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Independence Day: Resurgence – Review

June 28, 2016

28 June 2016

Ignoring Star Wars, the original Independence Day (ID4) is the greatest movie ever. Aliens attack Earth with massive spaceships and technology so far in advance that Earth seemed beyond hope. It was a premise made all the more exciting by the phenomenal advance in special effects at the time. Iconic cities left in total devastation, and all that could stop this seemingly unstoppable force was us pitiful humans.

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Adding to the exciting premise was a great cast (hello, Jeff Goldblum!), authentic characters, genuine humour, awe-inspiring action and, most of all, brilliant pacing. It didn’t hesitate unleashing the aliens, creating a gripping element of suspense from the outset by using the astonishment of the US defence department as they struggled to understand the entity appearing on their screens. The line “it’s slowing down” to debunk the suggestion of an asteroid was an epic moment. No one was sure exactly until the ships finally arrived, and humans realised they were not alone in the universe.

ID4 kept its suspense going right until the end. After waiting for the first appearance of the spaceships, there was the wait for the actual attack, the wait for the results of the attack, and then the wait for Earth’s response. With Earth’s initial response a spectacular failure, the next suspenseful wait was for the fightback – complete with a brilliant “Independence Day” speech by the President. The only dud scene from ID4 was Cpt Hiller (Will Smith) marrying his stripper girlfriend. Everything else was a perfect execution.

Without the ability to capitalise on the mystique and novelty that made ID4 so good, Independence Day: Resurgence (IDR) would always struggle to compete. There was also narrative hole to fix, particularly how the aliens could return after it was supposedly their “entire civilisation” moving from planet to planet in the first attack. This was never answered other than to say a distress signal was sent by surviving aliens, and that Earth always knew the aliens would be back. You can only construe that the civilisation was one of many belonging to the alien species, much like there’s been many human civilisations on Earth. With that sorted and Earth’s defence fortified with alien technology, the big mystery became the sort of attack the aliens would launch and, most important, how would it be repelled. A simple computer virus would not be enough.

The main area IDR suffers compared to its predecessor is the pacing and lack of genuine suspense. Obviously there needed to be some set up, particularly events that occurred immediately after ID4. The virus affected the spaceships, not the aliens themselves, so the expected ground war against surviving aliens and dealing with captured ones needed some legacy. Characters needed to be introduced and re-introduced, and it’s here there was too much stagnation, especially the clumsy and unnecessary narrative of a rivalry, and even the hint of a love triangle, between the main flyboys and flygirl. The movie took longer than hoped to get going – and that’s despite the early action sequences on the Moon. A repeat viewing might bring many of these early scenes into context, especially now being aware of the outcome.

Once IDR gets going, it really gets going. It’s exciting, compelling, and provides a few nice twists. Seeing it in 3D, the special affects were extra great, and it was nice to see Washington DC rebuilt. IDR also carries over much of the great humour from ID4 – thanks to the reprise of all the memorable main characters. It’s very politically correct too, with all types, genders and statuses in the film’s key roles, including a female president that sounds just like Hillary Clinton, and even a scene of a budding gay romance cut short. If death is your thing, there’s plenty of that too.

Most crucial to the film’s success would always be the alien attack itself. It needed to be bigger, better, and with a weapon that made destroying New York look like a pillow fight. When the attack came, it was certainly bigger, not necessarily better, and that’s because the nature of the weapon meant its success would have been terminal to the point of the film. This time Earth was not repelling an attack in progress, they were preventing the completion of one. Even though this harms the suspense, Earth still needs to find a way to defeat the aliens, which triggers the best twist in the movie. It means IDR ultimately manages to strike the right balance of grandeur and extravagance, finding a plausible vulnerability (even if that vulnerability lacked some imagination), and using believable ingenuity and firepower to rid the planet of the alien menace once again.

IDR is a worthy successor to ID4 and compulsory viewing for anyone that loved the original, or has any remote interest in science fantasy. This is the sort of film that could easily have been a disaster, so the fact it was able to successfully capture the nostalgia of the original, build on its ideas, and add a few new ones of its own, it left me totally satisfied. Even better, IDR leaves the door wide ajar for a sequel!

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