All the cool kids are doing it
So the internet would have me believe that there are people in this world that are not excited about Independence Day: Resurgence. That sort of makes sense. If you want to spend your life watching only good movies, it’s not a bad rule of thumb to avoid the ones with exploding world capitals or opening weekend holidays right there in the title. The original Independence Day is a landmark movie for many reasons, but its ability to be understated is not one of them.
Personally, though, I think those people are crazy. I might even go so far as to say that Independence Day: Resurgence is my most-anticipated big budget movie of the year.
It all starts with director Roland Emmerich. While disaster movies may barter in audience cynicism, the films of Roland Emmerich have always aimed for a more sincere sensationalism. Sure, flying saucers destroy world landmarks, monsters rampage their way through metropolitan areas, and ecological disasters wipe out entire cities. Humanity endures. Think of the oft-discussed death of Zara in Jurassic World. Few characters in a Roland Emmerich film die without cause; their deaths are instead a message to those who survive them, either in the form of a grand sacrifice or as punishment for their mistakes (or in the case of Yuri from 2012, both). And since death – personalized death – is not cheap, we are more interested in survival than destruction. It’s not surprising that the trailers for Independence Day: Resurgence suggest mankind has consolidated its survivors into high-tech utopias. Despite the number of apocalypses he’s shown us onscreen, it’s hard to imagine Emmerich making a more conventional post-apocalyptic film. The people in his films will always find a way to bounce back.
This is also why calling Roland Emmerich a B-movie filmmaker is more compliment than insult. There are certainly problems with Emmerich’s films – character development that goes nowhere and a whole slew of logical incongruities – but to-date, his films unfold with the earnestness necessary of all truly great B-movies. Too many modern filmmakers try to make their mark by wink-nudging their way through a rehash of familiar blockbuster tropes, walking a fine line between paying homage to classic B-movies and reminding you that this is an aesthetic choice, not a true indicator of their talent. This misses the point. The movies that endure as good-bad cannot be simple pastiche; audiences respond not to their technical limitations or mistakes, but rather, to their unbridled enthusiasm. The original Independence Day was Emmerich and his crew operating at full-hilt, and part of the reason we remember it fondly is because of the moments where it overreached and missed. It’s easy to poke fun at President Levison’s speech, for example, but the movie is undeniably less engaging without that grand gesture.
And even if you reject Emmerich and all that his wonderful explosions stand for, there is no denying his casting. Emmerich has always had a soft spot for putting the intellectual front-and-center in his movies; this has created such unlikely disaster movie leading men as James Spader in Stargate, Matthew Broderick in Godzilla, and Jeff Goldblum in the original Independence Day. In an interview for the original film, the latter admitted that being cast as the smart guy in the room was an awful lot of fun. “I get to be the one who first figures out what’s going on,” Goldblum told the Dayton Daily News, “that they’re going to attack, and I get to save the world.” It’s been too long since we’ve seen Goldblum front and center in a major Hollywood blockbuster; Independence Day: Resurgence promises to turn back the clock to the 1990s. We appreciate all that you do for television shows like Portlandia, Jeff, but it’s time for you to go read computer screens in a nine-figure blockbuster again.
Goldblum alone should have our interest, but since Emmerich and company tend to go more for interesting actors than action stars of the day – Liam Hemsworth notwithstanding – the new film will ensure that some pretty great talents get a nice little payday. There’s Judd Hirsch who, at eighty years young has spent the last few decades as a television actor. There’s William Fichtner, heir apparent to James Rebhorn in the role of smarmy military man who dies a coward’s death. There’s Bill Pullman, whose output as an actor has slowed even as our appreciation of him has not. And then there’s the talent on their way up. Maika Monroe has our life-long devotion after It Follows and The Guest — even if her casting came under pretty gross circumstances – as does Joey King after season one of Fargo. Jessie Usher has been put in the unenviable position of replacing Will Smith in his first major movie role, but has earned high marks for his role in the Starz original show Survivor’s Remorse. Independence Day: Resurgence promises an intriguing balance between bringing back old actors for the sake of nostalgia and introducing us to new ones we just might love.
As a baseball fan, I find myself often using scouting terms to describe my anticipation of upcoming releases, but there really isn’t a better phrase to describe Independence Day: Resurgence than low ceiling, high floor. Emmerich’s newest film probably won’t have critics falling in line to praise it, nor will it unseat Captain America: Civil War at the box office, but it will give us some pretty wonderful actors saying some pretty stupid things against a backdrop of world annihilation. I still have enough faith in Emmerich and his crew to get the job done.