With the possible exception of The Matrix, no blockbuster hijacked ’90s multiplexes quite like Roland Emmerich’s supersized alien-invasion pic, Independence Day. This belated sequel, again piloted by Emmerich, proves size still matters. You oohed at spaceships 15 miles wide? Try 3,000 miles. You aahed at the ka-booming of landmarks? Then how about landmarks being tossed at other landmarks like some giant game of space marbles…?
The concept’s a good one, with a harmonised Earth having spent the last 20 years strengthening its defences in readiness of a second intergalactic shit-fit. The anti-gravitational alien tech left behind has been appropriated; a half-trillion dollar weapon is positioned on the moon; and satellite technician David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), key to winning the War of 1996, now heads up the Earth Space Defense program (ESD). Sure enough, the attack comes, with the mother of all motherships landing in the Atlantic Ocean to send up a wave that would defeat Bodhi. The East Coast is toast.
Can the survivors of the first film – including former President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the aforementioned Levinson and his comedy-sidekick dad Julius (Judd Hirsch), and mad scientist Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) – again exterminate the ETs? To do so they’ll need some help from the next generation, most notably pilots Jake (Liam Hemsworth) and Dylan (Jesse Usher), the latter being the stepson of Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller, who we’re told died while taking some harvested alien tech for a test spin.
Thankfully, there are women too, with Sela Ward in the presidential hot seat, Maika Monroe as President Whitmore’s daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg as a French psychiatrist, and Chinese actress and model Angelababy also piloting a souped-up jet. Frustratingly, all are pretty much sidelined while the guys get on with the business of winning the war in an interminable dogfight.
With this many characters (we haven’t even mentioned William Fichtner’s military general and Deobia Oparei’s katana-wielding African warlord) and a sub-plot involving humans dreaming of a circular symbol, this might have been titled ‘Independence Day: Submergence’. It’s certainly hard not to drown in the sea of CGI, with the exponential increase of pixels being to Independence Day what the Star Wars prequels were to the original trilogy.
Who’d have thought ID4 would ever look like an exercise in restraint, its model-making (and subsequent breaking) clean and contained? Here, the set-pieces are cluttered, with only a desert chase involving a school bus and a towering alien queen displaying any discipline and excitement. It’s one corner of the Kaiju movie Emmerich should have made.
In the end, Goldblum’s Levinson sums it up while talking about the mothership sucking up whole cities from the Earth’s surface: “What goes up, must come down.” Sadly, he might have been talking about the franchise.