So we saw Independence Day: Resurgence. Some spoilery thoughts follow.
I have a lot of time for Roland Emmerich’s orgies of destruction, especially his work post-Godzilla. For instance, I will go to my grave maintaining that 2012 is a much smarter movie than it is given credit for being. But when the trailers for Resurgence first emerged, the sequel struck me as rather pointless. I couldn’t see how it could avoid simply being more of the same. In the end, I was both right and wrong on this count. There is a lot that is the same, and not just in the sense of returning characters. There are many similar beats to the first, down to near-identical heroic sacrifices. And while I have plenty of issues with the first film (love the build-up and the fiery apocalypse, am less thrilled with the fight back, and Bill Pullman’s big speech is easily in my Top Ten Most Despised Moments in Cinema), its emotional scenes, unsubtle as they are, work better than the ones here. Compare Pullman’s perfunctory send-off here with Randy Quaid’s nearly identical blaze of glory.
Much of the film feels by-the-numbers with regards to the characterizations (and I’m using the word loosely). The younger generation of characters, in particular, are utterly uninteresting nonentities. And poor Charlotte Gainsbourg, here encountering her second apocalypse (after Melancholia) is utterly wasted, her character given little to do except ask people about circles. (And don’t get me started on the idiocy of the truth behind the circle-and-dash symbol.)
Emmerich does up the ante with the destruction, at least in terms of what is represented, rather than how much we actually get to see. The problem is, he has destroyed the world so many times, it must be getting hard not to repeat himself. In the quest to go bigger and bigger yet, he lands a 3000-mile-wide ship on Earth. The devastation that occurs is spectuacular but confusing. As I mentioned on Twitter, I think the events he is trying to show are now so vast, they defy representation on the screen. They can work in print, where the mind’s eye can be as panoramic as required, but there were scenes here where I don’t think I would have understood what I was seeing if I had not read about these moments prior. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the destruction, as it achieved an abstract, painterly beauty.
As for the introduction of more alien species, and a backdrop of a larger galactic war, this is both very promising, and a source of frustration. It does show where the franchise could go, leading us to a third film which has far less retreading than this one does. And this is where I was wrong about inevitable sameness: here is a new narrative element, one that opens up the fictional universe enormously. So that’s good, that’s neat, that’s cool. An alliance of many species gathered together to fight back has many possibilities.
I groaned when it was announced that humanity has been invited to lead the resistance. Oh FFS. This, again? The inherent specialness and superiority of the human race is one of the most tired tropes of SF, trotted out again and again across all media, decade after decade. It lurks everywhere, in every human-led galactic federation and variation of the “you primitives are going to show us all!” narrative. It’s lazy, and it’s pernicious, and it appears to be ineradicable. It makes me long to re-read The War of the Worlds or re-watch either of its film versions, where we do not survive because we are special, but because we are lucky.
Granted, given the title of the movie, I shouldn’t really expect anything else, and this one gives us not one but TWO Inspiriational Speeches (each excruciating in its inane banality), but it was deflating to get at the last moment, feeling like an completely unnecessary tag. Once again, the underdogs will be emperors.
Sometimes, I’d just rather see Rome burn.