Two decades after thwarting the original film’s alien invasion, the human race now operates a successful Earth Space Defense (ESD) programme using extraterrestrial technology harvested during the so-called “War of 1996”. But as President Elizabeth Lanford (The Day After Tomorrow’s Sela Ward) leads a jubilant anniversary celebration, it emerges that the aliens are returning to plunder the Earth’s molten core as fuel for their spaceships. Presumably because Will Smith declined to reprise his role as aviator Steve Hiller, it falls to two other heroes from the original film, former president Thomas J Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and satellite technician-turned-ESD director David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), to spearhead humanity’s clapback.
Emmerich’s film builds to a straightforward humans versus aliens finale, but it’s complicated along the way by a surplus of half-formed characters. Wise-cracking ESD pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) is a reasonably entertaining renegade, but his more sensible rival pilot Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher from TV’s Survivor’s Remorse), the stepson of Will Smith’s character from the original, is disappointingly two-dimensional. Independence Day: Resurgence is also stuffed with silly subplots. This is a film where Levinson’s father Julius (Taxi’s Judd Hirsch) can somehow end up driving a bus full of school kids into the exact patch of the Nevada desert where his son is trying to blow up the aliens’ queen.
But despite the prevailing stupidity, or perhaps partly because of it, Emmerich’s visually impressive film is actually pretty fun. While the epic thrills and spills of the original Independence Day were hailed as groundbreaking in 1996, this sequel feels reassuringly old-fashioned in an era of self-important and convoluted comic-book films.