Saturday, June 25, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

2.5/4

Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe, William Fitchner, Nicolas Wright, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Destruction, and for Some Language

"Independence Day" was a surprise hit, becoming the highest grossing movie and, for a while, the #2 all-time box office champ.  It also catapulted Will Smith into the Hollywood stratosphere, establishing that black men could headline movies (although Hollywood still doesn't get it, despite the fact that audiences want it).  The two men behind the project, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, were paid to create sequels, but returned the money when they couldn't find a good story.  Although "Independence Day: Resurgence" is not a bad movie, I think they should have waited a bit longer to make it.

In the 20 years since the War of '96, Earth, realizing the potential if they set aside petty differences for a common goal, is at peace.  They have adapted alien technology for their own use, and are now much more sophisticated.  They've also been preparing for the unthinkable: the return of the aliens.  A huge orb has warped in by the moon. Believing it might be the aliens, the humans on the moon station shoot it down.  But just as they're celebrating, the real alien ship comes.  It's so huge that it nearly straddles the entire globe.  And it begins drilling.  Apparently, these aliens suck out planet cores for sustenance, and we're next.  The only way to stop them is to kill the harvest queen, who is heavily protected at the top of the ship.

The first mistake was not getting Will Smith to return.  Reportedly, Mr. July wanted a $50 million salary for the two films, but the studio refused.  They should have paid him.  Smith's charisma and star power fill a void that teen idols Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe and others can't fill.  Speaking of teen idols, concentrating on them was the second mistake.  I realize that Emmerich is going for the teen audience, but come on.  They're not interesting and not good actors.  Liam Hemsworth is stiff as a board; at times he appears to be trying to ape Smith's humor and charisma, but fails spectacularly.  Newcomer Jessie T. Usher fades into the background.  Maika Monroe is nice, especially since she drops the disaffected teen schtick that she brought to "The Guest" and "It Follows."  Many of the cast members from the first film return, and all do their jobs.

What's missing from "Independence Day: Resurgence" is a well thought out story.  The first hour is so rushed that the plot contrivances, of which there are a few, stick out.  And that's when it makes sense.  The dialogue is occasionally drowned out by the special effects (a huge pet peeve of mine).  The plot jumps around, following more than a dozen characters who end up meaning nothing to us because they're so sketchily developed.  The original had a large cast, yes, but it took its time to give them personality and back story.  More importantly, it used the time to ratchet up the suspense to unbearable levels before opening the floodgates.  Here, it's so rushed and scattershot that it was hard to care.  Even the payoff is lacking; the initial invasion is so fast that I wasn't sure what had actually happened.  I got the distinct impression that Emmerich had started out with a longer movie but studio executives wanted him to hack off a sizable portion of the running time to squeeze in more screenings.  Then again, bloated summer action movies are all the rage these days, so I dunno.

Regardless, people are going to flock to this movie regardless of what I say.  And how can I blame them?  It's loud, flashy and epic (few people have as big of a scope as Roland Emmerich), and contains some genuine suspense and excitement.  The 3-D is mixed, the images pop but when it's dark it's hard to see anything.

If you want to see it, you won't see me trying to stop you.

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