Have we made any progress in the past two decades? Not compared with the world of “Independence Day: Resurgence,” where global peace has reigned since aliens were defeated in 1996; the United States has a female president whom people actually admire; and earthlings can fly to the moon in minutes.
In real life, the situation looks more dire. We may have iPhones and Skype, but we also have daily mass shootings and the Kardashians.
Plus, our blockbusters just keep getting stupider.
When “Independence Day” came out in July 1996, the action movie earned its monster success. It wasn’t perfect, but the characters were endearing, the script was rife with quotable one-liners, the special effects actually looked special, and the sight of the White House getting demolished could still pack a gut punch.
Roland Emmerich’s belated sequel offers up more destruction than the first and less of everything that made the original a crowd-pleaser.
The follow-up shoehorns in all of the actors who could be persuaded to return — alas, Will Smith’s hotshot pilot tragically died during a test flight — plus a slew of others. As the movie begins, former president Tom Whitmore (Bill Pullman) appears to have aged considerably. Stooped and senile, he spends his days sketching circles and rambling on about how “they’re back, and this time we won’t be able to stop them.”
What could he possibly mean?
He’s not the only one having visions. There’s also the African warlord Dikembe (Deobia Oparei) and, returning from the first installment, Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner). All are sharing wavelengths with the long-gone aliens.
Meanwhile, the next generation has arrived in the form of fighter pilots Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher, playing the son of Smith’s character), President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) and her fiance, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). Jake is exactly the maverick you’d expect him to be. So honorable! So insubordinate! Even his hair, standing up at an array of angles, appears to have a beautiful mind of its own.
You know where this is going: The aliens return on a 3,000-mile-long spaceship to lay waste to our perfect planet. Nearly everyone dies, except the ho-hum characters we’ve just met. People say science-ish things like “It has its own gravity,” and great men get to make great speeches. (So much for the female president.)
But where’s the urgency? We’ve seen all this destruction before, and not just in the original movie. You can’t sit through a series of trailers at the theater without seeing one city or another get obliterated by terrorists, typhoons, Transformers. Even superheroes are doing it.
If we can’t be shocked into caring about the destruction of our entire planet, Emmerich and his army of co-writers better at least give us a reason to care about these characters. That’s not going to happen with such an overstuffed cast of new and old, none of whom leaves an impression, except perhaps for Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson, who is saved only by the charm of the actor who plays him.
Meanwhile, the CGI is astoundingly obvious, especially during one scene when the president (Sela Ward) stands in front of a huge crowd, which has been superimposed over a green screen like a bad paint job.
In the movie, earthlings had 20 years to prepare for another attack, but they didn’t. In the 20 years since “Independence Day,” Emmerich has reveled in destruction, in “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012,” among other movies. It’s bad enough that he wants to destroy our planet again and again. But does he have to take movies down with him?
(120 minutes , at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and destruction and some strong language.