Monday, February 15, 2016

Independence Day 2 Misses the Point of Independence Day

So there’s a sequel coming to the 1996 classic, Independence Day. It’s got its own website. It’s directed by Roland Emmerich, who did the first one. It’s got Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and thankfully—no Adam Baldwin.

The story goes like this; the same aliens are attacking but with a bigger ship that’s gonna drop Dubai on London and a scrappy, disgraced Liam Hemsworth will eventually become a hero. The new mothership (mother-mothership? Grandmother ship?) crashes on Earth so you know we’re going to win and can safely deduce that Independence Day 2 is not even trying to surprise us.

Look, when Independence Day was made, it was original. Not because it was a movie about massive carnage that kinda brought us to the doorway of the era of the second golden age of postapocalyptic films. I mean, yes it was that, but it also made us care about that world which was much like ours, but obviously different.

What is it about Independence Day that will bring people back to the theater for number two?
  • We really liked the characters. Jeff Goldblum was a genius who was underutilized by an idiot communications company. Will Smith was a USMC Captain and pilot who served his country, even if it meant he had to leave his family. Randy Quaid’s character was a veteran with PTSD who was trying to raise his family after his wife left. Even Bill Pullman’s president was a politician who was bad at lying. Each of these guys gets more texture as the film unfurls and each of them is, in their own way, a common person who shows us the world of ID4 and through it, the effects of the alien invasion. And yes, even if their wives/exes get some pretty good characterization as well, it’s a bummer that they’re all dudes.
  • Jets! Three of the four main characters in this thing are jet pilots (President Pullman is a pilot and war hero). When used well, jet pilots are modern day knights. That’s the entire premise of the Robotech franchise and the whole reason the aliens have fighters.
  • Humanity is totally outclassed. Independence Day knew, before The Walking Dead and many, many other shows, that folks feel kinda chafed by modern civilization. I’ll spare you the political commentary, but the aliens sweep civilization off the table and set real, unambiguous priorities and needs for people. Everyone becomes important and everyone has a common goal. Real life is more ambiguous and conflicted, and Independence Day is a break from that.
  • Shit gotta blow up. That’s how we know the stakes are big. Look, you can destroy human civilization in text, but you need the spectacle to back it up.
Hitting some of these benchmarks in Independence Day: Resurgence is complicated by the fact that Independence Day was an end-of-the-world movie. Has there ever been a sequel to an end-of-the-world movie? I think the original Day of the Dead and maybe Mad Max: The Road Warrior. In both of those, the theme is post-apocalypse because the world ended.

Independence Day 2 is an end-of-the-world sequel where the world didn’t end. The world has a new foundation laid down for no other reason than that there has to be something to blow up. Civilization has to reknit its bones so that they can weigh down characters. Humanity must exist as a diverse social organism so we can see everyday characters react to the events of a new invasion. Someone’s gotta build new and cooler jets!

But that’s kind of the problem. The folks making this think that we can only relate to the characters and actions in the movie if it’s in our world, but we want to see the world that was built from scratch after 1996. The effects of the events of Independence Day should create a new Earth and we want to connect and see characters from there.

But…those jets are the same as modern jets with a few flourishes. Folks still just have iPads. Are those guys still carrying slug-throwing guns? I dunno. They’re glowing a bit so maybe. That London is the exact same. I know it is defended, but it’s the exact same as our non-post-apocalypse London.

Despite the flashy guns and returning faces, this world doesn’t feel like the place we left in Independence Day. Its characters won’t feel like they’ve been through those events and I’m not sure why I’d want to follow their journey since none of it will matter to those characters and none of it matters to the creators of Independence Day 2.

Why the hell should it matter to me?


SkilTao said...

Can't argue your assessment of the story elements.

To be fair to "Earth as usual," though, the aliens in ID4 targeted 36 of Earth's cities. That tops out at less than 7% of 1996's world population displaced, potentially making the event less disruptive (proportionately) than WW2; so real world 1965 is probably a good reference point for how well reconstruction could have gone.

VanVelding said...

Huh. Didn't know it was that few. Good point.