars is a reality; we have a moonbase that looks like someone reconstructed the sets from Alien using white Lego blocks. There, Liam Hemsworth lounges around looking sexy in a tanktop and making reckless decisions that earn him the scorn of his superiors. He’s such a loose cannon, this pilot. A maverick, if you will.
He’s also conveniently engaged to the daughter (Maika Monroe) of former president Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who’s now a crazy old man relegated to scribbling weird drawings based on his lasting mental connection to the aliens, and suffering massive headaches every time the extraterrestrials start sending out signals again. Here’s where the new plot comes in.
A distress beacon, it seems, has been launched by the one ship that actually landed the last time, deep in African warlord territory. Sent to investigate, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) possibly makes things worse, and before long an even bigger mothership is on the way, carrying—you’ll be shocked by this, I’m sure—an alien queen. In an added wrinkle, a ship sent by completely different aliens also shows up, only to be shot out of the sky by the trigger-happy president of the United States (Hillary Clint…er, I mean Sela Ward).
Also along for the fight this time is Charlotte Gainsbourg, of all people, taking a break from playing Lars von Trier’s perpetual victim to be Jeff Goldblum’s new “old flame” (Margaret Colin’s Constance, from the last film, has been completely memory-holed). Deobia Oparei plays a badass warlord who has learned how to kill the aliens using just a pair of machetes, and for odd-couple contrast, he’s paired up with a nebbishy accountant (Nicolas Wright). On the military side, William Fichtner is a high-ranking general, Jessie T. Usher is Will Smith’s (less interesting) fighter pilot kid, Travis Tope serves as Hemsworth’s horny dork of sidekick, and a Chinese model whose real-life name is Angelababy is presumably here to help sell the movie in China, since she has absolutely nothing to do in our cut of the film.
Most interestingly, Brent Spiner’s Dr. Okun returns—he was in a coma, you see, and not really dead—newly awake and newly revealed to have been in a longtime romantic relationship with his Independence Day colleague Dr. Isaacs (John Storey). This news is, of course, followed by a scene that shows us the former Mr. Data’s bare butt, and Emmerich’s sense of humor and (un)subtlety being what it is, the moment is followed up by at least two reminders in the dialogue that we’ve just seen Brent Spiner’s butt. Heh heh. Butt.
Then there’s Levinson’s dad, again played by Judd Hirsch, whose only plot purpose is to meet up with some pointlessly bland kids for some supposed comic relief. ID:R is much funnier, however, when it’s trying to be serious; I await the inevitable YouTube loop of Jeff Goldblum’s yells of fear all spliced together.
The most important thing to know is that Emmerich is a much better action choreographer than he was back in 1996; this time, all the aerial battles between aliens and space planes are coherent. If you get hung up on the notion that he neglects to even mention why there’s gravity in space, this won’t be the movie for you; you have to accept that part before we even get to the tug vehicle that walks like ED-209 on Earth and then flies like 2001‘s pod out of the atmosphere and to the moon. Because it’s really kind of lame to say “just turn off your brain and enjoy it” about any movie, I offer instead the following: Engage your brain and let it realize this is all pretty silly stuff, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And if they get to make the threequel that’s teased at the end, THAT one will be absolutely bonkers. The Rifftrax version should be good too.
Because I don’t necessarily believe Emmerich intends this stuff to be quite as goofy as it ends up being, I can’t bring myself to go higher than 3.5 burritos (a 4, for me, would imply the movie achieves its intended goals). But they’re the really fun kind of burritos. And that’s still a recommendation.
Images: 20th Century Fox
Luke Y. Thompson is Nerdist’s weekend editor and can be found on Twitter making “heh heh” sounds regularly.