Sci-fi disaster sequel Independence Day: Resurgence is ‘unnecessary, underwhelming and problematic’ writes MacDara Conroy

Twenty years is a long time in popular culture. The public’s appetite for the kind of mass destruction that made the original Independence Day such a smash hit in 1996 has changed quite a bit, given the reaction to some of the more recent skyscraper topplers. Yet it appears the message hasn’t quite reached director Roland Emmerich, the disaster helm who spent the intervening years giving us a poor rendition of a Godzilla movie, a laughable apocalypse fantasy in 2012 and a whitewashed tribute to Stonewall before returning to the property that made his name (no, not Stargate).

In many way similar to Jurassic World last summer, Independence Day: Resurgence is an unnecessary, underwhelming and problematic follow-up to a film chiefly remembered for its impressive bombast of its special effects and for launching Will Smith, the Fresh Prince himself, to superstardom. As it happens, Smith is among the few original cast members who doesn’t return for this retread, one conspicuously lacking in star power.

For sure the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman are familiar faces, but in 2016 they don’t put bums in seats. Neither, I expect, will Liam Hemsworth – a bland, frat-bro version of his more beloved sibling Chris – nor the similarly anonymous Jessie Usher as the son of Smith’s character, now a flying ace in his father’s mould whose squadron, which includes Hong Kong model-turned-actor Angelababy for that all-important Chinese audience, is called into action when the alien baddies of the first instalment return to Earth with a vengeance.

Or so we’re told. The bad guys might have a much bigger flying saucer (this one covers almost half the planet, demolishing London and Singapore as it plants its feet) but little awe is inspired, not even among the film’s own cast. It’s much more a case of ‘here we go again’ as the USA, as ever, leads the rest of the world into war against the alien Harvester queen and her conveniently unknowable drones. Negotiation? Diplomacy? Feck that: killing is the only option. It’s as if Starship Troopers never happened.

Let’s be serious for a minute: there’s something iffy about this whole enterprise, completely aside from the celebration of random destruction (which can be excused and even justified as escapism). Making your main protagonist an unabashed arsehole who flies in the face of the rules but it’s OK ’cause he gets results? That says a lot about the latent mindset behind this film, which also thinks it’s fine to depict Africa as a barren waste ruled by a machete-wielding warlord. And having one of your male leads scream “Bitch!” at a female opponent in a deliberate, emotionally charged manner is really not a good look.

It’s not like progressiveness wasn’t on the mind of Emmerich, who is gay and a veteran LGBT rights campaigner, when he reimagined a popular but minor character played by Star Trek alum Brent Spiner as a gay man in a long-term relationship. Who knows, maybe he had to fight for that much with the studio. Or maybe he’s totally fine with women being undermined as leaders (Sela Ward’s president is usurped by Bill Pullman’s erstwhile commander-in-chief at every turn), patronised as obedient daughters (Maika Monroe, a capable action vet, isn’t given much to do in a role that could’ve been reprised by Mae Whitman if Hollywood didn’t have an issue with her looks) or dismissed as evil bitches (the main villain of the piece, a ruthless rage-bag fusion of the xenomorph queen from Aliens and the Borg Queen from Star Trek). It’s really that tiresome.

But I’ll give it this much: ID4 2 (come on, who has the time for that mouthful of a title?) is the first big-time IMAX-sized blockbuster in ages to make proper use of 3D as an audience-wowing tool. Emmerich goes the whole hog with this one; he’s got stuff flying out of the screen at almost every turn, and the effect is a more thrilling sense of immersion than what’s usually experienced at the multiplex. It might even be worth the box office surcharge, if the rest of the movie weren’t so wrong.

Independence Day: Resurgence opens nationwide on Thursday June 23rd