The point of a disaster epic/alien-invasion hybrid like Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence is to give audiences permission to sit back, turn off their brains for a few hours and just feel the noize. But this follow-up to Emmerich’s 1996 box-office powerhouse Independence Day is so dumb that it actually forces you to think—there’s almost no other way to stay awake. Why have ostensibly intelligent actors agreed to deliver lines like “They’re going for our molten core,” “I’m coming back. I promise,” and, my personal favorite, “Someone call a medical team”? How come we sometimes see an alien creature or two—they’re your generic moist, spindly, lizardlike things, led by a giant, all-powerful matriarch known as a harvester queen—and other times there are none in sight? Why does this movie have no sense of geography? One minute the movie’s fighter-pilot heroes are buzzing around the environs of the moon, the next they’re sort of doodling around the Atlantic Ocean or near Washington. In the movie’s universe, Earthlings have supposedly harnessed alien technology in the 20 years since these surly beasties first invaded. But really, alien technology has only made us dumber.
You can forgive Independence Day: Resurgence for being ridiculous—its predecessor was too. But you can’t forgive it for being boring. In 1996, director Emmerich ushered in the era of the modern disaster spectacle. Now he’s just raking over its bones, looking for more explosive ways to grab our attention. Everything in Independence Day: Resurgence is so big that nothing has any meaning, or any weight. All you need to know about the plot is that the alien presence we supposedly vanquished 20 years ago has once again reared its ugly head. Mayhem and mass destruction follow. As you may have seen in the movie’s trailer, London’s Tower Bridge falls down, but it happens so fast that you barely get time to relish it (if, in fact, you relish that sort of thing). When the Big Kahuna alien ship descends upon the Atlantic Ocean, it does so in a big gray cloud lit through with orange flames, kind of like a giant charcoal briquette. It’s just not that exciting. The skyscraper-size harvester queen, with her broad forehead, saliva-slicked jaws and spidery limbs, looks like just about every other alien we’ve seen since H.R. Giger designed the mother of them all for Ridley Scott in 1979.
And what is Charlotte Gainsbourg, so gloriously soft-spoken and ultra-cool, doing in the middle of all this? The movie barely makes room for her. Much of the original cast (Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner) has returned, with young actors (Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe) dotting the margins. The idea, probably, is to get multiple generations of moviegoers out to the cinemaplex, but there’s little these humans can do to breathe life into this brain-dead behemoth of a movie.
Independence Day: Resurgence works hard to seem progressive. Spiner’s character, alien researcher Dr. Brakush Owen, has been in a coma for 7,300 days; his co-worker, Dr. Isaacs (John Storey), has cared for him, devotedly, the whole time, and though the nature of their union isn’t explored as deftly as it might have been, at least that relationship is there. Then there’s the usual device of the feisty woman warrior—in this case, Monroe’s Patricia Whitmore, the daughter of Pullman’s ex-prez Whitmore, who brought down the aliens the first time around—getting the chance to show she can shoot down space creatures as well as the guys can. Maybe some of us would complain if that dynamic didn’t even surface in Independence Day: Resurgence—but it’s of no consequence anyway. Monroe’s scenes don’t matter any more or less than anything else in the movie.
Goldblum manages to rise above the proceedings via his invisible jetpack of dry wit—thank God for that. The only newcomer who emerges unscathed is Gainsbourg, who glides through this mess with Zen equanimity—even as chaos reigns, she keeps her cool. And once in a while, the movie jolts itself out of its bombastic blandness with a silly, clever touch, like a vending machine that dispenses cartons of “Moon Milk.” What is Moon Milk? What does it taste like? Does it come from moon cows—perhaps a colony descended from a certain adventurous bovine who tried to jump over the you-know-what and fell short of the mark? If you, like me, have questions about Moon Milk, you won’t find the answers in Independence Day: Resurgence. But at least you’ll have something to think about while you’re watching stuff get blowed up—even if it’s not, in the immortal words of SCTV’s Billy Sol Hurok, getting blowed up real good.