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The makers of "Independence Day: Resurgence" have accomplished something that ought to be impossible: They managed to make "Independence Day," one of the great blow-'em-up disaster flicks of all time, look like a model of moderation and restraint. The original, in which marauding aliens gleefully flash-microwaved cities worldwide, was, in hindsight, underappreciated for its predatory patience. Gargantuan ships slunk their way overhead, hovered and waited. Will they, or won't they? Oh, they will, and they did, and it was grand. Then actual characters used logic to figure out what to do about it; the answer was, a lot of rad dogfights followed by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum uploading a fatal computer virus to the main ship. Yes, it was silly. No, this wasn't a problem. The original was the top-grossing movie of 1996, won the Oscar for visual effects, and gave us one of the great pep-talk movie speeches of all time.
In "Independence Day: Resurgence," Roland Emmerich, who directed both movies, simply doubled the recipe. You like big ships, eh? Well, how about the aliens come back with a ship so dang big it comes to rest over the Atlantic — the whole Atlantic. Oh, you think it was bad when they were just blowing up cities? How about if the aliens drill down to the core to suck out Earth's metal center? Oh, and what if instead of taking time to let a plot and characters develop in such a way that you might, like, remember their names or anything about them, we cut out every bit of loose space that allows the movie to breath and make it watchable? How about that, eh? Eh?
By the second hour, it feels like you're watching a movie on fast-forward. It's a blitz with no feelings, no emotional stakes, no real excitement. Nothing makes sense, nothing feels real. The clutter. The clutter.
Somewhere in this morass, real human actors struggled to tell a story, a story about humanity's new finest hour. And they got off to sort of a cool start. In this telling, we're 20 years after the first invasion and loving all the sweet tech we cribbed off the alien ships. Their tech catapulted humanity into an era of fusion-driven interplanetary travel and huge honkin' laser defense systems (including a manned gun base on the moon). The world has been at peace, and the U.S.A. elected Sela Ward as president. Former President Bill Pullman keeps having kooky-old-man psychic episodes from his residual connection to the aliens. Liam Hemsworth is a swashbuckling space pilot with something to prove. Will Smith is back as ... well, his character died, actually, so he's not back, and Jesse T. Usher plays his kid, another pilot, neither very fresh nor quite princely. A Chinese model named Angelababy plays another pilot with four lines so "Independence Day: Resurgence" can make a lot of money in China. Jeff Goldblum is back, as sort of a Bill Nye character who doesn't get to show any of his work. Rather, any time Emmerich needs to do something sorta smart-sounding, he has Goldblum say it at top speed so the entire U.S. government can get to work on it chop-chop. Decisions happen so quickly and without regard for facts in "Independence Day: Resurgence," you'll wonder if we've indeed landed in Donald Trump's America.
Hollywood, often so maligned for recycling old franchises into new blockbusters, usually does a better job of it. This is, in fact, the doomsday scenario of a director jumpstarting an old property. It's in the same spiritual category as the "Star Wars" prequels and whatever Indiana Jones schlock followed "The Last Crusade." The 20-year wait for a sequel that never needed to exist has just proven to be decades too short.