by Steve McGowan
It’s the summer of sequels (when is it not?), and now we have the follow-up movie to the original Independence Day from 20 years ago. The thing is,nobody really asked for a sequel, and yet here we are. Since I loved the original cheesy over-the-top apocalyptic alien invasion movie, I was obligated to watch this one too.
Back in 1996, CGI was kind of a newish thing, with Jurassic Park’s jaw-dropping dinosaurs wowing audiences just 3 years prior, and it was getting cheaper and cheaper to create bigger and badder spectacles. It was fresh and new to see swarms of computer-generated fighter jets battle another swarm of alien spaceships, and it was helped tremendously by having a great cast led by the wisecracking Will Smith who spat out lines like”No, you did NOT shoot that green shit at me”. It was an instant blockbuster.
Fast forward to today. They got most of the original cast back for the sequel, sans Will Smith, who is sorely missed. However we got back David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) and Dr. Brakish Okum (Brent Spiner), who are all 20 years older and are sort of taking a backseat to the newer, younger cast: Liam Hemsworth who plays hotshot pilot Jake, Jessie T. Usher plays Dylan Hiller,the son of Will Smith’s character who is also a pilot, and Chinese actress Angelababy, who plays (you guessed it), a pilot. Jake’s fiancée is none other than Patricia Whitmore, the former president Whitmore’s daughter, who works in the White House but also a pilot (see a theme here?). The pilots aren’t exactly interesting characters, they’re just standard fighter jocksand their scenes play out like Space Top Gun, complete with a Maverick/Iceman rivalry between Jake and Dylan. They fly SPACE JETS and they help the construction of some laser cannon thingy on the moon, which is supposed to prevent further alien invasions.
Next subplot! Somewhere in Africa, during the first alien invasion of ’96,there’s an alien UFO that _landed_ and tried to drill to the Earth’s core because they learned Space Villainy 101 from the baddie from J.J. Abrams’first Star Trek reboot. There we meet Dikembe Umbutu, a badass warlord who’s really good at killing aliens because he fought a ground war with them first time round. Also in this movie is Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dr. Catherine Marceaux, a psychiatrist/exolinguist/telepathy expert/plot device who exists for exposition and as a love interest for David Levinson. She ends up in Africa with David, meets up with Dikembe, and they do the obligatory translation of scrawled alien symbols.
Meanwhile, the moon base gets… an alien visitor! Thinking the aliens have returned, the US president orders the ship to be blown up. That’s probably a bad idea but we shoot first and ask questions later, because that’s how we apparently roll in America, often to disastrous results. This time it’s no different; David feels it’s not the hostile aliens but a new species (he’s right). So David, Catherine, and Dikembe fortuitously meet Jake, who comes down to Earth in a ludicrously fast space tugboat, and they return to the moon to pick up the wreckage of the ship they blew up. However, when the _real_ bad guys, our returning aliens, suddenly arrive in a massive ship to kick our asses, it all goes to hell as the moon defense laser thing is easily obliterated by them. Our heroes on the space tugboat barely have time to recover the wreckage before they find themselves having to outrun the massive alien destroyer ship which is heading for Earth. The alien ship is a vessel so massive that “it has its own gravity”. Sadly they play fast and loose with science. We see some funky gravity effects where things get pulled upwards toward the alien ship, but the while gravity effect is promptly forgotten some moments later as the ship actually _touches down_on the surface of Earth, making our world look like it has a clingy metal alien beast hugging it.
The devastation from the ship landing leads to our disaster porn scenes,but it feels really perfunctory; perhaps we as an audience have been jaded by endless disaster movies and this feels like yet another one. Yet it was the original Independence Day that captured the world’s imagination with its destruction scenes; perhaps we’ve moved passed that spectacle and have become incredibly desensitized to it. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it feels a lot more video gamey than the first film, right down to having a(literal) boss battle. I enjoyed the performances of Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch the most in this movie, and I wished there was more of that banter between David and his father. The other characters are otherwise cliched, bland and forgettable.
I give this film two and a half Jeff Goldblums out of five.