Saturday, June 25, 2016

Independence Day Double Feature

Independence Day Double Feature
My sister and I have a special place in our hearts for cheesetastic blockbusters. A few years ago when an Independence Day re-release was cancelled, our dreams were severely dashed. There are a lot of movies from the past we'd love to see on the big screen, and Independence Day was one of our top picks. When a sequel was in the making, our hopes came alive again and we were so excited when a double feature was announced by AMC Theaters. Our excitement for the first film was palpable to say the least, while the sequel less so (reboots are just blah, in general).

The following thoughts on Independence Day and Independence Day: Resurgence contains spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Independence Day blog movie review
Independence Day boils down to the human race is racing to stop an alien attack. The movie is big, clunky, but at it's core, fun. Like most blockbusters it's difficult for the tone of the film to escape the time period of when it was released and what was considered entertainment then.

The whole movie is marked by the trying-too-hard-to-be-cool 90s: Clunky, oversized technology (like something as simple as President Whitmore's television takes up an entire living room wall), over the top characters, cheesy but iconic monologues, and how even we attempt to plant a WINDOWS virus into the mother ship.

As locked into the 90s Independence Day is, it also takes us back to what fun blockbusters used to be all about: giving movie goers a thrill ride with a variety of characters and not taking itself too seriously. But the story is still decent enough that you can buy most of it (the Windows virus is hysterical, imo).

The core of the movie's success is really the people who come together for a common cause to wipe out the aliens before we are extinguished. It's quite the band of merry civilians and service members who helm the human race's strive for survival.
"Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.
For one, President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) has to be one of the best presidents in film history: diplomatic, vulnerable, a fighter, and also pretty much over everyone's ideas on how to defeat the aliens. He's so patriotic and level-headed you wish he'd come to life for this year's election and give the other candidates a run for it's money (can you imagine hearing this iconic speech at a rally?!).

At the core of who we root for is really Captain Steve Hiller (Will Smith) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), and their families. These two don't have a lot of screen time together, but individually they have so much personality, you can't help think of these two as an awesome pair of sidekicks.

Smith, at the height of his box office mega-success, jumps off the screen with charisma, and he creates a great balance of his ambition to serving his country but also making a home and life for his girlfriend (Vivica Fox, who kicks ass) and her son.

And, Goldblum as Levinson is the out-of-the-box environmentalist who drives the whole mission on how we take down the aliens. If his character was re-created or recast today with the heavier focus on greenliving, there's a strong sense he could've been annoying. Goldbum is a perfect example of an interesting, kinda-akward actor who wins everyone over. He's not terrible but his eccentricities and quirks certainly make him stand out.

Director Roland Emmerich certainly shows how and why he used to dominate the action genre. Independence Day is not all explosions and excess violence. Smaller showdowns before the grand finale structures the film like a chess match; each side making their movie until finally checkmate. As cities are being blown to smithereens, the cinematography of New York City buildings imploding and the White House exploding, and other encounters with the aliens are certainly memorable. Characters have enough heart and camaraderie you root for them. The movie might be flashy, but it does make for a good over-the-top patriotic action flick with a fireworks-worthy victory.

Rating: ★★★

Independence Day: Resurgence blog movie review
Since the extraterrestrials attempted to overthrow Earth twenty years ago, the United States salvaged what was left-over of their technology to advance our military defenses. Yet, even with all of the preparation for another annihilation, they are pretty much rendered useless as a much more unexpected and unprepared attack looms.

Where a simple alien-led extermination is believable enough for the prequel, Independence Day: Resurgence goes out of its away to make sense of its science-fiction. The film starts out as one alien attack, but like a Russian nesting doll, several more complicated battles are unveiled and it's hard to distinguish who and what the real enemy is. The action drives the showdown forward without grounding the people trying to save humanity.

Some of the plot's ideas work in terms of carrying the worldbuilding over (like the strengthening our defenses, the lasting effect of the alien's telepathy), but other upgrades complicate the plot and impact familiar and new civilians alike.

Essentially, the greatest aspect about Resurgence is Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. Even after so much time has passed, miraculously, they fit into this movie like a glove. They manage to drop off essentially where we left them but suffering the affects of what the previous events had on them. Like other original castmates, some who make entertaining cameos (Data from Star Trek) and others who were left out in the dust (Will Smith), they are the heart of what really makes the original so much fun. And it's a shame that some of their fates are true, senseless throwaways. *sobs into the void*

As kick-ass it is to see the original cast, they don't rescue the new heroes from being cardboard cut-outs. In particular, Liam Hemsworth as the typical wildcard fighter pilot with a yearning heart underneath his rebellious instincts. Hemsworth is watchable but for him to be the central protagonist who has no canon correlation to the original is slapping logic in the face - which is ironic for science-fiction.

A better, more plausible leader would've been Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (played very charismatically by Jessie Usher) as Will Smith's step-son AND a successful fighter pilot. One would think Dylan would be the primary focus here instead of some random Hemsworth but he's barely involved except for the action sequencesWhich might be a given because he is a fighter pilot but Smith's Hiller offered so much more. A lot could've been done with Dylan but his emotional arc is tossed aside, honestly for several characters following the white guy hero's journey.

Not only is it a complete mystery that the next leg in this franchise doesn't begin and center with Hiller Jr., but the female characters are also severely lacking. While the women in the first film had romantic relationships, they were also smart, sassy survivors with independent ambitions. Here, two women are fighter pilots (one is Whitmore's grown-up daughter) but they have zero personalities and are plainly love interests or pined after from afar. Other supporting women act as merely stand-ins who need to take a course in Sensible Decision-Making. It's disappointing, to say the least.

Sure, Resurgence has some cool stuff going on. The fact that we even got an additional installment, with Goldblum and Pullman, is miracle in itself. Special effects are neat and aren't overwhelming. Subtle homages to the original are nice additions, if you're that big of a fan. But these aspects aren't necessarily memorable and a lot of the movie feels like the six writers threw darts at a storyboard and laid out the story accordingly.

Emmerich's biggest fail here is that the sequel doesn't hand the reigns over to the next generation (until the very end but let's not talk about a threequel, okay?). The original cast serve as the brains behind the operation as the newer crew handles action sequences. This approach could've worked if the cast felt like an ensemble. Instead both camps feels so separate, this odyssey is cheapened like no tomorrow.

For as flashy as Independence Day was, it's lead-up to defeating the aliens is filled with memorable one liners, impressive cinematography, action and humor. There's an ebb and flow of who was going to win. Resurgence tries to duplicate it's predecessor in many regards, and fails at most of them. It ultimately suffers from Sequel Remorse, where we wonder what would've happened if a sequel was produced, and then once our dreams are granted we wish it never re-surged at all. I might one day watch this one again and see if my thoughts change, but I doubt it. Why mess with perfection?

Rating: ★☆☆

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