Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Independence Day: Resurgence

Title: Independence Day: Resurgence

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 

Bob Dole: "It's time to tear those aliens a third corn chute."

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two Spaceball Ones out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: The aliens are back, and they've installed Norton AntiVirus.

Tagline: "We had twenty years to prepare. So did they."

Better Tagline: "After 20 years you'd think they'd have developed a Genesis device by now."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's been a fifth of a century since Earth, under the leadership of American President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), repelled an invasion by hostile extraterrestrials. In the interim, humanity has exploited the aliens' tech to rebuild and reinforce their defenses in preparation for another attack. And attack they do (with a decidedly larger mothership), only Whitmore's now a basket case, while former cable TV tech David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is the Director of Earth Space Defense (ESD), and fellow hero of the war Stephen Hiller was killed testing an alien fighter. Can Levinson help rally Earth's defenses against this new threat without his handy laptop?

"Critical" Analysis: Like Return of the Jedi or Space Jam, the original Independence Day works better as a cautionary tale about the dangers of nostalgia than as an actual movie. Aside from the distinctly pre-9/11 thrill of watching American landmarks blown to smithereens and — for Houstonians — the vicarious pleasure of living in the first American city to be destroyed by a nuclear bomb, there isn't much to recommend it.

Not that there weren't high hopes in the weeks leading up to its release. Hilarious pronouncements about how it would be "this generation's Star Wars" and it heralded "a comeback for science fiction" either proved desperately wrong (the former) or nominally correct (the latter), though sci-fi arguably hadn't really gone anywhere. And even if the critical response wasn't exactly earth-shattering (heh), it still grossed more than $800 million worldwide, good enough for biggest box office haul of 1996.

So why the two-decade wait for the sequel? To hear ID writer Dean Devlin tell it, it took more than 15 years before he and director Roland Emmerich came up with a suitable idea and for technology to catch up. Said idea more or less boiling down to, "What if the aliens came *back*?" Which doesn't seem like that complicated a narrative leap from the original, but maybe time passes more slowly in Hollywood, which would certainly explain the number of times you'll look at your watch during Resurgence.

Probably the first — and most significant — change you'll notice is the lack of Will Smith as Captain Stephen Hiller, hero pilot of the "War of '96." Smith's exorbitant salary demands (reportedly $50 million for two sequels) earned him an offscreen death, with the story burden picked up by his stepson Dylan (Jessie Usher), now a pilot in the ESD alongside Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). Maika Monroe also takes over as former First Daughter Patricia Whitmore from Mae Whitman, who apparently didn't make the cut in spite of, you know, actually playing the role in the original.

But Bill Pullman is back! So are Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, and Brent Spiner. Yes, we all thought Dr. Okun died last movie. Clearly, Spiner was willing to accept significantly less money than Will Smith.

If this all seems like a lot of introductory material, that's because 20th Century Fox didn't screen Independence Day: Resurgence for the press, meaning yours truly is writing this Thursday night after an 8 PM screening. This review will therefore be broken down into easily digestible (and writable) chunks. To wit:

Jeff Goldblum: He's not exactly straining himself, but the combination of determination, insouciance and occasional terror makes Levinson the most realized character in ID:R by a long shot.

DeObia Oparei: African warlord Dikembe is, on the other hand, *not* very fleshed out at all. In fact, his inclusion feels like Devlin and Emmerich thought it would be cool to have a guy who kills aliens with swords, so they created a dude who led a bunch of other dudes in a ground war against the aliens for ten years. And in a weird way, it works.

Pretty Much Any Actor Not Named Jeff Golblum or DeObia Oparei: Lesser Hemsworth and Jessie Usher don't have enough charisma combined to make up for Will Smith's absence, and watching Monroe as the pilot/Presidential aide/plot-convenient girlfriend really makes you wonder how Whitman would've handled the role. Other non-standouts include Sela Ward as President Lanford and Robert goddamn Loggia, reprising his role as General Grey, if by "reprising" you mean "sitting in a wheelchair and not given any lines."

I For One Welcome Our New Chinese Box Office Overlords: As if the casting of model/singer Angelababy (yes, really) as an ace Chinese pilot weren't enough, the President helpfully informs no one in particular that "the Chinese have been integral to the Earth Defense Program." Remember to apply the tongue firmly to get a good shine on those boots, guys.

Get Away From Her You B*tch: We get to meet the "harvester queen" of the alien horde, and yes — she looks suspiciously like another alien queen. There's also, naturally, a chase scene involving kids on a school bus, probably because Devlin and Emmerich realized the only way the audience was going to give a rat's ass about any of this is if they put a bunch of children in mortal danger.

Bill Pullman: Hilariously, Whitmore has actually *become* Quaid's character from the first movie: bearded, paranoid and speaking in dire pronouncements. He, like other characters "linked" to the aliens (Dikembe, Dr. Okun), is also afforded glimpses into the alien leader's mind, for all the good it does. 

Doctor In A Coma: If you thought Brent Spiner's character died in the first movie, you'd be wrong. He's merely been in a coma lo these 20 years, waking up as the new ship approaches. Miraculously, he still has unhindered use of his limbs and no apparent ill effects whatsoever in spite of being in a coma lo these 20 years.

Magic By Any Other Name: If you were worried Devlin and Emmerich wouldn't achieve the lofty heights of linking a Mac to an alien mothership via its TCP/IP protocol, fear not. The bullshit flows just as freely this time around, and is even amplified by assimilation of alien capabilities (cold fusion bombs!), which have rendered the entire question of realistic technological capabilities moot. At least it's in keeping with the rather elastic rules established for the universe by the first Independence Day.

Independence Day: Resurgence is in theaters today. Welcome, once again, to Earf.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar