Friday, July 8, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence: Review

Independence Day: Resurgence is so contrived and slow-witted a sequel that it’s making me reassess my fondness for the 1996 film. I was in my early teens when I watched Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, so the cinematic bar couldn’t have been set too high. Still, I remember it being funny and exciting and Jeff Goldblum being memorably weird. Over the years, I put some ironic distance between myself and the film, but not so much that I couldn’t sit through a couple of scenes when it turned up on TV. Now, 20 years later, Emmerich has essentially made the same film again, and I could barely sit through it.

It isn’t so much that Resurgence lacks originality and verve and feels like it’s been put together by a committee of studio robots. Hollywood has started making a different kind of summer blockbuster now, not necessarily better, but more self-aware and cynical. The kind of square-jawed heroism that Independence Day could get away with in 1996 just looks square now. It’s possible I’m romanticizing the trashy fun of my youth, but even the cheesy scene-stealing lines coming out of Hollywood today aren’t what they used to be. It’s tough to imagine Will Smith in the 1996 film shouting, “Get ready for a close encounter, bitch,” as Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher) does in this one.

It’s been 20 years since aliens attacked and were defeated. Since then, the world has had an unprecedented two decades of peace, because there’s nothing like Americans waging a war to bring people across the globe together. Now the space invaders are back and—surprise!—they’re smarter and deadlier than they were the last time around. Incredibly, almost all the old gang, with the exception of Smith’s Steven Hiller, is at hand: scientists David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner); and former US president Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman). There are also some new recruits: fighter pilots Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) and Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Steven’s son), Whitmore’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe) and, rather unexpectedly, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Catherine Marceaux, a scientist and former associate of Levinson’s. Two hours and many explosions later, half the world has seemingly been laid to waste, but everyone is happy because the aliens are toast.

It’s incredible that two near-identical Hollywood films made 20 years apart have roughly the same amount of ethnic diversity. Though Smith was the biggest thing to emerge from the first film, there’s still only room for one black character in Resurgence (two, if you count the African warlord played by Deobia Oparei, a character that comes with its own racist overtones). The film can’t even find room for a token Indian scientist; Asia is represented by Chinese pilot Rain Lao (Angelababy) and Europe by Gainsbourg’s Marceaux. Apart from that, everything’s Caucasian and all-American. Yet when they finally emerge victorious, people across the world are shown cheering. The first film ended this way too. It’s a very different world, but some delusions aren’t shaken off easily.

This review appeared in Mint.

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