When the original Independence Day hit theaters 20 years ago, in 1996, it had no right being as good as it was. Mind you, it wasn’t a good movie, but it so aptly hit that sweet spot of simultaneously self-aware and semi-serious summer popcorn fodder. It was the film that would come to define director Roland Emmerich‘s world-annihilating auteurism—something he would do again and again, with films like The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, and 2012, and would be often imitated by the likes of Michael Bay et al. So one would think that, having mastered the art of destroying the planet on screen—via aliens, monsters, and natural disaster—it wouldn’t take much for Emmerich to return to the film that’s come to define his career and do so successfully. And yet, Independence Day: Resurgence is a 20-years-in-the-making sequel that is so completely disappointing, it almost feels like a practical joke from Emmerich.
Sure, it’s got all the same ingredients that made Independence Day so much fun: city-wide destruction, toppling monuments, behemoth alien ships, Jeff Goldblum‘s wit. But instead of mixing them together into a frothy blend, the film clumsily juggles all these elements until they all fall with a dull thud. Simply put, Independence Day: Resurgence isn’t just a lackluster, phoned-in sequel. It’s one of the worst films ever projected onto a movie screen.
The film opens 20 years after the events of the original. It’s present day, but you wouldn’t guess that by the sweeping cityscape wide shots (including one of the National Mall and downtown D.C. in which the Height Act has clearly been abolished). Since then, humanity has taken the alien’s technology and used it to strengthen their own defenses, in anticipation of another invasion. They’ve even built a defense base on the moon, where one of the film’s new young heroes, fighter pilot Jake Morrison (a hollow, dead-eyed Liam Hemsworth) has been marooned in what’s essentially a step above a janitor gig. In rapid-fire succession, the film introduces the new leads (Maika Monroe and Jesse Usher, as the now-grown children of Bill Pullman and Will Smith‘s characters from the first film, respectively), while reintroducing us to familiar faces (Goldblum’s David Levinson, his dad, Brent Spiner‘s Brackish Okun, whose reemergence in the film defies logic).
In two hours, Emmerich packs 20 pounds of plot and character exposition into a 10-pound bag and the effect is like you’ve entered a race midway through. As you can surmise, the aliens have returned, but this time bigger (of course!) and more pissed off (why not!). A 3,000 mile-wide (that’s not a typo) alien space ship lands on Earth and begins drilling a hole into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in order to absorb the world’s molten core as fuel, so they can move on to destroy another planet. Our planet is merely an intergalactic gas station. How do we know this? Because a sentient orb that mysteriously appears on the moon tells this to Okun via the most spectacularly stupid monologue in a film full of them.
Anyway, aliens invade, all seems lost, but then humanity prevails in a climax that involves a queen alien the size of the Washington Monument and Jeff Goldblum driving a school bus full of children (seriously). With Resurgence, Emmerich has destroyed nearly everything enjoyable about the first film, much in the way that the aliens destroy the planet. And, as a final touch, Emmerich sets up a third Independence Day film, which will seemingly involve humanity leading an intergalactic assault against the aliens. Doesn’t matter who wins, we already lost.