Twenty years ago Roland Emmerich gave us his first epic sci-fi actioner that brought aliens to Earth on July 4. If we’re being honest, while Independence Day was fun, it’s a bloated example of what has become the norm in blockbusters. With Will Smith in the lead role, it gave fans of such films what they wanted – thrilling action, fun one-liners and not much else.
Now, 20 years later, Emmerich has returned to his alien invasion story and with it, a threat heads back to Earth two decades after we skirted with extinction. Some familiar faces are back – Jeff Goldblum as David Levenson, Bill Pullman as President Whitmore and Brent Spiner as Dr Brakish Okun – alongside new talent including It Follows star Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher.
Having survived one battle with the aliens, Earth has now utilised the extraterrestrial technology for everything from transport to global defences. The planet is protected by cannons as well as a Moon defence base – one that sells “Moon milk” to those working there. Yes, really! Unfortunately, this new weaponry and tech hasn’t brought with it any new-found logic – the aliens return and our military leaders react like it’s all a surprise. This time, however, the craft arriving in our atmosphere is a behemoth, spanning 3,000 miles, and the aliens have two very specific dastardly deeds in mind.
On the Moon base, Jake Morrison (Hemsworth) is a US pilot who has found himself demoted after a coming together with Dylan Hiller (Usher) that put the latter’s life at risk. He yearns for a return to action. Back on Earth, his girlfriend Patricia Whitmore (Monroe) is an aide to President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward). Meanwhile, Hiller – the stepson of the now-dead Steven Hiller (Will Smith) – is a pilot with the Earth Space Defence. Despite their disagreement, Jake and Dylan must overcome their feud and unite to take the fight back to the aliens.
Emmerich’s latest disaster epic comes with the usual global destruction. This time, such is the size of the alien ship arriving on Earth, it comes with its own gravitational pull that sees landmarks, oceans and people hauled into the atmosphere before being unceremoniously dumped back on the ground with all manner of pyrotechnics and explosions. The director knows how to do devastation on an epic scale and the execution of the big set piece in the middle of Resurgence is spectacular while managing to be familiar. This is both a blessing and a curse for the film. It never feels like it’s reinventing the wheel, but it looks great at times. In fact, the final battle on the Salt Flats at Area 51 is brilliantly realised – especially the aerial shot of a giant alien chasing a school bus.
While Usher may be playing the stepson of Smith’s character, he isn’t given quite as much screen time as Hemsworth. The latter plays Jake effortlessly. There’s a cockiness without him ever becoming insufferable. Monroe, meanwhile, is given little to do for the first 80 minutes before finally being given a chance to play her part in the finale. Of the returning cast, Goldblum is as reliable as ever and Spiner gets to have some fun after 20 years in a catatonic state. As we’ve come to expect from these summer epics, dialogue isn’t a strong point. Pullman doesn’t get to deliver a speech anywhere near as rousing as his “We will not go quietly into the night!” speech, more’s the pity. And there’s one line delivered by a child that’s cringeworthy in its effort to cause some chuckles.
Where it did surprise was in how current the message feels. As the UK stands on the brink of staying or leaving the EU, and while America flirts with the possibility of being run by a nutcase who appears to be from another planet, Resurgence is all about uniting to defeat a common enemy. Rather than going it alone and letting the bad guys win, it hammers home the message that we’re all better off helping each other in our time of need. Special mention, too, must go to Harald Kloser’s wonderful score. It never imposes itself, nor is it OTT. But when you do notice it, it stirs.
Resurgence may retread much of what made Independence Day such a hit, and some might think it’s a lazy approach but there’s a warm, comforting and familiar feel that’s very welcome. It’s fun without ever being jaw-dropping. Silly without ever being ludicrous. It’s pure Emmerich.