Twenty years after Will Smith became an international superstar by throwing haymakers at aliens in the Nevada desert, “Independence Day: Resurgence,” the long-awaited sequel to the mega blockbuster of 1996, finally makes its earthly return.
Boasting a roster of fresh faces and returning players, though Smith is conspicuously absent, this alien action extravaganza sticks to the original blueprint but doubles down on the action, which mostly succeeds in diverting attention away from the many implausible elements at hand. With five credited screenwriters throwing every conceivable one-liner and insane action sequence onto the page and praying that something sticks, “Resurgence” is Hollywood filmmaking at its most indulgent, where explosions and battle sequences trump logic at nearly every turn, though the film is not without its guilty pleasures. As far as summer blockbusters go, despite being twenty years in the making, there’s still more than enough fight left in this franchise to take the summer box office by storm.
It’s been twenty years since the alien invasion. Thanks to the fusion of human and alien technologies, as well as the combined efforts of the United Nations, the planet is now protected by the Earth Space Defense (ESD), with military bases on the moon, Mars, and headquarters at Area 51. Although extraterrestrial activity has been quiet for two decades, that hasn’t stopped survivors of the previous attack – such as former president Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and an African warlord (Deobia Aparel) – from experiencing recurring nightmares of strange alien symbols.
To complicate matters, while investigating an inoperable alien destroyer that surfaced in Africa after the original mother ship was eliminated, ESD director David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) discovers that the spacecraft was drilling into the earth’s core before shutting down. Shortly after this discovery, a UFO is spotted near the ESD Moon base, though it is believed by a young fighter pilot lieutenant named Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) to be powered by a friendly alien race. Nevertheless, world leaders collectively decide to shoot it down, leading Jake to steal a “space tug” and pick up Levinson and his crew (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nicolas Wright) to examine the crash site.
While the space team inspects the crash site, an earthbound mother ship ten times the size of the original one materializes, knocking out the lunar defense base and wreaking havoc on Asia and Europe before crashing in the Atlantic Ocean. As the mother ship releases fighter spacecrafts while drilling into the earth’s core in an effort to destroy the planet, Jake Morrison, Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher) and the rest of the International Legacy Squadron take the fight to the skies before it’s too late.
Returning for the sequel, disaster film maestro Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012”) puts the emphasis on action, with hardly a minute going by without the introduction of some contrived subplot involving a new attack, a complication on the home front, or the queen alien throwing a wrench in their defense plans. Of course, this is the appropriate plan of action for a disaster film of this magnitude, but when you’re trying to advance the original storyline while also ushering in a new set of characters, the end result can’t help but feel a little muddled. A romantic plot thread involving Jake and President Whitmore’s daughter (Maika Monroe) seems like an afterthought, as does the rivalry between jake and Dillon, the son of Will Smith’s character. The screenwriters somewhat succeed in camouflaging the film’s incoherence by rushing from one plotline to another with a sort of over-caffeinated determination, but the eventual strain on the story proves the difficulty of this balancing act between the old and the new.
Fans of the original will be glad to see the healthy portion of screen time given to the return cast, most notably Bill Pullman as the traumatized former president, Jeff Goldblum as a satellite technician turned director of the ESD, Judd Hirsch as his neurotic father, and Brent Spiner as Dr. Okun, the wild-haired research scientist at Area 51. Don’t expect to see any of these actors in the awards conversation, but they all cheerfully toe the line in their respective roles. Of the new cast members, Liam Hemsworth (“The Hunger Games”) is the most camera-friendly, even if, as the protagonist, he’s hardly a worthy successor to Will Smith. On that subject, Smith’s son, played competently if unmemorably by Jessie Usher, is an unnecessary character that seems to exist only to further Smith’s storyline without having to pay him a reported $50 million. Finally, playing Jake’s love interest and the current president’s daughter, Maika Monroe shows that she can hold her own in a blockbuster that’s far removed from her indie horror wheelhouse (“It Follows,” “The Guest”).
Despite being far from perfect, “Independence Day: Resurgence” is the kind of mindlessly enjoyable movie that summers were made for.
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language.