Note: This review contains spoilers. Read it anyway.
I spent most of Independence Day: Resurgence with my head cocked to the side, squinting at the screen with all the concentration of a man trying to crack a safe.
When the credits rolled, I was mostly left with the impression that I'd just witnessed a Bad Movie™, but even a moment's reflection called that into question. Yes, Independence Day: Resurgence is bland and tediously-plotted and very, very dumb...but it's also not without its charms. Every time the film came close to losing me, it'd do something just bizarre enough to make that impossible. I was never bored, never came close to reaching the "Oh, fuck this" level that so many summer blockbusters take me to. Catch me in a charitable mood and I might even cop to saying I was "entertained", though almost certainly not in the way the film intended.
In short, my reaction to Independence Day: Resurgence is complicated. If it were just 20% weirder, it'd be an immediate recommendation, the sort of thing you'd tell people they had to see for themselves. It's very, very close to being one of those movies, but the weirdness is ultimately drowned out by the film's overwhelming blandness. And considering that this is a film where an African warlord uses a pair of machetes to execute a machine-gun-toting alien while taking an impromptu tour of Area 51, that's saying something.
That moment, by the way, was the turning point for me. It arrives about thirty minutes into the film, and up until that point I'd been keeping a running list of notes to refer back to when it came time to write this review. I was diligently following plot points. I was trying to take Roland Emmerich's sequel seriously. But then my dude breaks out his machetes, stabs an alien in the back, and then cuts its goddamn head off while it's attempting to crawl to safety. It's supposed to play as a hero moment, but instead it just feels hilariously mean-spirited.
The movie had given me moments of pause before that kill - like when a cartoonishly amateurish oil painting of Will Smith popped up onscreen, or when we learn that the aliens' invading spacecraft is over 3,000 miles in diameter - but something about that decapitated alien really drove the point home: trying to take this movie seriously was a fool's errand. From that moment on, my notes took on a decidedly different tone, focusing on the film's weirder grace notes ("Hemsworth flips off aliens and pisses on their runway") rather than its overly-busy plot machinations.
Speaking of which, here's what happens: Earth, having successfully defeated the invading alien forces of 1996's Independence Day ("Thanks to the United States", the film mumbles while coughing into one hand), is finally living the dream. War, as a concept, has been canceled. Peace prevails. Travel is easier than ever thanks to all the cool shit we found lying around in those crashed alien motherships, and we've even built a sweet moon base to hang out in. Life is good.
But get this - the aliens come back. And this being a sequel, they come back bigger: this time around, their invading craft is...guys, I know I already told you this thing was 3,000 miles in diameter, but even that might not convey how ridiculously big this UFO is. There are shots in this film where the aliens' ship appears to cover roughly 25% of the entire Earth. When it arrives, it drives a number of massive, claw-like appendages into the ground, and in doing so it wipes out, like, most of our stuff. It takes out London, it takes out China, it takes out basically every major location on the planet that isn't immediately relevant to the story being told (don't worry, this will all be glossed over later, during the victory celebration). It's so big it has its own gravitational pull. It is, without question, the most absurd thing I've seen in a movie in a very long time.
Anyway, once the aliens' laughably ginormous ship has landed, it's up to our characters to figure out a way to blow it to smithereens.
That's basically it.
Yeah, there's a running subplot about a big-ass sphere from another galaxy which contains the consciousness of the sole survivor of another alien species that is now training other alien species to fight back against the same species that attacked us in '96 (get all that?), and yeah, the movie makes a few half-hearted attempts to bring Independence Day: Resurgence's newer, younger characters to life, but almost every second of this stuff falls flat. The jokes don't work, a romantic subplot between Maika Monroe and Liam Hemsworth somehow generates a negative amount of sparks, and the finale features not one, but two ticking clocks for our heroes to succeed against. None of it lands. It's boring and you probably won't care.
But as I said before, all that mediocrity is leavened by a number of spectacularly strange moments. Sometimes it's a small thing (like the scene where Emmerich tries to manufacture a little bonus tension during a by-the-numbers helicopter rescue by suddenly tossing a pregnant woman into the mix), sometimes it's a big thing (this movie contains a skyscraper-sized alien - the "Harvester Queen" - and has it chase a school bus through the desert in broad daylight). Sometimes it's a funny-sounding line reading ("Jake's alive! He radioed us from the moon!"), sometimes it's a distracting cameo (as when poor ol' Robert Loggia is wheeled in front of Emmerich's camera for a few seconds). You'll have to sort through a lot of tedious nonsense to get to these moments, but lemme tell ya: you will savor them when they happen.
If only there were more of them.
Oh, well. Independence Day: Resurgence isn't the complete and total disaster I expected it to be, but it's also not quite worthy of a recommendation. In its best moments, it is a deeply silly exercise in blockbuster filmmaking. But more often than not, it's just another fireworks display with a plot, made exclusively for audience members who proudly subscribe to the "Just turn your brain off at the door" ethos. I suspect such people will love it.
PS: I would like to give a special shout-out to the one thing that Independence Day: Resurgence should be credited for: nonchalantly dropping a gay relationship into the middle of a $200M summer blockbuster. It doesn't draw attention to it. It doesn't ask for applause. It just does it, and trusts that you're advanced enough to acknowledge it and move on. I can't remember this ever happening in another film of this size. It's a seriously respectable move, and I'll be curious to see how the masses react to it.