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‘Resurgence’ Reminds Us Why Roland Emmerich Ruins Landmarks Best

Published on June 24th, 2016 | Updated on June 24th, 2016 | By FanFest

Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin – two guys that, over the years, had become synonymous to putting out movies that were disaster movies that made dust out of landmarks. They were the two kids you saw at the playground lost in their imaginations pretending they were laying waste to the world around them. Sure, they squeezed the genre dry as much as they could, playing on our fears and trying to ask the bigger questions but without any satisfying results, just weaving silly end of the world tales connected by random acts of disaster. Aliens? Nailed it. Climate change? Yep. The end of the world predicted by the Mayans? Absolutely. (We won’t discuss Godzilla. Not on any day.) Following the dismal returns for White House Down, the duo took a step back and regrouped. Then, they got a whiff of Sequel-Itis plaguing Hollywood these days and found a property they always wanted to revisit – Independence Day, the ultimate sci-fi tale that’s a must-watch around the Fourth of July. The question on everyone’s minds, aside from the lack of marketing, was what their first-ever sequel would aim to tackle next.

I just, I can’t believe I’m about to write these words – for as completely asinine as Independence Day: Resurgence is most of the time, the film is some of the most mind-numbing fun I’ve had at the box office. Devlin and Emmerich have gone back into the sandbox and, now having the CG tools they lacked twenty years ago in the original, created a very realistic and open world that’s fully believable but weave a plot so thin you’re afraid it’ll untangle. Somehow, and I’m not sure how (maybe more on the frenetic action sequences than the actual script itself), the film stays together and reminds we fans why this duo perfected the genre and, more importantly, why they’re the kings of disaster at the end of the day.

Hell, if there’s a plot to be told, you could easily assemble the fragmented pieces together with crumpled up Post-It notes in a straight line on a conference room table. Twenty years since our planet was first invaded, Earth has since assimilated the alien technology by integrating the remnants of the downed ships with our own, creating a cohesive existence fortified by defensive capabilities beyond rhyme and reason. With the world celebrating the anniversary of the enemy’s greatest defeat in Washington DC (where else would a conflict-free Earth celebrate anyway?), another ship 3,000 miles wide looms large on the horizon about to usurp our planet. The Earth Space Defense, led by David Levinson, will be put to the test to ensure the aliens are thwarted once again in their attempt to conquer our planet.

Really, that’s all there is to the plot. No shocks or surprises to be found anywhere, but a tale that’s straight forward and to the point. You want destruction? Your prayers are answered. Whereas Emmerich and Devlin wrote the original screenplay themselves without help for the 1996 masterpiece, there are no less than five hands in the honeypot this time, creating a narrative mess that peel away in thick layers but comes off with a vibe more reminiscent of a 1950’s B-movie told in a linear path. The original draft is by newcomers James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright (the latter was the tour guide in White House Down), with second pass by Emmerich and Devlin, and a final polish by James Vanderbilt. A movie this size and scope should have more build-up and panache but instead, we get right into the thick of the plot nearly right away without any real sense of why Earth is targeted again. The subplots never amount to anything and whittle into obscurity, save for one about Levinson’s father (again a doting Judd Hirsch returns, this time stuck trekking kids across the desert). Ideas that make you wonder more about motivations for characters are presented early, often, and frequently. Rather than a payoff, these ideas are tossed aside with a finger snap to focus more on the impending doom and what mankind will do to stop the aliens this time.

Just don’t expect to see Will Smith’s Steven Hiller return to save the day with his cigar-chomping, alien ass-kicking Air Force pilot. (Not truly a spoiler alert, as 20th Century Fox outed this nugget ages ago when the press asked why Smith was strangely absent from casting.)

20th Century Fox

Whoops. I guess the hefty payday Smith requested denied him a return to the movie that made him a star. No worry though, here’s a better idea. I’ll pretend I’m a newbie writer looking to make the disaster flick trying to make its place on the Wall Of Fame. Write out a list of generic character types, cut the ideas down into tiny paper strips, and throw them into a paper bag. Ready? Pull out the stereotypes and, yep, here we go. For the sequel, rather than picking up on an older Hiller, we’re given his son Dylan (Jessie Usher – yep, the original child actor is now a grown man!) as the hotshot captain that the ESD relies on to lead missions to protect the world. Okay, got it? Good. Now add in a dash of Top Gun, with Liam Hemsworth playing ballsy lieutenant Jake Morrison, the Maverick to Dylan’s Iceman, always showing off on just how much a daredevil of a pilot he is in the cockpit. Yikes, we need the love interest. Morrison is engaged to Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe – taking over for Mae Whitman), whose daddy is delusional (or is he?) former President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman back at it again). Right, we need comic relief. Oh, and the military chief with gusto. Add in Brent Spiner as Doctor Brakish Okun, awakening from a twenty year coma magically, and all-around scene chewer William Fichtner as General Adams. Wait – hey, Adams. John Adams. Well, we don’t learn his first name, but it wouldn’t shock me if that was the intention at all.

Yeah, that cast doesn’t look too bad, do they? Hell, even Vivica A. Fox returns because she needs a paycheck now and again. But none of them will matter at all save for four of ’em. With the breakneck pace that Resurgence unfolds (seconds seem to be minutes or even hours – we’re never given a clue), we don’t get to know much about the foils for the aliens, nor are we given a reason as to why we should root for them at all. With scenes dizzily navigating the globe and lasting sometimes only a few seconds, you can easily get lost understanding the players and their motivations. In a disaster movie with such a large scale with huge stakes, why should the characters matter? Because honestly, in a formula being reinvented by the masters of destruction, the characters don’t matter. In any other genre flick, the plot generally doesn’t make a lick of sense but we’re enthralled by the characters trying to survive. Instead, we’re left worrying more about what could possibly happen to the world next. Sure, the cast will charm the hell out of you, but most of them feel like they’re on auto pilot setting sail for a red carpet premiere and their next project.

At least Brent Spiner seems to care. As usual, Spiner steals the show every chance that he gets, spending a good chunk of his screen time running around a lab in aged Hanes jockeys cracking wise and keeping the thread-thin plot together. When the plot needs to advance, Spiner swoops in to save the day. This is a nice refreshing change compared to his throwaway introduction in the original. Hell, Spiner even gets the last line in the movie! For an actor not receiving top billing but more as a supporting thesp, Spiner seems to be weaved into the narrative the most and serves as the brains, asking the questions for us (the ones that do get asked anyway) and trying to keep everything together from start to finish.

However, and this I surmised before walking into the theater – if you’re shelling out your cash for the acting, then you need to demand a refund and go see something completely different. Sure, Emmerich and Devlin actually had lively characters in other wondrous works like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and even in White House Down. (This writer freely admits that their White House invasion actioneer is vastly underrated and serves as a great rainy day must-watch anytime. Listen, I like good cheese, even if the cheese is a bit extra gooey.) I’m sure somewhere on the cutting room floor is no less than a half hour of exposition that would flesh out the plot somewhat. The movie would make a lot more sense if the first 15 minutes was expanded by a deeper understanding why certain characters are so calculated in the mannerisms and actions. That’s not what I, or any fan of mindbogglingly fun movies, expect. Instead, we’re treated to 119 minutes of death, destruction, chaos, and thrills. I was cautious when the invasion began after the introduction to the Fourth of July in an alternate universe 2016. From that point on, story and logic be damned, we traverse the world over as the aliens do what they should have done the first time over – flatten us to the ground, keep us there like ants, and barely allow us a chance to dust ourselves off for any sort of defense.

The visuals are top notch and, while most of the movie is an elongated and highly glorified video game cutscene sprinkled with real actors, God does it look utterly beautiful. Special effects have come a long way in twenty years time and Emmerich takes full advantage of all of the toys at his disposal. He may have pioneered the re-emerging of a true summer blockbuster but the industry needed to build on his vision. His time away from tentpoles has aided in crafting some of the most dizzying, yet wholly entertaining, set pieces he’s ever orchestrated. Also, Emmerich takes his penchant for wrecking havoc on the landmarks of the world and not caring for collateral damage. London? Hell with them. Washington? Ah, already blew it all to hell the first time, let’s flatten the nation’s capital again. Even poor South Korea is laid to waste. But God, is it a beaut to witness. Every little detail you’d expect to see is painstakingly created and witnessed. As much as I will always long for seeing miniatures utilized for special effects, the scope of disaster in Resurgence would suffer without the necessity of CG displaying the world being torn asunder.

Even with character and plot being tossed aside like a gum wrapper adrift in a breeze, the breakneck pace keeps Resurgence barreling ahead without losing any steam. Sure, there’s a couple of points that the chest-pounding patriotism shines through (and bombs terribly but leaving you with a sly smirk), but the roller coaster never hits any hills to let you breathe. From the very moment the mothership shadows over the Moon, I honestly don’t think the action quit for a good 45 minutes. Easily. In any other disaster movie, we’d at least get a few minutes of exposition to see a character in distress. Why bother though? The moment we all should have been prepared for hits us like a rainstorm on a sunny day and doesn’t let you find cover. One minute, we’re watching Levinson and company fight to emerge from a pull into Earth’s atmosphere safe and sound. The next, they’re attempting to dodge all of creation free-falling around their ship. Before you know it, we’re back at Area 51 bracing to launch an attack at the Queen herself. When you do get a minute to gather your thoughts, you’re left wondering what you just witnessed and just how the Earth hasn’t been ripped in half.

Yet, somehow, even at the conclusion (leaving the door very much open for a grand finale to a trilogy we never needed in the first place), you’ll walk out grinning. Sure, you won’t have a care in the world for any of the characters. Resurgence makes any of Roland Emmerich’s other schlocky disaster flicks look almost Kubrickian in hindsight. The goal here is to distract you from the ills of the world surrounding you for two hours. Leave your frowns, your worries, your woes behind when you buy that ticket. You’ll exit the theater wanting to see it again because you know you missed something. You probably did. If that was Emmerich’s goal – congratulations, you sly bastard. Plot be damned, Independence Day: Resurgence is a true return to form for the true master of disaster. I’m even giddy wondering what the hell he’d do with a third movie if 20th Century Fox gives him the chance. If this was a way to reinvent the genre he helped bring back to life in the 1990’s – what will he do in the future? It’s silly to ponder, but if he managed to get a movie this absurdly fun on the screen, then what’s he got up his sleeve next?

Reber’s Rating – B (and totally unashamed to admit his love for how incredibly silly Emmerich’s return to disaster porn ends up)

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