In 1996 I was a fanatic for that movie called ‘Independence Day’ (ID4). Even read the book! Which is almost insane for my standards. Granted I was 14 years old at the time. I saw the movie a day before it opened in an early screening together with my mom. A nice memory. This movie was an inspiration on many levels. And it also taught me a valuable lesson. There is rarely a movie (or anything) that can live up to the hype that may come with it. So ultimately the movie was a little bit of a let down back then. I don’t know what I expected. I guess something that wasn’t as campy as the movie ended up being. Something with a more serious tone. Now we are in 2016 and get a sequel to a movie that went on to be one of the most successful blockbusters of all time. This new film… probably 16 years too late I suppose. So in hindsight, what did I take away from ID4 in 1996? Hype rarely matters, I fell in love with R.E.M. and that computers will be the future in movie making.
The new movie starts and it feels like the alien attack from 1996 created a new timeline where Earth developed into a new direction. Mankind made use of the alien technology and we are using it to our own advantage. Throughout the movie there are hints at what happened directly after the alien ships dropped out of the sky and how there were ground fights between humans and surviving aliens. Now wouldn’t that have been a neat little movie? How we fight the remaining alien forces? Instead we jumped straight into the movie’s 2016. It starts with former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) having a vision/nightmare of the aliens. He wakes up bathed in sweat and in a not so good condition. Pullman does a great job here showing that his character did not have the best time after the events of 1996. At that point (5 minutes into the film) I thought it would be cool to go deeper into that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) kind of angle our heroes of 96 have to deal with. Unfortunately that’s pretty much dopped and washed away within minutes. Just to come up once in a while when it doesn’t matter anymore. Too bad. That would have been a very interesting angle to the movie as a whole. Now we get to know some new characters. Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) is a hotshot pilot stuck doing useless missions on a moon base, mankind established for defense purposes. Back on Earth he did a risky move when on a training mission with Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), that led to Dylan’s jet crashing into a rock wall. Dylan barely makes it out of the plane alive. Both were friends and here we have our character conflict construct. ‘Hiller’ sounds familiar? Sure… Dylan is the son of Will Smith’s character from 1996. Will Smith’s character died a not so heroic death, in the time between the movies, flying a test jet. Which brings me to a point where I had to shake my head hard. Early on in the movie we are in the White House and his son Dylan meets president Lanford (Sela Ward). While he walks into the room we can see a painting on the wall with his father. And I swear to god that it looked like they ran the cheapest filter in Photoshop over it and composited it into the picture frame on the wall. This looked sooooo cheap. Ridiculous! To top it off they used a promo shot that was constantly used back in 1996 for all kinds of press releases. My god, really? Last but not least the last important new character is Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe). Presidential speech writer and fighter jet pilot (now that’s a combination). Sounds cool and ridiculous at the same time. An achievement in my eyes!
Next we get to the man himself, Jeff Goldblum, giving his all Goldblum! He seems to really know and understand in what kind of movie he’s in here and plays his mannerisms literally to 11 with his David Levinson character. He was fun and always a presence when on screen. Beside Bill Pullman I enjoyed Jeff Goldblum the most. Especially when we follow him to Africa where he wants to get access to a ship that in 1996 landed to drill into the earth. Yes, they contradict a lot of stuff that happened in the first film. I had no problem with that part though. There we learn that the aliens sent an SOS in 1996 and that something big is coming now. Oh and we meet Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who seems to be an old flame of David. Not a single word about David’s ex wife in this movie though. There in Africa we learn that these earlier mentioned visions are a common thing with people who came into closer contact with the aliens.
Soon the aliens arrive and it’s the overkill version of the “make it bigger!” cliche. The alien ship is so big that it has its own gravitational field! What follows after the arrival of that 5000km big ship is hard to watch. See, to have fun with the stuff that’s going on at that point, you would have to ignore everything you learned about physics ever. The movie didn’t manage it to make the audience switch on that ‘I don’t care’ mode though. And so this whole destruction porn sequence feels so idiotic and overkill that it hurts. But hey, don’t get me wrong. What the VFX guys did there is amazing stuff and it looks cool. But it’s so far off in ‘I can’t believe this’ territory that it just doesn’t work for the movie. As a VFX demo reel though, sure! Just the appearance of that gigantic alien would have been an extinction level event. Throwing the moon out of orbit and do whatever to the Earth’s rotation. Mankind would have been done within a matter of hours I guess. But again the movie goes to 11 and makes that alien ship land over the atlantic ocean. Just NO!
Eventually all the different characters meet up in Area 51 (of course). Can you spot the lazy writing? And from there we launch our attack against that 5000km ship. A ship that got its own ecosystem inside it. We even get a 10 minute scene in there. That part was rather interesting! Far too short! And how do our heroes get out of there? By redoing the escape scene from the ID4 finale. Can you spot the lazy writing? From a writing standpoint its fair to compare this movie to Jurassic World. The same formula of “take whatever was awesome in the old movie and translate it into the new one”. I already found that cheap in Jurassic World and it’s the same with this film. However, there are some new things in here as well. I don’t want to spoil it but it’s not many and all of them implemented in the most lazy way possible.
Other actors worth to mention are William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner. The cast list doesn’t read bad to be honest but what they’re given to work with is just so plain stupid. And that Roland Emmerich typical humor, that is so typical for his movies, doesn’t work either. It never does. A rather decent cast that is pretty much wasted. A lot of scenes that feel so evil like green screen that it constantly takes you out of the movie. The VFX, otherwise technically well done, feel so badly directed with so many quick cuts and content cluttered/busy images that there rarely was a point to focus on. When the camera work was quiet I enjoyed it. But the action was too erratic for my taste. And I thought we left that kind of direction behind us now.
For the first 30 minutes or so I was on board and wondered why the reviews were so bad. But as soon as the aliens arrive the complete film falls apart and into levels of stupidity that I couldn’t just have fun with it anymore. You know what? I wonder how a Christopher Nolan version of that movie would have looked like. Or better Steven Soderbergh. With a more grounded storytelling and realistic presentation. We all can dream, right?
In the end this movie feels like lazy fan-fiction. Fan-fiction can be cool if executed well enough but that is not the case here. I have to admit though that, from the outside, it’s the sequel movie I hoped for when walking out of the screening in 1996. I definitely wanted makind to use the crashed alien ships for our own advantage and make a technological leap. That’s the case in this movie but it is not really explored. Oh man, there are so many missed opportunities in this film. It constantly reminds you that there would have been better movies possible with all the ideas they had for this movie. I would love to see the battles with the stranded aliens after we defeated their ships in 1996. A dark gritty us vs them war movie? Sign me up! But no. Maybe an anthology movie would have been cool. Tell different stories by different characters that show the situation right after the events in 1996 from different perspectives. Missed opportunities all over this movie.
As a final verdict I can only say that, if you want to see this film, do it on the big screen in a cinema. There are some neat (but chaotic at times) visuals in this film that might get lost when watching the film on a tv. But that’s all. I saw it in 2D and cannot imagine any advantage with the 3D version other than you walk out of this film with a headache.