Roland Emmerich clearly has a thing for Earth. Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, White House Down are all his acts of destruction. But really, which planet does he inhabit?
In the 20 years since the blockbuster Independence Day of 1996, we are told, Earth has seen “no armed conflict” and “nations have put petty differences aside”, courtesy the events of that film. At another point, this “unification of Earth in unprecedented ways” is cited as the biggest reason “worth fighting for”. There can’t be worse times for this to be said, but in the week of the Brexit, very, very bad timing.
When the aliens make mincemeat of these pretensions of peace, guess who forms the Independence Day version of Allied Powers? The Americans and the Chinese, plus one hulk of a warlord, who is cherrypicked from somewhere in the darkest Africa (literally, without power). There is not even a token Indian to counterbalance this loaded Asian statement, or even a destroyed Indian monument as the Indians were apparently judged too sensitive. That will hurt, in certain quarters.
However, one can take heart from the fact that the rest of the world, apart from America, China and the darkest Africa that is, is also reduced to either aged faces on screen or excitable nomads herded under a tent. Aside from a few drunken men on a ship occupying an extraordinary amount of screen time.
It can be argued that why look for geopolitics in Independence Day. Fair enough, let’s move on to the aliens, starting with their spaceship. “We had 20 years to prepare. So did they,” says the film’s tagline. Don’t go looking for any vast improvements in either the aliens or the spaceship though, which but for one truly remarkable shot of the queen alien giving a schoolbus-full of children a chase through the Nevada desert remain the same as before.
The Earthlings have been busy, however, building new bombs, weapons and a defence station on the moon that comes in for some severe pounding.
Among the frontrunners leading the fight is Dylan (Usher), the son of the character played by Will Smith last time; Jake (Hemsworth), who was rendered an orphan in the 1996 film and who avenges his parents in a way that escaped the Censor’s attention; Patricia (Monroe), the daughter of former US President Whitmore (Pullman), who famously led the world to safety then; and Rain (Angelababy), a Chinese ace pilot whose uncle dies on the moon. In short, fathers, sons and daughters are of crucial significance to this tale.
From the old film, Levinson (Goldblum) remains crucial to the world’s alien defence, as does scientist Okun (Spiner), who returns from 20-year coma to white hair and a gay companion, while Whitmore (Pullman) doesn’t let anything keep him down. That includes the current US President, Lanford (Ward), who happens to be, gulp, a woman, but who conveniently dies early enough. Before that, she takes some tough decisions, just so the film can claim some political correctness.
For some reason, Charlotte Gainsbourg lends her thespian heft to a role that requires her to haul no more than a tablet around.
Some of the fights are impressive, most of the destruction routine (“The aliens are going for the landmarks,” comments Levinson at one point as the Tower Bridge of London collapses), and a large part of the dialogue perfunctory. And yes, there is the speech by the US President which “the world is listening to on short-wave radio”, about how, “irrespective of colour and creed”, everyone should pray for the soldiers going in for this inter-galactic war.
And yet, the winner is clear. Producers skipped a release closer to July 4 apparently because of some big blockbusters then, but the film is replete with America’s independence day references. And guess what happens when the storm whipped up by the aliens washes up to the White House doorstep? It stops, after just tumbling the flag.
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, Brent Spiner, Angelababy