RECAP: Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016): Roland Emmerich

If 1996’s Independence Day is the Titanic, the 2016 sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, is the iceberg that sank it. Despite 20 years of buildup and inflated ticket prices, the sequel, which cost twice the original, is on track to make less than one-third of the original’s total.

Resurgence is a half-hour shorter than its predecessor while trying to pack in more characters than a Game of Thrones season.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: The aliens come back.

Hero (3/10)

Oh boy.

Few single movies, spanning less than 12 hours (looking at you, Lord of the Rings), try to cram as many characters as does Independence Day: Resurgence.

Just for fun, let’s list several (breathe deeply): fighter pilots Jake Morrison, Dylan Hiller, Rain Lao, and Charlie Miller; former US President Thomas Whitmore; current US President Lanford; Former US President Thomas Whitmore’s daughter Patricia Whitmore, who fills the middle of the Venn diagram combining White House staff and fighter pilots; Earth hero and now head of the Earth Space Defense David Levinson; Levinson’s unbelievably recast father Julius Levinson; Area 51 boss General Adams, who, because aliens fry the current president, becomes acting president, and thus the third person in the film to be or have been America’s Commander-in-Chief; former Area 51 chief scientist Dr. Brakish Okun, who undeservedly receives MORE screen time in the sequel; an inexplicable but welcome appearance by Charlotte Gainsbourg as psychologist Dr. Catherine Marceaux, who investigates the psychic connections between the aliens and the African men who fought them on the ground for 10 years; Dikembe Umbutu, one of those men who fought and killed several aliens in hand-to-hand combat; and, I can’t neglect, bespectacled UN policy wonk Floyd Rosenberg, possibly the worst action movie character of the 21st century.

Each one of these characters gets prominent screen time. TWO characters, while flying fighter jets, watch their parents die, in separate incidents. Witnessing a parent’s death would spur even the lowliest character to Heroic height, but I can’t say that about pilots Hiller and Rain.

Dr. Okun wakes from a coma and is first contact with a second alien species. That’s not enough to star in this movie. Neither the former president nor the current president has enough to do to be the hero. I wish the former First Daughter and fighter pilot could win the title of Hero, but she can’t.

The best candidate for Hero is Liam Hemsworth as disgraced fighter pilot Jake Morrison. He’s one of the first humans to appear in the movie, and he finishes his opening scene on the Moon daringly saving an entire base from being crushed beneath a new alien-derived laser cannon.

Morrison grew up hating aliens. They killed both of his parents in the original invasion, and the thought of their deaths drove him into and out of flight academies. (To win the starring part, apparently, your parents must already be dead.)

Morrison knows Hiller, son of the world-famous Steven Hiller from Independence Day, the man who so callously and sarcastically welcomed the aliens to Earth.

In days past, Morrison nearly killed the younger Hiller in a training exercise. Top Gun spent much of its second act dwelling on the death of Maverick’s co-pilot, Goose. In Resurgence, Morrison watches snippets of the accident on an iPad. Not quite the same gravitas, but, hey, he’s on the Moon.

Hiller sure didn’t forget, because, first time he sees Morrison, he punches his well set jaw. Morrison doesn’t retaliate, instead pouring that angst into being the best fighter pilot this planet has seen.

And he needs those skills later. Morrison turns out to be quite good. He has the idea to use fusion drives to override the alien queen’s control of her ships. He also uses fusion drives on a space tug to prevent the falling cannon from crushing everyone at the Moon base. Now that I think about, Morrison seems more of a one-trick pony.

But he sure is handsome, ain’t he? Morrison’s best gal is also the former president’s daughter. Patty Whitmore (Maika Monroe) and Morrison are ready to move in together, if only she’ll look at those houses he sent her. They pine for each other across a 250,000-mile void while cracking jokes.

Hemsworth knows he’s in a silly movie. (About everyone else does, too. They all got some fat paychecks.) He acts as if he’s playing every hotshot pilot cast in movies past. His boss can’t stand his hotshot ways, but Hemsworth acts like he doesn’t care, because he’s a hotshot, and that’s what hotshots do. Yeah, man. Hotshots.

Villain (6/10)

Independence Day scared us with its mostly unseen alien invasion force. More than an hour passes before we see what they look like, and then only inside tentacled biosuits. With no clear leadership, each craft seems equally powerful.

Independence Day: Resurgence discards the hive-like enemy for a centralized one. The 100-foot-tall queen organizes invasions. She assumes total control of the army aliens.

The queen answers a distress call from a ship in the original invasion. We don’t know how long the signal took to reach her ship, because they could communicate faster than light speed. We do know that the signal plus the answer took 20 years.

The queen orders her army aliens to do most of the work, but not the most important. Late in the film, as she swipes at Area 51’s defenses, a swarm of fighters cyclone around her, including the two craft humans stole from the mothership. She can control inanimate craft. Whether she’s psychically locked with them or possesses tech to control them doesn’t matter, only that she can do it.

The queen is resourceful and fearless. She entraps the human bombers inside the mothership, disabling their bomb bay doors and attaching mini-shields to each bomb. They explode in smoke-filled spheres. She also has a personal shield. Shields galore, for the queen, and why not? They work.

The alien queen was the only solid part of the Independence Day: Resurgence. She fearlessly answered the distress call from the original invaders by herself, with her continental-sized ship. She began drilling for the planet’s core for a reason I cannot remember, but switched her tactic when the alien orb awoke, breaking from her core mission to grab the only thing in the universe capable of destroying her species.

Action/Effects (2/10)

Independence Day still wows with its effects, 20 years later. Independence Day: Resurgence, does little to advance CGI from its predecessor. Action scenes seem stunted, most likely because the slapdash story can’t focus on anything.

Earth is first attacked by the alien queen’s mothership when it lands on Earth. “Land” is a bit of a misnomer. The last time an object 3,000 miles across collided with our planet, we got a moon out of it.

No such luck in this movie. Instead we watch for several scenes as the ship burns through our atmosphere to crash above the Atlantic Ocean. The ship, with its own gravity, sucks up skyscrapers in Dubai and China, two really important foreign markets these days.

The ship settles over London. Morrison, flying the space tug, deftly pilots it through the crashing spires brought from China to smash London. Now, there’s a prophetic metaphor for you.

Not one, but two, fighter pilots watch their parents die in the mothership attack/landing. Rain Lao (Angelababy) is China’s hotshot version of hotshot American pilot Morrison. She watches her father die on the moon as the mothership blasts the laser cannon to smithereens. And the base. They all die.

As the mothership continues its crash, Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) flies to Los Angeles. He circles the hospital where his mother (Vivica A. Fox) works, his mother who is helping evacuate the hospital.

On the hospital’s roof a helicopter hovers. Jasmine Hiller helps the patient onto the chopper as the tower collapses. Hiller, and the audience, watch Jasmine fall into the smoky void.

Levinson’s father (Judd Hirsch), for some reason given a prominent role, pilots a pleasure boat somewhere in the Atlantic. He sees the ship emerge from a fiery cloud and puts the pedal to the metal, so to speak, going 30 knots or so, outrunning the globe-spanning wave and the careening oil tankers chasing him down.

We fondly call the Atlantic “The Pond,” but for the alien queen, “pond” is too large a descriptor. The ship has one leg in America and one in Europe or Africa.

If you thought a ship landing that caused the cataclysmic deaths of millions would lead to the biggest battle in the history of cinema, well, guess again.

Earth mounts one major airstrike against the single ship. A phalanx of fighters fly from Area 51, escorting bombers armed with fusion missiles. Unlike in the original, the humans know what’s coming. Sure enough, as they approach the mothership, dozens of alien fighters pop out, guns blazing. But the human jets have laser guns this time, more than matching with the invaders.

Soon they are inside the mothership. All too easily, it seems. Several fighters and bombers inside the eerie green hazy environment that the aliens seem to prefer encounter no resistance. At first. Then, they’re resisted! The queen knew they were coming! Who could have guessed?!

Suddenly a bunch of tiny green drones buzz around the bombers, opening their payload doors and attaching to the fusion missiles. The queen overrides all safeguards and detonates the bombs. The green drones were miniature shields, which contain the explosions.

The fighters didn’t carry bombs, so they were spared. Each ejected into the mothership’s oxygen (hey, go figure) atmosphere. Some soldiers stream out, sporting laser rifles and tentacles. The ship has its own ecosystem, so the humans hide amongst the reeds and in the water as alien feet stomp around them.

Slowly, the team gathers near a field of alien fighter craft. You got the black dude, the white dude, the Chinese chick, and the Hemsworth. Together they steal two fighters and deftly escape the mothership. The white dude, trying to impress the Chinese chick, has a hero moment. Everyone pats him on the back about it later. They don’t struggle much in stealing or flying the ships.

Sequels often drag because they try to be “bigger and better” than their originals. Somehow, Independence Day: Resurgencemanages neither. The first film gave us dozens of ships simultaneously attacking major cities. The sequel gave us one ship. The original gave us two tremendous dogfights. The sequel gave us one minuscule one.

Sidekicks (0/8)

So, so many characters. Independence Day: Resurgence throws many characters, all the characters, at us, and it’s here, in this jumbled muck, that the movies problems lie. Forget picking even one sidekick. Try a thousand.

Jeff Goldblum is back as David Levinson. Twenty years after rising from obscurity in the cable TV business to become Earth’s chief defender, Levinson leads Earth Space Defense, an amalgamation of Earth’s best brains and best brawn, united to stop another alien invasion. (“Earth Space Defense” sounds like the top three keywords in a search of defense contract spending proposals.)

Levinson also has a running tiff with Gainsbourg’s Dr. Marceaux. The two met a few years ago, it seems, and there’s unresolved sexual tension. What happened to Levinson’s ex-wife from Independence Day? She’s never mentioned, despite reconciling at that movie’s conclusion, and the return of every person who worked the movie, from Goldblums to gaffers.

Goldblum is still cool as ice, even surrounded by the flaming dog pile that is Resurgence. Levinson ignores orders from the president to attend a twentieth anniversary remembrance and flies to the Moon instead. He cooks up the laser shield trap idea that almost stops the alien queen. He wears tortoiseshell glasses. Still got it, Goldblum.

Usher turns in the film’s worst performance as Dylan Hiller, son of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller. Usher possesses not an ounce of the charm his adoptive father did when punching aliens in the face in 1996. Hiller watches his mother die on the roof of a collapsing hospital. The best he can muster is something like “Oh bother, Mum’s gone and died.”

Morrison’s best friend and copilot is Charlie (Travis Toth). He’ll back up his buddy to the base commander, but when a sexy lady pilot direct from China shows up, Charlie gets weak-kneed, and we would cheer for them if there weren’t a hundred other things to keep track of.

Such as Bill Pullman as Thomas Whitmore. The elder Whitmore is bearded now, and a little crazy from his fight with the aliens. Points for his speech being the one aspect of the global battle to echo through the cosmos. Whitmore busts up the big DC 20th anniversary celebration, not to be honored, but to warn everyone that the aliens are coming back.

That went over as well as that time your uncle drunkenly toasted you at your wedding and used the platform to trash talk his ex-wife. Turns out Whitmore was right. He redeems himself by flying the suicide mission that nearly kills the alien queen.

Shanghai-born Angelababy plays Rain Lao, tough fighter pilot and deflector of horny male pilots. She watches her father die. About the only parent not to die is Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson, who I returns to annoy us with his pitiable treatment of his world-saving son and to Think of the Children.

Brent Spiner returns as weirdo scientist Dr. Okun. He’s been in a coma for 20 years and wakes up when the alien queen returns. Okun was a funny guy in the original, the only person happy to meet the aliens. He hasn’t changed a bit since then (he was in a coma, so that makes sense).

It’s Okun who awakens the orb, the last of its kind, that knows where the near-extinct species refugee planet is. This orb learns human language (in this case English) in seconds, and labels humans as a primitive species.

Why would Okun balk at being called a “primitive” species? He’s studied alien tech for his entire adult, waking life; of course he would know how far behind humans are.

Deobia Oparei plays the most interesting character, Dikembe Umbutu. He leads a group of Africans that, for 10 years, fought a ground war with the aliens from the only ship to land on Earth. His headquarters is an old hunting lodge filled with stuffed game and adorned with photos of men and women lost in the war.

Alien skulls litter the African soil. One wonders how humans would treat aliens in reality. Umbutu left the skulls to rot, not giving them the proper burial of an enemy met on equal footing. Humans fight each other all the time, but we never leave bodies to deteriorate. The aliens were treated like animals, but not like hunted game, because an alien corpse was not amongst the large cats and zebras in Umbutu’s hunting lodge. Finally, Umbutu carries machetes. No guns needed for him.

Unfortunately, so, so unfortunately, Umbutu is paired with, to me, the most loathsome action film character in 20 years. Nicolas Wright haplessly plays Floyd Rosenberg, a UN attache observing Levinson’s Earth Space Defense to decide if the organization needs the funding Levinson requests.

Floyd is a man so pathetic that Levinson, whose only friend is his dad, can’t remember his name. Everything frightens Floyd (or Lloyd, maybe?). The Africans with guns, the white orb that swallows his hands, an auto-flushing toilet (probably)–everything. Each moment he’s on screen degrades our souls.

I’m sure Wright is a fine and capable actor, and because he’s the one on screen I won’t beat him for this role. Instead, shame on the director and writers for creating such a revolting character. That Floyd works for the United Nations is a sad indictment of that organization. If an alien invasion gives rise to Floyd and his ilk, that might be the best reason for supporting said invasion.

Resurgence is stuffed full of characters. The actors act well, but their parts were set up to fail. Because I so detested Rosenberg, I award zero points for this category.

Henchmen (4/8)

In 1996, we knew little of the alien life forms terrorizing Earth from city-spanning black discs. We saw a few of them in what turned out to be exosuits, their faces menacing and full of tentacles for some reason. The actual aliens were slimy, toddler-sized grey creatures with wide, flat round heads that probably aid their telepathic communication.

With an obvious leader in Independence Day: Resurgence, these (male?) aliens get downgraded to henching status. We don’t learn a lot about them, but we see them, and their remains, in new places. Not one alien, in the original film, fought except behind the controls of a fighter. Twenty years later, some have rifles they use to shoot at the human fighter pilots running loose in the mothership.

We learn one key fact about them, thanks to African warlord Umbutu. You have to kill them from behind.

Stunts (1/6)

The fighter pilot quartet do shoot at some aliens and get shot at by some aliens. There’s bus driving. Uh, there’s, uh, let’s move on.

Climax (2/6)

Levinson and Okun hatch a plan. A ramshackle, against-all-odds plan. One literally described as a “Hail Mary.” The alien orb, the good alien orb, the one resembling Marvin, the Paranoid Android, from Hitchhiker’s Guide, emits a certain electromagnetic frequency. The bad alien queen can trace it.

The scientists think they can rig up a space tug with a transmitter and fly it into the desert surrounding Area 51, baiting the queen’s ship. Once inside, the pilot will detonate fusion bombs to kill the queen and save the day. But who will fly the thing? “I will,” says the younger Whitmore. “No, I will,” says the older, now beardless Whitmore. They argue, and the former president wins. Whitmore will not go quietly into the night.

So they load up the tug. And just in time, because the queen’s miniship streaks toward Area 51. Thomas Whitmore flies the tug into the desert, baiting the queen toward Part Two of the trap.

Levinson waits near a control panel to activate a shield. But wait, there’s a school bus coming his way. Yeah, the elder Levinson is still in the movie. The bus stops; Levinson turns on the shield, trapping the queen’s ship and T. Whitmore’s decoy ship inside. The ex-president smirks and detonates the fusion bombs.

Yay! It’s over! The world is–not yet safe. The fusion bomb destroyed the queen’s ship, but not her, because she has her own shield. Pretty boss. The queen starts running amok. Her henchmen, loose in the prison compound, through havoc wrought, break the frequency-dampening field hiding the orb.

The queen knows where to go, and she’s on her way. Also, there’s, like, two minutes left until the alien drill breaches the Earth’s core and destroys our planet’s magnetic field. Now, back to you, Nevada.

The queen attacks the school bus. At least someone is thinking of the children. Patty Whitmore and her fighter brethren save the children and riddle the queen with lasers to disable her shield.

The queen takes control of the two human-piloted alien fighters as part of a fighter swarm surrounding her. She uses these guarded moments to crash through a wall in Area 51 and grab the orb.

The humans piloting the alien fighters use their insane ingenuity to ignite fusion drives that somehow disable alien autopilot. The two craft rocket up thousands of feet above the queen before going into a “controlled dive,” sometimes described as “falling.” They turn on the guns and blast the queen with laser pulses.

The lasers destroy the biosuit. The queen, running with the orb, falls and dies. The orb harmless rolls out of her hand like a cue ball. The school bus full of children is saved! And, also, the Earth.

Jokes (2/4)

Goldblum is on point. Yet even he can’t save Independence Day: Resurgence. When he walks into the African lodge, he looks around at all the stuffed game. “At least you saved the elephants,” he says.

While riding in a spaceship dodging falling buildings in a crumbling London, he says, “They like to get the landmarks,” which could become a classic of the genre. That line sums up 50 years of disaster cinema. I say “could” because the movie is so bad that it’ll be ignored in a month.

Hemsworth is game to play an affable, devil-may-care hotshot pilot. What movie pilots haven’t been like that? He toes the line between humorous and funny, much like Goldblum, but Hemsworth is too hunky to pull it off.

Whitmore gets a solid send off line with, “On behalf of the people of Earth, happy Fourth of July.”

Setting (2/4)

Area 51 again plays a prominent role. This time the base serves as an alien prison/armory, and is ten stories high. It resembles very much GI Joe headquarters in the 1980s cartoon that I worshipped as a child.

The base changed, but the surrounding desert didn’t. Places on Earth don’t get much whiter than the sands of Nevada, at least as they appear in the film. CGI could not make the desert appear more desolate and deadly. The sands are so white they might as well be a blank screen.

Washington, DC gets an upgrade. Skyscrapers surround the city’s landmarks, and a new stone spire is adorned with the names of the millions who died in the 1996 alien strike.

All interiors in Independence Day: Resurgence are dark. I don’t think important military compounds are awash in shadow, threatening to obscure that pen you just dropped. These places need light. Even actual prisons are brighter than Area 51.

Central Africa plays a prominent role. Levinson and Dr. Marceuax visit a hunting lodge full of stuffed game. Alien skulls litter the country’s rocky ground.

Speaking of rocky ground: the moon is all that. Its defense base has a brighter interior than Area 51.

Commentary (0/2)

Aliens have invaded Earth for decades…in the movies. We can’t go to their worlds, but they can come to ours, so it follows that all their technologies are beyond human understanding.

Independence Day: Resurgence never capitalizes on its similarities to Earthbound warfare. In the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, American soldiers quickly learned that locals did not like speaking to them when they wore sunglasses. Unable to see their eyes, the locals did not trust the Americans.

They probably seemed otherworldly, much like the aliens do to humans in the film. Take off the shades (or show the alien queen running around), and much of that fear evaporates.

Offensiveness (-2/-2)

Rosenberg, the UN dweeb was the worst character in any action movie in decades. Never before, until Independence Day: Resurgence, when Rosenberg stood beside the silent warlord, both holding laser rifles and ready to repel the enemy fighters, have I groaned watching a movie. At that moment I groaned.

Having that character at all was offensive enough. Giving him scene after scene offended more. Giving him a payoff is outright inexcusable. I actively rooted for him to die. Millions did, why not him?

I save this category for outwardly offensive slights and not personal gripes, but all rules have exceptions. Today, I celebrate, my independence day from my arbitrary rules.


  • Alien technology is so powerful that it can override gravity. Even more impressive, it led to skyscrapers in Washington, DC.
  • Many critics blasted Resurgence for bowing to Chinese market pressures (two characters speak in Chinese, two other characters use Chinese Skype-equivalent QQ), as if Hollywood has never before tried to earn money. If QQ was the worst thing you could dig up about this movie, you had a better time than me.

Summary (20/68): 29%

Possibly the worst action sequel since Bad Boys 2Independence Day: Resurgence baffles in its ability to obliterate 20 years of goodwill.