Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) – A Sci-Fi Resurrection Taken too Far?
As hard as it is to believe, 'Independence Day: Resurgence' has a lot to do with us here in the Arab World. It’s not spectacular or anything, and, typically, isn’t as good as the original, but the subterranean politics of it all does make it worth watching – and enjoying!
It begins with David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) in Africa meeting the warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei); he describes the man as a much more ‘moderate’ leader than his predecessor – referring to the previous warlord, Dikembe’s father, as too patriotic for his own good, destroying half his country in a 10-year war with the remnants of the original alien invasion. It is no surprise that through one of the first major scenes of Independence Day: Resurgence, it can be said that the film brims with identifiable political and sociopolitical themes that reflect the world we live in today, particularly the Arab World.
The themes can be analysed through different characters, settings, and even words. For example, the word 'moderate' referring to Umbutu can be read as a direct reference to the different levels of religious practices, i.e. ‘moderate Muslims’, which particularly draw on how the world views Muslims and how one practices Islam can often be used as a way to determine and decipher a leader from an extremist. Meanwhile, the 10-year war in this case can symbolise the “war on terror,” or at least the aftermath of the war in Iraq. While it criticises different leaderships and highlights their shortcomings, falls, and rises, it points out that no matter how hot-headed, people are capable of reform – Arabs and Americans alike – however, it’s the itchy trigger fingers and the bunker mentality that gets Earth into trouble this time round.
Throughout, several people get premonitions of the coming alien contact, all drawing a circle sign with a line through it. A spherical alien object then does in fact appear and gets zapped by the Earth defences on the moon – only to discover that this is a different alien species altogether, who are enemies of the original aliens who attacked Earth in 1996. As the warlord explains, “the enemy of my enemy is my ally,” an old Arabic and Biblical proverb.At this point, you feel that this is a reference to the West allying itself with Muslim countries in the common fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – an Islamic fundamentalist threat that ‘resurged’ following the defeat of Al-Qaeda all those years ago – and vice versa. Had the West been less paranoid and suspicious of all Muslims, and more welcoming to them as migrants and elected politicians, they would not have created an opportunity for ISIS to come into being in the first place.
There are a lot of other political allusions; for example, the omnipresence of Chinese people and places is a reference to the two remaining superpowers: the USA and China. The attempted love story between the fighter pilots Charlie Miller (Travis Tope) and Rain Lao (Angelababy) is also meant to highlight our universal humanity and its ability to come together. Consequently, family becomes a noted theme in the film, exemplified by Rain Lao and her uncle, Miller and his best friend Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) being orphans, as well as the long distance relationship between David and his father Julius (Judd Hirsch). The scene where the exceedingly blonde kids save the elder Levinson’s life and then he helps them and more kids out in the school bus is also relevant to the family theme. You also have Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the dutiful daughter of the hero ex-President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who leaves her career as a fighter pilot to take care of her ailing father.
Finally, President Whitmore taking a payload of bombs to destroy the alien mothership – a ‘suicide’ mission – is meant to signify the end of the old era and the dawning of a new one; the older generation, permanently scarred by the memories of war, gives way to a new beginning. Other noteworthy hints are captured at the resource wars, as the aliens drill towards the Earth’s core to kill the planet but also to ‘fuel’ their ships, interrogation of those held captives, and the scene with the puppy, meant to highlight that we shouldn’t make ruthless decisions.
Back to the Grave
German hints can also be found, such as the Luftwaffe book the ex-President keeps by his bedside. Roland Emmerich is German, of course, and like many probably has a guilty conscience over World War II. The movie, then, is well-intentioned, if cheesy and predictable and not terribly well-directed. The characters are more like those in a comic book for the audience to enjoy or sympathise with – minus Goldblum (thank the heavens). Nonetheless, even he can’t save the day without his counterpoint, the ever-electric Will Smith; Jessie T. Usher is simply not a great substitute and, more generally, everybody’s characters are too uncomfortably ‘cute’. There are too many characters in general making it difficult to give any one of them the attention and depth they need; David’s cosmopolitan girlfriend, Catherine Marceaux, played by English-French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, is an example, as is Brent Spiner’s happily resurrected character Dr. Brakish Okun.
Absent Heroes: Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum in the classic 1996 flick. Colour contrasts go very nicely with action-nerdy contrasts, a lesson lost on the current generation of viewers.
The special effects and artwork, while good, aren’t nearly as nifty and original as they were in the first movie, probably the result of CGI; it looks more like clay animations, whereas the originals looked realer than real – although I did like the giant queen alien. Their conception of the future here is nice, though; a world at peace with itself, united, clean, with energy-saving technologies and a female president – the lovely Sela Ward, who played Dr. Lucy Hall in Emmerich’s towering The Day After Tomorrow (2004). This is the kind of the future we, paradoxically, need to remember.
Brown Sugar: The steely Sela Ward and the aptly named Angelababy. Can the USA and China cancel each other out in the real world like they do on screen!
I also suspect Emmerich was holding out on the action in preparation for the third installment, which is already in the works. We also shouldn’t be too harsh since the original 1996 movie itself was still essentially a B-movie. I never found the first battle sequence in the 1996 feature convincing – the fighter aircraft going up against the mothership – and I found the first frontal assault even more unconvincing in this one. You’d have hoped they’d have learned from their past mistakes.
What ‘was’ wonderful about Independence Day (1996) was the moral essence, the sense of elation you get when you hear the President’s 4th of July speech as he heads out to battle, and the unity of the human race against a common enemy. It was the little humane touches along the way, such as the President losing his wife, played by the very warm and sympathetic Mary McDonnell. In contrast, the gay death scene here isn’t nearly as convincing, not to forget the humour and the thrill of discovery, all embodied in Jeff Goldblum – a dead ringer for Carl Sagan – and all the action and special effects and artwork.
The love triangle between David, President Whitmore, and the President’s wife was also a strong point in the original movie. There were too many actors, but they had the emotional depth you needed to go from liking the movie to loving it. I will say one thing in favour of El Presidente here: he was originally a fighter pilot in the Gulf War, so killing him off may finally help the USA put its sordid past in Iraq behind it once and for all!