“Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression or persecution – but from annihilation!”
Maybe you remember the patriotic climax of “Independence Day” in 1996. It was a doozy of a speech – by Bill Pullman’s unshakable President Thomas J. Whitmore – but has it become iconic enough to resonate after 20 years?
Even if you don’t recall it, Roland Emmerich, the outspoken director of the original as well as the new “Independence Day: Resurgence,” doesn’t really care. “I’m always against sequels,” he said via phone. “They’re exactly the same.” He sees “Resurgence” as a new film that just happens to be anchored by some of the same actors. But he was coaxed into Franchise Land by the tremendous advances in visual effects (the original won the Oscar in that category). “We had to wait for it to catch up,” he said.
What has changed on and offscreen will surely play a role in the film’s fate – if not the Earth’s – this time around. Here’s a sampling.
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Plus: This one’s in 3-D and IMAX 3-D. The ships are bigger, the aliens scarier and more bloodthirsty, and the technology is more advanced. We even have bases on the moon and Saturn (well, briefly).
Minus: The notion of an “Independence Day” without Will Smith is, to some, like, well, “Men in Black” without Will Smith. He stole the first “ID” by punching out an alien (“Welcome to Earth!”), but he’s not around for this one. While his character’s absence is explained in the new film, and his son (played by Jessie T. Usher) has taken over the family business of flying through space, it’s certainly conspicuous.
Minus: “Ever since I was kidnapped by aliens 10 years ago, I’ve been dying for some payback,” Randy Quaid says when volunteering to pilot a jet in Film 1. He’s gone this time around and sorely missed.
Plus: Maika Monroe, star of the horror film “It Follows,” plays the former president’s daughter. And Liam Hemsworth’s fighter pilot, Jake Morrison, is Errol Flynn-like.
Plus: The glass ceiling has shattered. Not only is the president of the United States a woman (Sela Ward), but Vivica A. Fox, Smith’s wife in Film 1, is also no longer an exotic dancer. She’s a staid health care worker.
Plus: Gay heroes prevail. Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) wakes from a 20-year alien-induced coma (“Did we win?”), and he’s loud, proud and armed with lasers. Okun greets a benevolent, super-intelligent orb with the Streisand-ian “Hello, gorgeous!”
Minus: But where is Harvey Fierstein, who in Film 1 played colleague to Jeff Goldblum, who is reprising his role as the wisecracking scientist David Levinson?
Plus: Supersize globalism. “Nations have put their petty differences aside” in the wake of the first round of devastation. Earthlings now live in a virtual one-world state. Americans share space stations with the Chinese, consult with the Germans and enlist the help of African warlords.
Minus: After 9/11, the tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina, is watching the utter destruction of cities on film as entertaining as it was back in 1996? Quite honestly, no.
Plus and Minus?: Cinéaste hipsterism has gone mainstream. Charlotte Gainsbourg is in this film, and Von Trier-less, she smiles!