Reel Geek Girl: Independence Day: Resurgence
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher
20th Century Fox
PG-13 2 hours, 9 minutes: No mid or post credit Easter Eggs.
I had my reservations about Independence Day: Resurgence. Roland Emmerlich went on record with a really racist comment about Stonewall shortly after the Orlando Pulse shooting. Will Smith was not going to be part of the cast. Rumors flew about the movie being essentially a glitzy, SFXed-up ad for the US Army.
But I ended up seeing it in 3D and IMAX. I rarely have concerns about seeing a film in that format other than the price. 3D has improved beyond just a gimmick, for which I’m grateful. And there are some truly beautiful sequences early in the film over the opening credits that do justice to the format, but I don’t think a viewer will suffer terribly seeing it in regular 3D or even in 2D.
It’s been twenty years since the original movie, to the day. Humanity has learned from having to fight for its collective right to live. The little kids who were so carefully protected have all grown up now. President Whitmore’s little girl Patricia (Maika Monroe replacing original actor Mae Whitman), who so poignantly asked “Mommy’s sleeping?” in the first film, is a badass pilot who retired early to look after her decrepit and PTSD-suffering father. Steve Hiller’s son Dylan (Jessie T. Usher also replacing the original actor Ross Bagley) has grown up to be an ace pilot as well. The main character of the movie is, of course, a white guy related to a more famous white guy named Chris. He completes their trio as he’s a fly guy too.
Since humanity banded together to defeat the aliens, July 4th is no longer just Independence Day in the US. It’s Worldwide Independence Day, as the president declared in his speech. As expected for a sequel, the film does a serviceable job hitting the same story beats of the first movie, so much so that if you watched the first film recently, the parallels will be obvious.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for the Independence Day: Resurgence beyond this point. Proceed at your own risk.
The Hero Who Now?
Jake Morrison’s (Liam “Thor’s Baby Brother” Hemsworth) problem is that he’s got Angry Young Man syndrome. His parents, who we never even met in the first film, were among the millions the invaders killed, so he’s got survivor guilt, grief, and rage fueling his every move. And if that weren’t bad enough, he almost killed Dylan Hiller during a training flight. Naturally, Jake is too full of himself to apologize, so the two of them hate each other. Dylan and Jake’s friendship is so broken now that Whitmore’s daughter has to remind him to be nice to Dylan, and Dylan’s mother Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) has to remind him to be nice to Jake.
Jake is also full of self-loathing, evidenced by his willingly stepping up to keep people he considers undeserving out of trouble at his own expense. He’s also got one saving grace; Patricia Whitmore loves him and is going to marry him, even though the stunt that nearly killed Hillman got him demoted to driving space tugboats. Yes, really. He also has a geeky, awkward sidekick, like David Levinson was to Hillman; Jake’s best friend Charlie is even worse, though, as he’s younger by years than the broken trio.
Right after we discover Jake’s hotshot antics got him demoted to flying a space tugboat, the action begins. The aliens are back—or are they? No wait, they are.
Let’s Hear it for Reverse Engineering and Alien Complacency!
In the twenty years since the events of the first film, humanity has not only stopped fighting each other, but banded together to rebuild. Best of all, they’ve worked together to reverse engineer the invaders’ technology and improve Earth technology. Global defense is now a great career path too; the moon base and several places around the world were populated with eager, motivated, and driven young people.
The tagline for the film is “We’ve had twenty years to prepare; so have they,” but for all the aliens were supposed to be nigh-unbeatable, they still left some of the same silly openings in their defenses that allowed humanity to win the first time. They came on strong, but when all was said and done, they still set themselves up to fail. Yay humans for exploiting a weakness the aliens considered beneath their attention, I guess?
Old and New Faces
There are a good number of characters from the first film who return and help flesh out the story enough that it’s not just pew pew guns and ‘splosions: David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is now a bigwig in charge of the planetary defense organization. His father Julius (Judd Hirsch) is a flash-in-the pan has been who had his 15 minutes of fame writing a book about how he gave his son the idea that saved the day in 1996. We see Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) has been only mostly dead since the events of the original attack. He awakens abruptly from the coma as the aliens return, since they’re a telepathic hive mind race and used him as their literal mouthpiece. Former President Whitmore has trauma and mental scarring from having encountered the telepathic hive mind of the aliens as well, but is still just as capable of giving a rousing speech as ever. The shaking, weakness, and trauma get put on the back burner as he decides his planet needs him.
New face Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) also experiences the psychic visions; he has been exposed to the aliens’ telepathy since his childhood because there were survivors of their crashed spacecraft. Exolinguist and best-selling author Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainesbourg) has been cataloguing all the humans afflicted with visions, nightmares, and images due to alien exposure. The movie is a little more globally aware than its predecessor, which allows for greater diversity.
Diversity. How about that?
The movie does surprisingly well with diversity. Emmerlich went the route of “humanity has had to face a threat that endangered the whole planet, so we put aside our petty differences and finally declared ourselves one people, kumbaya.”
There are people of color scattered throughout the main and supporting cast and the extras. The commander of the planetary defense base on the moon is Chinese. One of the UN pilots is Chinese. They are uncle and niece and even speak a little on-screen Chinese. Dylan’s mother is now chief of staff at a prominent DC hospital.
The President of the United States is a woman; one who does not appear to have a First Gentleman. Whitmore’s daughter grew up to be a skilled pilot like her father, stopping only when his health began to fail. There were several women pilots on the mission to take out the mother ship. Catherine has been traveling the world studying the commonalities of all those who have mental connection to the aliens. While they still don’t collectively outnumber white men, the film deserves praise for a more multicoloured vision.
There’s even opposition to toxic masculinity, with a few scenes where men emote! Dylan has to give a rousing speech before flying into battle against the second invasion. He’s in an emotional state at the time, and it’s obvious he’s trying not to cry on international television, not because it’s not manly, but because it would detract from his “Let’s go get ‘em!” message. He parlays his emotions into respect for the losses of others instead.
Dr. Isaacs has been taking care of the comatose Dr. Okun since 1996, going so far as to knit him a scarf. He’s overjoyed when Okun wakens. They’re reunited lovers, with Isaacs fussing over the just-awakened Okun. This is a vast improvement over the homophobic joke between Steve and Jimmy in the first film.
Dikembe is portrayed as educated — his desk is covered in books, not the least of which are Catherine’s linguistics studies, and he is one of only a few humans who has learned fragments of the aliens’ language.
Fractures in the Feature
The dialogue was really, really predictable, to the point where I was speaking lines almost word for word before anyone spoke them in scene; the film also drags a little at the 66% point. I actually glanced at my watch.
The potty humor was worthless. They weren’t cute tension breaker jokes; they were man-centering, eye-rolling wastes of time. Lowest common denominator appeal is a habit Hollywood sorely needs to break.
The sound editing could have been a little better; there were points at which I had to really struggle to hear what people were saying. I hope Interstellar’s intentionally muddied audio hasn’t set a sound trend. I really don’t care that if we were there in person as part of the events that we wouldn’t be able to hear clearly. I paid $16 for this movie, and I want to be able to hear every damn line!
Problematic elements abound despite all the good things I have to say about this movie. They clearly decided that since they couldn’t afford Will Smith, they would backseat his son and put a white guy in the main character seat; one who has no connection to the first film except a throwaway line about why he’s even there.
We got a really awesome update on Jasmine Hiller. After her husband saved the world, she went back to school and became a doctor. Great, right? Only the story fridges her in a heroic sacrifice to give Dylan something to rage about and to spur the mending of fences between Dylan and Jake. This is doubly fridge-y, because she was head of staff at the hospital named for the woman fridged in the previous movie—First Lady Marilyn Whitmore. It also sends the message that sex work should be given up in favor of “real work,” when Jasmine was not embarrassed or ashamed of what she did to keep her child fed and living in a good neighborhood 20 years ago (even if 20 years is an inordinately long time to continue working as a stripper). The film still fails the Bechdel-Wallace test. I’m pretty sure no two women even conversed with each other, let alone whether they discussed a man.
Former President Whitmore appears disabled. His sanity is hanging on by a thread, he’s medicated to keep him from being agitated, and he’s so weak he can barely walk with a cane. Until the action starts. He struggles to the podium on World Independence Day and is able to stand up straight. But by the middle of the second act, he abandons his cane altogether. By the end of the third, he’s shaved off his grey beard and is walking like he’s only 10 years older than he was at the end of the last film. Hello, Roland? Disability doesn’t work that way. Neither does aging.
The fighters in the Congo could go either way. Wow, awesome, the black people are brilliant at fighting aliens and have made the most out of having aliens in their midst; or oh, wow, great, the black people are savage hunters, and that’s why they’re so good at killing.
Catherine Marceaux and David have unresolved sexual tension, but David chooses to express his end of it by ridiculing Catherine’s theories until he actually sees them proven meritorious. Worse, this is a carryover from the first movie. David resents women who consider their career equal in importance to their relationship with him; it’s the same reason his relationship with Constance was estranged at the beginning of Independence Day. Thanks for upholding that “don’t take career women seriously” problem we have in real life. He even gets the girl at the end despite this attitude.
Oh, and remember the gay couple? One dies. Bury your gays trope in action.
2.5 stars. It’s an entertaining enough film beautifully rendered. All props to the digital effects team. The story was engaging except when it wasn’t. It made a solid attempt at a more diverse cast, but gave them less to work with than the first film. It did a good job resonating with the original. It did everything a summer fun blockbuster is supposed to do. But it loses half a star for going lower common denominator with the potty humor. It loses a star for giving us a new star/hero rather than the son of Will Smith’s Steve Hiller. It loses a star for its many problematic elements. It was a good try, Emmerlich, but try harder.