Roland Emmerich, director of Independence Day: Resurgence, is unfairly labelled a ‘guilty pleasure’ director. His action films are generally cheesy and big and full of explosions, so we feel embarrassed by our fondness of them, and tend to relegate them into the murky waters of ‘good/bad’ viewing. Indeed, Independence Day: Resurgence is packed so full of cheese, explosions and too-convenient plot-twists it could sink a ship; yet it all adds up to a fun, old-fashioned disaster pic, made with such confidence and heart that it’s time we finally blast the guilt into the stratosphere where it belongs.
Emmerich is not rewriting his rule-book; he’s riffing on it with a bigger budget. We open with a bearded and pajama-clad (read: crazy) Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), haunted by visions and his well-trod “we won’t go quietly into the night” speech that’s become the series’ calling card (Resurgence tries to replicate its chill-inducing patriotism multiple times but falls hilariously short). The aliens are returning, believes Whitmore, but this time they’ll be bigger, deadlier, and have to contend with double the cast.
Consequently, Resurgence is bursting at the seams with characters - nearly all the supporting cast get a bum deal in terms of screentime - but the leads are just as charming as they were the first time around. Like the original, this is an all-walks-of-life affair: Jeff Goldblum returns as the Jeff Goldblum-esque scientist and Judd Hirsch his comic relief Jewish dad, Charlotte Gainsbourg is the savvy French doctor, while Brent Spiner is also back as the dotty Brakish Okun, his luscious long grey hair stealing every scene he’s in.
In classic Independence Day fashion, the picture isn’t complete without a cocky hot shot wanting to prove himself, a role performed with effortless bad boy aplomb by Liam Hemsworth. Hemsworth is Jake Morrison, renegade pilot in The Earth Space Defense Force, a special defence program full of good looking Top Gun extras skilled at dogfighting and wielding advanced alien weaponry mastered since the last attack.
However, Morrison’s status quo is shaken upon the arrival of Dylan Dubrow-Hillier (Jessie Usher), the very serious son of decorated war veteran Steven Hillier (Will Smith, unavailable). The class tensions and competition here could have been explored with a little more finesse (“he’s royalty and we’re just orphans” quips Morrison’s equally good looking friend Charlie), but instead there’s a contrived back-story about Morrison endangering Hillier’s life in a past training session, which serves to provide a platform for a predictable rekindling of friendship once the aliens start attacking proper.
But no matter, because once the devastation starts - on July 4th, of course - Resurgence makes sure that’s all you care about. Once again this is all about a giant mothership levelling cities, but this time the mothership is much, much bigger and the destruction more grandiose. Resurgence throws out disaster after disaster: there’s a tidal wave, a flood, and in the film’s most impressive effect, a gravitational pull that sees thousands of extras being lifted helplessly off the ground.
For a while Resurgence simply revels in this excess, and there’s a certain joy mined from watching overly-cocky Americans failing to stop the determined alien force time and time again. It’s all great looking stuff, too - this is a cohesive, lived-in world where alien technology is seamlessly interwoven with man-made efforts, and when the war starts proper, the spectacle is entirely believable.
The plot, in the meantime, gets gradually more implausible. Like its predecessor, this is a case of ‘swallow it or hate it’, but fortunately there are moments of humour and humanity that help the more ridiculous moments go down easy. When we learn that Earth’s fate hangs on the existence of a floating CGI orb, we also see Okun’s butt hang out the back of his hospital robes. As the Earth Space Defense Force squadron faces insurmountable odds in the guts of the mothership, Morrison punches an alien in the face for some reason. The characters in Resurgence don’t take themselves too seriously, and as a result we care about them in those big life or death, good-vs-evil moments.
As Resurgence builds towards its conclusion, it kick-starts a giddy series of events that culminates in one of the most ridiculous finales in a sci-fi movie in recent years. This is Emmerich firing on all cylinders here, a director who believes nothing is too ostentatious, too implausible, too much, as long as it’s fun. And that’s Independence Day: Resurgence’s bottom line.