We had twenty years to prepare. So did they.
As a rule, I’ve never had a problem with sequels. Sure, when my favorite horror franchises start nearing their double-digit entries I can look askance. But I grew up on the Star Wars trilogy, and if everyone keeps their expectations in check, then sequels are usually a good time. But at least since Scream 2, the haters love to point out that sequels are basically remakes of the first film with more stuff put in. I don’t think that’s usually true, but Independence Day: Resurgence is making me rethink that stance. Though the film’s Blu-ray release is top-notch, nothing else about Resurgence is memorable.
It’s been 20 years since aliens appeared on Earth’s doorstep and tried to destroy all of our famous landmarks. Of course a rag-tag band of Earth’s goofiest heroes “downloaded a virus” onto the “mothership” and saved the day. But the alien tech that was so difficult for Earth to defeat has been harnessed by our scientists, and most of the people of Earth enjoy high-powered weapons and fast travel (including easy trips to the Moon) in 2016. But then another alien vessel with sinister intentions arrives in Earth’s atmosphere and it’s up to another band of rag-tag misfits to save the day. Some of the old gang – former-President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), uber-scientist Dr. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) – are back, and they’re joined by newcomers like ace pilots Jake (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games) and Dylan (Jessi T. Usher, When the Game Stands Tall). Together, they have to match wits with the aliens and their superior technology again.
It’s really difficult to pinpoint exactly where Independence Day: Resurgence goes off the rails. It probably starts with the fact that there’s very little meaningful evolution from the first film. If we’re honest about it (and I tried to be in my review of the 20th anniversary Blu-ray), the original Independence Day is kind of a two-trick pony. It’s got a great cast who can really sell the goofy aspects of the script, and it has then-cutting-edge special effects that put butts in seats to see famous stuff blow up. There weren’t a lot of meaningful questions left answered or anything. So Resurgence has the unenviable task of having to go back to the well. In their defense, the filmmakers try to up the stakes a bit, giving us poor Earthlings repurposed alien tech, but that requires that the aliens have even more advanced tech and we’re back to square one. There’s also a late second act revelation that I don’t want to spoil, but at least shows the filmmakers trying. It doesn’t help much, but they tried to deliver all the beats of the first film with just enough twist so we maybe wouldn’t notice.
Part of the problem is that it’s been 20 years since the last film, and frankly we’ve moved on and had several cycles of blockbuster films since the original. One of the hallmarks of blockbuster cinema is that it can easily sketch out characters we can root for. Then we can get to the business of plot and special effects. Think of Luke Skywalker, who’s basically “whiny farmboy with dreams bigger than his backwater town.” That takes two minutes of screen time and boom, we’re off to fight the Empire. Independence Day masterfully introduces us to a whole group of disparate characters and manages to weave their stories together seamlessly, even if things get a bit too coincidental and hokey. But we know Will Smith’s Captain Hiller when we see the uniform and hear him tell Harry Connick Jr. he’s going to propose to his lady who’s an exotic dancer. Like the plot, Resurgence decides to recycle characters too. In place of Hiller we’ve got Hiller Jr. in the form of his son. He’s emblematic of the half of the cast who are meant to be hip. But Hiller is a paper-thin character, and Jessi Usher doesn’t have the raw charisma of Will Smith to pull it off. The same goes for the rest of the younger cast – they’re fine actors, but the film is so stuffed with plot that their characters are paper-thin and they don’t have the oomph to make it work. The returning cast is fine, but they’re pretty much all damaged, and that becomes a shorthand for all these characters that might be good to explore, but the film is too busy blowing stuff up to make it anything other than a hook for the next plot point.
Don’t get me wrong, the actors are generally fine. Pullman and Goldblum are dependable, and Brent Spiner returns to run around in a hospital gown with his ass hanging out. Judd Hirsch is great as the doting father, and Vivica A. Fox seems proud of her fictional son. Many of the newcomers are fine too. I love Charlotte Gainsbourg as a researcher, Sela Ward makes a great president, and William Fichtner is well-cast as the general in charge of Earth’s defense. But that means the cast is almost twice as big as the first film, and Resurgence is 20 minutes shorter than the original.
One way in which Resurgence undeniably trumps its predecessor, however, is in the realm of visual effects. Though the original has aged surprisingly well, it’s pretty obvious that digital compositing was still in its comparative infancy. Not so with Resurgence. The film’s spectacle is cutting edge and state-of-the-art (and 3D in this release). The scenes set on the Moon look authentic, and when an alien ship crashes into the ocean and sends a tidal wave, the impending doom is utterly convincing. The aliens get to move around this time as well. If all you care about is stuff blowing up, then Resurgence delivers the goods.
The film’s Blu-ray release also delivers on the promise of those visuals. The 2.39:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer of the 2D version (which gets its own disc) is generally strong. The film’s digital source is well-represented, with impressive detail throughout. The film’s color grading means that sharpness takes a dip now and again, but that seems intentional rather than a problem with this transfer. The prevalence of darkness and ubiquitous effects shots means this film was never going to look the richest, but what’s here is pretty great. These comments also apply to the film’s 3D presentation. The darkness of much of the film works against the 3D effects, not making it worth the effort. The film’s DTS-HD 7.1 track is even more impressive. We get a totally immersive sonic environment, with power in the low end and clarity in the high end. Dialogue is clean and well-prioritized, so there’s no fiddling with the remote like with many blockbusters.
Extras start with a 55 minute making-of featurette that does a credible job covering the film’s production and effects. Plenty of other production info is dished out in Roland Emmerich’s commentary. It would have been nice to have him sit with some others, but this track is informative. We also some amusing recaps of the previous film, including a couple of fake TV news shows that offer footage of the first film. Deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Emmerich) and a gag reel let us see a few more bits of the film. The film’s effects are treated in a series of concept art clips. The film’s trailer is included, as is an Ultraviolet Digital Copy.
In a perfect world, Roland Emmerich would have simply gone back to the original Independence Day and re-done the effects shots to modern standards. Instead, we get Resurgence, which looks more impressive than its predecessor, but lacks that film’s wit, soul, and emotional core. If you’re looking for popcorn spectacle it’s a fine rental, but not even a good Blu-ray can make this one easy to recommend.