Today may be Halloween, but for a lot of us, the holiday is already over. Today is just October 31, the day we pay bills and dread the final week of this nightmarish election. That’s because everyone already had a chance for fun last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They showed off topical costumes, got drunk on weird seasonal mixed drinks, got hung over, got over it, and finally got ready for work again. And now they’re in the office, and Becky from HR is wearing cat face paint and wants everyone in the conference room for orange cupcakes. Ugh, damnit Becky, don’t you understand people just want to work? To move on? Trying to recapture the magic of last weekend in this shitty corporate reality? It just will never work. It’s too late. Just because that Jurassic Park party was an incredible success doesn’t make this OK.
Independence Day: Resurgence is a sequel to the landmark, beloved-but-overrated 1996 film Independence Day. That means the gap between the original and this movie is 20 years, even longer than the time between Joe Dirt movies. Like a lot of delayed sequels, it tries recreate the magic of the first by basically being a remake but with the returning characters there to say “here we go again” from time to time. It’s not the movie I hate the most this year, but it is maybe the worst I’ve seen.
Other, smarter people have written about the first Independence Day and it’s impact on Hollywood, and honestly I’m not trying to revisit that right now. But in my memory, the strength of that movie is that it covers the epic scope of genocidal aliens coming to earth from all the right perspectives: the scientists who try to warn us, the soldiers who defend us, the politicians who lead us, and some innocent civilians (mostly family members of the other groups) just trying to survive. It set the template for Roland Emmerich’s subsequent films, and after 20 years, this feels really cookie-cutter. In fact, Independence Day: Resurgence‘s structure is so disjointed, it might be worth trying to recap from each major character’s point of view.
Liam Hemsworth plays Jake Morrison, an ace pilot of the ESD who has a problem with authority… So cool. I don’t know what ESD stands for and the movie doesn’t tell you. We meet him as he flies a spaceship that has arms (like Outlaw Star!) to help set up a big thing on the moon. It’s going good, but his nerdy co-pilot is so busy bragging about being space valedictorian that he accidentally does something and then the thing’s going to fall over! All the other space ships fly away, but Jake Morrison is brave and reckless, so he flies his ship under the thing to pick it up, saving the lunar base it was about to fall on. He’s really happy, but his commander isn’t, so Jake Morrison is grounded, to which he makes a shitty joke.
Later, Jake Morrison is working on fixing his ship with a wrench, because even alien technology still needs to be screwed in every once in a while, while his nerd friend is totally distracted by a group of pilot who just landed. One of them is the son of Will Smith’s character from the first movie, who Jake Morrison walks up to and gets punched out by. Then Jake Morrison makes a big Skype video call in a space phone booth to talk to his girlfriend, who tells him nothing interesting. Then there’s a scene in a space cafeteria where I don’t remember anything important happening.
Later still, Jake Morrison finds out there’s a space ship that got shot down by the thing he helped build earlier, so he goes to earth to pick up David Levinson, who he knows somehow. He brings his nerd friend and has no trouble stealing a space ship, picking up David and his friends, and flying back to the moon, along the way making many shitty jokes. As they pull something out of the wreckage, an even bigger ship shows up and goes to earth, pulling Jake Morrison’s ship with it.
Jake Morrison doesn’t like mean aliens, so he gets in a space fighter jet and goes on an attack mission to the big ship. Him and his friends fly inside the ship, but it’s a trap and they all get shot down. So Jake Morrison and Will Smith’s son lead the nerd and the others in a mission to shoot aliens on the ship, which leads to Jake Morrison distracting them. How does he do it? By taking his dick out and peeing on the ship while flipping the aliens off.
The survivors steal alien space ships and fly out of the big ship, which slowly closes its huge doors – just like the other movie! They fly out in the nick of time – just like the other movie! But no time to celebrate, the survivors find out, somehow, that alien Godzilla is attacking Area 51, so they fly over there. They shoot at alien Godzilla, but she takes control of their ships with hive mind powers.
Just as all hope is lost, Jake Morrison suggests they make their ships go really fast, which would mean alien Godzilla can’t control them anymore. They do this, and shoot alien Godzilla until she’s dead. Then they crash. Everyone’s fine, and as they are getting out of the ship, Jake Morrison’s girlfriend shoots at them, but then they hug. Then Brent Spiner walks up to them and talks about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
Jeff Goldblum returns as David Levinson, who has become the go-to scientist guy since saving the world. He’s in charge of Area 51 now, but when we meet him he’s somewhere in generic Africa, driving along with some nerd who wants him to sign something. It’s never explained what. The convoy David’s in arrives at this African base, where they meet with these guys who kill aliens all the time because I guess the ship here landed instead of crashing. The leader of those guys takes David into the ship, along with the nerd guy and David’s latest love interest. They find out it’s sent some sort of distress signal.
David gets on Skype with the president just in time to find out some spaceship showed up on the moon. He’s like, “Don’t blow it up. Don’t shoot at it first.” But the president is like, “Nah, I’m we just made a gun and I want to shoot it.” So they blow up the ship, so David decides he wants to go look at the wreckage, even though that means he’ll miss the Fourth of July party. Immediately his young friend, Jake Morrison, shows up with a ship and his own nerd. David gets on board, and his nerd, the African warlord guy, and the love interest join them. David talks about how much he hates flying really fast.
They look at the wreckage, takes some of it, the bigger ship shows up, they survive. David makes some shitty jokes. As they look at the massive wreckage all over earth, David tells his love interest that maybe her parents are OK. Then he gets a call from his dad, and he tells his dad to get off his boat. The ship goes to Area 51.
David meets up with the brain trust at Area 51 and basically concludes that they’re fucked because the big ship is drilling to the earth’s core for some reason. Then ex-president Whitmore shows up out of nowhere, and David’s like “cool, I like you now.” They cut away from Whitmore for one shot, then everyone’s like, “where’d he go?” They find him being strangled by an alien, who tells them bad shits coming, which they already knew. But this gets the brain trust to go look at the thing David and the others salvaged.
David’s surprised, but not that surprised, to see Brent Spiner leading the effort to open the salvage, even though David knew Brent Spiner had been in a coma for 20 years. They get the thing open and find out it’s the last survivor of another species of aliens that can’t beat the bad aliens, but has the technology that makes it possible to beat them. But that technology is on another planet way to far away, so humanity’s fucked. Or is it? David has a moment of inspiration and proposes a genius plan: what if we blow the bad aliens up?
For David’s plan to work, someone has to be bait, and Whitmore volunteers. He and David share a moment in a hangar where Whitmore gives a terrible speech. Then David leaves to sit by a big machine in the desert. The alien ship comes and Whitmore blows it up, just in time for David’s dad to show up with a school bus full of children. Everything’s great, but then alien Godzilla emerges from the wreckage and chases the school bus. David takes the wheel and drives away from alien Godzilla, not really helping as other people kill it. Then Brent Spiner walks up to them and talks about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
Jessie Usher plays Dylan Dubrow-Hiller, the son of Will Smith and Vivica A. Fox. We first meet him in a long tracking shot from behind, trying to trick the audience into thinking Will Smith is in this movie. He’s going through the new White House to meet the president and also her aide, who is also his childhood friend, President Whitmore’s daughter, and Jake Morrison’s girlfriend.
We next see Dylan flying to a moon base, where he lands and quickly punches Jake Morrison in the face. We learn that Jake Morrison ran into his plane in a training exercise sometime in the past, although it’s all pretty vague.
Dylan next appears as the forces of earth attack an impossibly large space ship. As the leader of the team, Dylan gets to do some cool flying that’s really hard to follow because of all the chaos on screen. Eventually he flies to the city where he sees him mom die. This makes him sad.
Dylan leads an assault on the alien ship, where it’s shown that he has really great teamwork with Jake Morrison. Their plan fails though, and they get shot down within the alien ship. The survivors meet up, and Dylan allows Jake Morrison to go pee on the ship so the others can steal alien ships of their own. Dylan and Jake Morrison end up sharing a ship, where it’s shown that they have really great teamwork.
Dylan sits silently in his ship as Jake Morrison and his nerd friend lead the assault on alien Godzilla. Perhaps he had something else on his mind? Eventually they crash, and Dylan gets out, unhurt, but with no one to go hug either. He stands alone in the desert as everyone else makes out with their love interest. Then Brent Spiner walks up to them and talks about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
Bill Pullman returns as Thomas J. Whitmore, who is having nightmares that aliens lightyears away are watching footage from the first movie. He’s looking savage as fuck, but his daughter and secret service butler are keeping him medicated. Still, this nightmare was different, for some reason, so Whitemore decides to go interrupt the current president’s Fourth of July party.
Whitmore straight up walks on stage and takes the podium from the president, and tries to warn people about something, but before he can embarrass himself in front of the world, an alien spaceship shows up at the moon so they have to cancel the party. The president decides to shoot it down, so Whitmore declares he’s going to Area 51 with his daughter.
At Area 51, Whitmore immediately decides he’s got to talk to the aliens, since he has a telekinetic connection to their hive mind. So he opens one of the alien prison cells and gets strangled by the creature, just like Brent Spiner in the first movie. The alien tells them nothing important and Whitmore is hospitalized. He wakes up, wanders off, and shaves himself.
Whitmore, now without his beard to prop up his acting, gives a bad speech about trusting the kids to take care of the future. Then he volunteers for a suicide mission and flies a spaceship into the alien spaceship, just like Randy Quaid did in the first movie! He’s come full circle, and so he dies.
Maika Monroe plays Patricia Whitmore, controversially recasting a role that was originated by Mae Whitman. I am of course opposed to this, since Mae Whitman is great, but here we are. We first meet her in the new White House, where she is hanging out with the president for some reason, and gets to hug her buddy Dylan.
Patricia pops up every once in a while to worry about people. She frets about her dad and bosses around her dad’s secret service butler. She has a Skype video call with Jake Morrison were she talks about being too busy to look at the houses he wants to buy with her. Basically, she’s just around.
When they announce they need a pilot for a suicide mission, Patricia volunteers, hoping to justify her presence in the movie. Instead, her dad overrules her, but she gets to fly with him and help him commit suicide. After he blows up the alien spaceship, Patricia is there to witness as a giant alien Godzilla emerges from the wreckage. She shoots at it with her plane, but the alien Godzilla swipes her out of the sky.
Patricia survives her crash landing, then just wanders around the desert for a while. Eventually she watches to alien spaceships fly straight in the air and blow up the alien Godzilla as it attacks a school bus. Never one to overthink a situation, Patricia decides to shoot at the pilots coming out of the alien spaceship, even though they just saved the world. But the pilots turn out to be Dylan and Jake Morrison, who she runs up to and makes out with. Then Brent Spiner walks up to them and talks about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
Sela Ward plays President Elizabeth Lanford, who seems nice. She welcomes Dylan to the White House, then gets out of the way when Dylan would rather hang out with Patricia, even though the president is still in the room. Later, she gives a speech at the Fourth of July party about how killing the aliens let us take their technology, which is really cool. Then, for some reason, the former president shows up behind her, so she lets him talk for a second before finding out that an alien spaceship showed up at the moon. She goes to some bunker, but Patricia’s like, “nah, I don’t want to go with you guys. I’m going to take my dad to Area 51.” The president says that’s fine.
As they stare at video footage of the spaceship, David calls the president on Skype video and says don’t blow it up. The president asks some other videos from different countries what they think, and they’re like, “blow it up.” So she does, and it blows up real good. High fives all around. Except moments later another ship shows up, this one unimaginably large. It starts wrecking cities and lands over basically the entire Atlantic Ocean. The president orders a strike and when that fails, alien foot soldiers attack her bunker. As the aliens break in to kill her and the entire cabinet, the president says “there will be no peace,” then walks out in front so she can be the first to die.
William Fichtner plays Joshua T. Adams, a general with some branch of some military. When he finds out that an unimaginably large spaceship has come to destroy the earth, he rallies all the best pilots in the U.S. with a genius plan: Blow it up with bombs. So they try to do that and fail. Then alien spaceship lands and starts shooting a laser into the Atlantic Ocean.
The general gets in touch with some drunk sailors who give the government enough time to make a countdown clock to the end of the world. Then they find out the president and the cabinet are dead, so the general becomes the president. He watches as everyone else fucks around and makes all the important decisions, I guess just exuding confidence. Eventually the final assault begins, and our new president gets to try to give an inspirational speech to world. It’s not great. We win anyway. The new president is just hanging out in the base when Brent Spiner leaves to go talk to the others in the desert.
Later, Julius is on his boat when an unimaginably large alien space ship shows up. This causes a big wave which Julius drives away from, while calling his son on his cell phone.
Later still, some kids from another movie drive by and see Julius’ boat shipwrecked, with him unconscious in his chair. They rescue him and talk about their much more interesting back story, which is never shown. Just as they’re about to run out of gas, they find even more kids stranded in a school bus, so Julius takes all the kids and drives the bus toward Area 51, all the while telling the children about his David.
He gets to Area 51 in time for the big battle. He lets David take over driving, but still annoys him while they try not to get killed by alien Godzilla. When alien Godzilla is dead, he goes up to David, but David is too busy making out with his love interest. So Julius goes and implies he wants to adopt the main children who saved him. Literally, his only contribution to the film was driving children from danger to significantly greater danger.
Brent Spiner returns as Dr. Brakish Okun, and boy is Spiner happy to have this role. Brakish has been in a coma since he died in the first movie, but his coworker/boyfriend has been taking care of him. He brings him flowers every day, including on the Fourth of July, 2016, when Brakish awakens with a fright. He doesn’t realize any time has passed and quickly wanders off into Area 51, where he starts giving orders. Then his coworker/boyfriend makes fun of him because he’s wearing a hospital gown and not any pants!
Brakish, upon seeing the exciting salvage David brought him, makes it his top priority to tear into it. So he tries a buzz saw, then a big laser. The laser works, and he gets inside the salvage to find a round, white alien capsule. The capsule explains that she is from an alien species that sucks at fighting the bad aliens, and David comes up with a plan to fight the bad aliens. Brakish and his boyfriend take the alien capsule to an even more secret bunker.
Given a chance to spend some one-on-one time with the capsule, Brakish finds out about a bunch of sweet alien technology. But just then an army of alien soldiers attack and kill Brakish’s boyfriend. Devastated by the death of his only friend, Braksih goes into a rage, picking up an alien gun and mowing down aliens until it’s all over. Then he takes the capsule and wanders out into the desert, where he explains to the others that they can go team up with other aliens to fight the bad aliens. He tells them how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
Vivica A. Fox returns as Jasmine Dubrow-Hiller, who is now working in a hospital. When the aliens initially attack, she helps the hospital evacuate patients by helicopter. Eventually, only she, a woman, and that woman’s newborn child are left. A helicopter comes by and picks up the other two, but the building crumbles before Jamine can get on board. She has a total screen time of maybe two minutes and is only here to make sure that Dylan is an orphan. Real great, tasteful stuff here, Roland.
Angelababy plays Rain Lao, the Chinese member of Dylan’s sweet pilot team who is hot and Chinese. Her Chinese nationality is made clear when she lands her spaceship, gets out, and some people behind her raise a Chinese flag. Then she speaks with the lunar base commander in Chinese. Wow, thanks for the help China.
Rain is there for the major aerial battles, and spends the rest of the time getting hit on by Jake Morrison’s nerd friend. She’s not really into it, and even jokes she’d rather be with Dylan at the end, but then they get together anyway. Then Brent Spiner walks up to them and talks about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Dr. Catherine Marceaux, David’s love interest. She’s hanging out with the African warlord when David’s convoy drives up, and she immediately insists on being wherever David goes. They’re kind of flirty and ignore David’s nerd friend. She’s there when they discover the distress signal the crashed ship has sent out.
Later, while David is making his Skype call. She looks at weird alien writing and explains that certain people have made telekinetic connections to the alien hive. When David says he’s going to space, she insists on coming, even though she has no good reason to go. She does not help during the salvage or escape scenes, she just sits there on the spaceship. Then later she expresses concern that her parents died in the attack, and David starts to comfort her before being distracted by his dad’s hijinks.
Later, at Area 51, Dr. Marceaux tries to help by deciphering the alien text with the warlord. It seems like they might be genuinely helpful, but then Brent Spiner and David’s nerd friend activate the good alien who explains everything in English, rendering her useless. She just hangs out in the base for the rest of the movie, only leaving to make out with David when it’s safe. Then Brent Spiner walks up to them and talks about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
Deobia Oparei plays Dikembe Umbutu, a warlord in Africa leading a band of alien hunters. He has invited Dr. Marceaux and David to check out the alien spaceship in Africa, which just turned itself on. He guides them to the ship, which they determine is sending a distress signal. He then brings them back to his mansion, where David can make a Skype video call. Umbutu insist on going with David to space, even though he has no good reason to do so.
Umbutu does nothing during the space mission, except get bothered by David’s nerd friend. The group bring him with them to Area 51, where he waits for anyone to pay attention to him. They don’t, but he gets his chance when he kills an alien with his swords. No one is impressed, except for David’s nerd friend.
During the final battle, we see that Umbutu and David’s nerd friend are at the front lines together, shooting pointlessly at the big ship. David’s nerd friend runs away, and Umbutu follows him. They go to where Brent Spiner and the good alien are, and help shoot aliens until Brent Spiner snaps when his boyfriend dies. Later, in the desert, Umbutu tells David’s nerd friend he has the heart of a warrior, which is a kind lie. I think he just wanted him to leave him alone. Then Brent Spiner walks up to them and talks about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.
I am literally exhausted from writing now, and I still haven’t covered the arcs of the drunk sailors, David’s nerd friend, Jake Morrison’s nerd friend, the lunar commander, Brent Spiner’s boyfriend, Whitmore’s secret service butler, and the many children. I wrote my recap like this because Independence Day: Resurgence is a confusing mess, constantly cutting between different characters doing different stuff. The movie breathlessly goes from overwhelming battles, to an old man joking around with kids, to intense strategic meeting without any thought to helping the audience find its bearings. I absolutely could not take it, and I saw plenty of other shittily edited movies this year.
I liked the idea in the first movie of aliens being the source of our technology and I enjoyed that the sequel went even further with that by having us live in space and stuff. But all that progress is lost as the movie refocuses on trying to recreate iconic Roland Emmerich moments, and not just from the first Independence Day, either. There are definitely some moments from The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and White House Down sprinkled throughout, and the final monster, as I’ve constantly alluded to, is just alien Godzilla, and presented much like that 1998 take on the character. Like George Lucas, Roland Emmerich has been spoiled by technology and descended into self-parody.
It’s weird to watch an action movie and constantly feel overwhelmed and confused about all the cognitive leaps the characters are making. I tried to clarify that for you, but it meant I didn’t get to write much about the bad acting, worse speeches, and even worse jokes. When it was all over, I had to just close my eyes, I was so overloaded. And then, and this is weird, Brent Spiner walked up to me and talked about how excited he is to kick ass. Cut to black.