A giant bad alien spacecraft attacks the earth, equipped with impenetrable force-field, overwhelming technological superiority, and the ability to make opponents clutch their heads and go “aaaargh” or “Oh my God!”simply by appearing in the neighbourhood.
Plucky earthlings (mild spoiler alert – but you guessed this, right?) repel the attack, despite most of Europe, the US East Coast and other unimportant zones being destroyed by the impact of the giant spacecraft landing.
They are aided (mild spoiler alert – but you could have guessed this, surely?) by the bad aliens having the same kind of glaring vulnerability routinely overlooked by the Death Star Reconstruction Committee in the “Star Wars” franchise.
Haven’t we seen this before?
Yes, in the original “Independence Day” movie in 1996. Hardly anything has changed, except that most of the actors from the original movie have aged.
(The exception is Jeff Goldblum, who looks roughly the same as he did in 1996, despite appearing in around 50 movies, video games and TV series in the intervening 20 years. In fact, the degree to which Jeff Goldblum is identical reminds me of Ian McKellen’s famous observation that he was lucky to be able to play two different roles – an old gay bloke and an old straight bloke – whereas some actors could only play one role. So true of so many actors.)
What else is there to say about this incredibly bad movie?
(i) the story is beyond non-existent: it makes no sense at all. Why do the bad aliens, using their overwhelming firepower, not liquidate humankind before they land? How do the protagonists keep functioning normally despite half the world being destroyed? Why has humankind wasted resources building gigantic weapons on the moon and in orbit without checking whether they will have any impact on possible invaders?
(ii) the dramatic tension is zero. How can we care about the outcome, when the aliens are so all-powerful and the human characters such a nakedly fits-all-movie-going-demographics bunch of black, white, Chinese and Jewish male and female, young and old people shoe-horned into the non-existent plot?
(iii) they hold back the plot twists until – the closing credits! Even the (mild spoiler alert) representative of a good alien civilisation who can not only talk English in a cute female voice but actually is an expert in training other (off-screen) good aliens to defeat the bad aliens… doesn’t reveal any useful techniques to the earthlings. What is this good alien doing in the movie? And why is it a boring white sphere? Whatever happened to the originality of the beach-ball alien in 1974’s Dark Star?
(iv) the plot is bizarrely packed with nepotism. The Chinese general is the uncle of the Chinese pilot; the ex-President’s daughter works in the White House in-between being an ace jet pilot; the top black pilot is the son of Will Smith from the 1996 movie; Jeff Goldblum’s elderly father makes a cameo appearance… the only person apparently unrelated to anyone is the female President, who achieves nothing except wrongly to authorise the shooting down of a good alien space-ship and be slaughtered off-screen by the bad aliens for her pains;
(v) even by Hollywood standards, geographical challenge and coincidence are taken to extremes. Jeff Goldblum’s dad, fishing in a boat in the Atlantic when the bad aliens unleash a giant tidal wave, is washed ashore, picked up (uninjured) by some children, and drives to Nevada in a couple of hours, where he runs into JG in the desert. The white male jet-pilot lead lands his plane to find his girlfriend (the ex-President’s daughter) waiting nearby. The black male jet-pilot is flying by at the moment his medical professional mum falls from a helicopter to her doom – and so on ad nauseam;
(vi) laughs are conspicuously absent. I smiled when the President, informed that the bad alien spacecraft was landing over the Atlantic, asked “Which part?” and was told “All of it.” I might have smiled when Jeff Goldblum said the bad alien spacecraft was bigger than the last one, if Harrison Ford hadn’t used a near-identical line in the consistently much funnier and all-round superior Star Wars: the Force Awakens. But that’s about it for comedy or self-awareness;
(vii) all those scenes of world landmarks being destroyed are getting frightfully dull, as this nice piece in The Guardian points out;
(viii) so are the bad aliens. When is someone going to invent some bad aliens which are different from the awesome work of H R Giger in the original Alien?
The inevitable result of the non-story, absence of tension, twists or humour, daft coincidences and paralysing illogicality is that the yawn-o-matic is operating at full tilt throughout the movie, beyond even the levels witnessed recently in the awful James Bond Spectre. Don’t waste your time.
For: plenty of not-particularly-innovative special effects of spaceships and fighting.
Against: so boring as to be painful to watch
PS: in case anyone thinks I’m prejudiced against massive CGI-packed disaster movies, I enjoyed, for example 2012, also directed by Roland Emmerich. 2012 is often funny, eg the scene where a US Navy aircraft carrier is tossed on top of the White House. It’s also packed with rather shocking anti-religious sentiment, such as the scene where the Pope’s efforts to rally the faithful through prayer at St Peter’s in Rome is followed by St Peter’s itself crashing down on the huge crowd of faithful below. 2012 also has a logical narrative, lots of nail-biting moments, and several unexpected twists (I never expected to find that high up in the Himalayas) as well as, helpfully, no aliens. By contrast the only thing to say about the new Independence Day 2 is “Oh, my God!”