I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that, for all the flaws in his movies, Roland Emmerich does come across as a considerate director. Hokey and sentimental, formulaic and safe, sure, but the evidence is all over his films he’s at least thought through an idea of them. His most well-regarded film (and perennial cable favorite), Independence Day, hits all the cliches for disaster movies and alien invasion flicks, tracking multiple (though almost entirely American) POVs attempting to process the sudden arrival of city-sized alien ships, and the apocalyptic havoc they beam down. After the immediate horror, worldwide survival instincts kicked in, causing humanity to unite in a last ditch attempt to defeat the menace (spearheaded by America, of course). Emmerich’s 20-years-later sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, explodes this culture shock into a vast sea change for the species. Petty geopolitical squabbles were left behind in ’96, allowing Earth to build sleek, glittering cities, vast public transits, and an X-COM style defense team with moon bases across the solar system, all courtesy of appropriated alien tech. Naturally, the sense of security gets shattered when the aliens return for another round, upping the size and stakes with an Atlantic-sized colony ship dropping to obliterate the planet. It’s also here where Resurgence‘s weaknesses become pronounced.
While Emmerich and co-writers Dean Devlin, James Vanderbilt, Nicolas Wright, and James A. Woods hammer out the particulars of its post-Independence Day Earth, they leave their dramatic arc inert. Independence Day constructed its macro-plot out of a rough assemblage of estranged lovers, broken homes, and a changing definition of family, extinction clarifying to them the importance of kinship. Beginning Resurgence with the assumption those principles stayed rock solid for two decades leaves little narrative direction. If the stakes of the previous film were “will humanity unify in time to save themselves,” this should be “will the unity hold?” Instead, the writers choose to dither. Returning players Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, and Bill Pullman don’t wrestle with the then-and-now dynamic as much as they get shunted into board pieces; newcomers Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, and Jessie Usher (uncomfortable and stiff attempting to be Will Smith’s stepson) work through a nothing space cadet friendship/romance subplot, marking time until the next CG dust-up. He may have thought through what his utopia would look like, but Emmerich forgot any reason to make anyone else care for this vision.