Thursday, 30 June 2016

"That's... definitely bigger than the last one."

As Dubai's Burj Khalifa plummets from a blazing sky into the London Eye, amid the gravity defying fury of a 3,000 mile wide claw shaped alien mother ship, Jeff Goldblum tiredly absorbs it all and deadpans, "They like to get the landmarks."

If his David Levinson – one time TV network IT engineer, now Director of the Earth Space Defense program – exudes a wonderful, war of the worlds weary sense of 'seen it all before', his creator and chief catastrophiser Roland Emmerich remains gleefully destructive. With new technology, new toys and new ideas, the modern era's master of disaster has returned to the scene of his greatest triumph.

With perhaps the exception of The Matrix (1999), no blockbuster hijacked 1990s multiplexes quite like Emmerich's supersized alien invasion epic, Independence Day (1996). And this much belated sequel thankfully proves size still matters.

Allowing the same blend of multiplex rattling spectacle and no small amount of silliness, Emmerich has gone all out to recapture the thrills of the original and, for the most part, succeeds. While the occasional call backs clunk – Jessie Usher (When The Game Stands Tall) as the orphaned stepson of Will Smith's Captain Steven Hiller fails to sell the line, "Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!" – other riffs prove sonorously nostalgic. And we are not just talking about another death defying dog. Whether it is Goldblum reliving his co-pilot jitters in yet another spacecraft, Bill Pullman pulling on his flight suit once more as PTSD stricken former president Thomas Whitmore, or Brent Spiner making a welcomely deranged return as surprisingly not dead Dr. Brakish Okun, you will likely thrum with the same joy you felt during the first film. Assuming you are old enough, of course.

For the next generation moviegoer, Emmerich and his co-writer/producer Dean Devlin have provided next generation Earth defenders. Joining Usher are Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as the obligatory maverick Jake Morrison, Maika Monroe (It Follows) replacing Mae Whitman as Whitmore's daughter Patricia – now an ex-fighter pilot herself – and former model and actress Angelababy (Hitman: Agent 47).

There are further female power players too, with Sela Ward (The Day After Tomorrow) as President Lanford and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac) as a French psychiatrist.

But old and new faces never fully mingle. Aside from a first act trip to the moon and some cursory father and daughter interaction between the Whitmores. Instead we find the kids heading off to engage in an all too brief skirmish amid some surprisingly placed paddy fields on the alien mothership, while their elders are back at Area 51 in Nevada, using new intel to hatch another outlandish plan to destroy the unwanted invaders. Who, by the way, are now revealed to be a 'hive' led by a 'queen'. Which certainly sounds a lot like another science fiction sequel we know. Only this alien queen is the size of Godzilla. After all, this is Roland Emmerich we are talking about.

For all the ensuing absurdity, Emmerich and Devlin have put a considerable amount of thought into how to present their new world. The concept of integrating alien technology is convincing – their assertion that the invasion brought about world peace perhaps less so. The script can be culturally insensitive, too – the presentation of a Central African warlord (Deobia Oparei), who joins the core alien battling gang, machetes and all, feels like something that should have been left in the 1990s. Still, it is an intriguing and appealing science fiction proposition – a place that could be utopia if it weren't ravaged by the cultural trauma of a largely orphaned generation, or living in perpetual fear of interstellar reprisal.

Independence Day: Resurgence is less effective, though, in fully reviving the one crucial element that made its predecessor stand out from other science fiction adventures. Namely its classic disaster flick style opening. Starting in a world so different to ours somehow makes the moments prior to the aliens' arrival less effective. It hardly helps that virtually every character on screen is expecting it, but you are so distracted by all the rotorless helicopters, anti gravity tugs and space jets – not to mention an extensive amount of world building exposition – you don't really feel the build-up to the destruction, or the great release of tension when it hits. We are no longer witnessing the attempted annihilation of our world. It is very much another planet.

Which is why the film needs Pullman, Spiner, Judd Hirsch and Goldblum. Those all to familiar faces, reliving 1996 with us and for us. Goldblum, perhaps more than anyone else here, is essential. While the tornado of digital effects swirls around us, he brings things neatly down to earth, allowing us to revel in the sheer giddy spectacle of it all, and thereby forgive the majority of its shortcomings. As he says on seeing the new enemy ship, "That's... definitely bigger than the last one."

As spectacular as you would hope from a sequel to Independence Day, and as amusingly cheesy. You will enjoy yourself enough that you won't even miss Will Smith.

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