Independence Day Resurgence review: Blockbuster sequel has a Will Smith problem

It's the end of the world as know it (again).

Independence Day: Resurgence
Alien attack The apocalypse is coming in Independence Day: Resurgence. Image 20th Century Fox

Independence: Day Resurgence
120 minutes (12A)
★★★☆☆

Two decades on from that White House obliteration, Independence Day returns for sequel Resurgence.

The original swiftly became a 90s classic thanks to cutting-edge visual effects that presented cinemagoers with a spectacular end-of-the-world vision. Nobody had seen anything quite like it, and as the years rolled by imitators came thick and fast. Director Roland Emmerich’s 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow traded in alien attacks for natural disaster, while these days every Marvel and DC movie seems to descend into a mini third-act apocalypse.

With global cataclysm very much on trend, it’s no real surprise to see Emmerich go back to his biggest hit. And for the most part this is a belated sequel that doesn’t tarnish its predecessor.

In Resurgence the world has been monumentally changed by the ‘War of 96’. Human technology has merged with that of the fallen alien invaders and the planet now resembles a futuristic utopia. As the anniversary of 1996 approaches, former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is struck by visions of a second alien coming.

Liam Hemsworth in Independence Day: Resurgence
New hero Liam Hemsworth in Independence Day: Resurgence. Image Picture 20th Century Fox

When a continent-sized warship materialises above Earth chaos reigns again and no major landmark is safe (London, in case you’re wondering, gets absolutely annihilated). To combat this second wave attack Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson, Pullman’s fragile ex-President and Brent Spiner’s Doc Okun put their heads together to plot a counter strike. Emmerich manages to weave them into some of he action, but the bulk of this is handled by newcomers Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher – the latter playing the son of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller (killed piloting a human/alien test craft).

“This film’s one big problem? Will Smith… or the lack of him.”

The younger cast take care of the aerial dogfights, but most of the fun in this sequel is seeing familiar faces back in action. Goldblum is as jittery and eccentric as ever, while Judd Hirsch, returning as Levinson’s dad, is the sprightliest 80-something you’ll ever see in a summer blockbuster.

Resurgence works because, like most of Emmerich’s movies, its acutely aware that it’s over the top nonsense and embraces that. It’s fun and engaging and, clocking in at two hours, doesn’t outstay its welcome.

This film’s one big problem? Will Smith… or the lack of him. Hemsworth, Usher and Maika Monroe – the three principle newcomers – don’t have enough star power match Smith’s hotshot pilot from the first film. No strong, clear hero emerges from this story, and nobody has the charisma to deliver a pay-off line like Smith’s “welcome to Earth” from the original.

Ultimately it’s down to the oldies like Goldblum and Pullman to keep Independence Day: Resurgence ticking over. But really – where’s the harm in that?

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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