Review of “Independence Day: Resurgence”

It’s been 20 years since the alien invasion was turned back with a combination of a brave military, an inspiring speech by then President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and plucky cable TV repairman and virus software writer David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). In the two decades since, a new multi-national military force called the Earth Space Defense (ESD for short) has been established using a combination of human and alien technology. There has been peace and prosperity since the attacks and to celebrate the 20th anniversary, current President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) is hosting a giant celebration on the lawn of the rebuilt White House. President Whitmore is troubled by nightmares of a new alien invasion. He believes the aliens are coming back soon. Levinson is now in charge of the ESD and is brought to an African country by that nation’s leader Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) to see an alien ship that had been dormant since the attack has now come back to life. Inside, Levinson discovers the ship is sending a distress signal. On the ESD moon base, pilot Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) and his co-pilot Charlie Ritter (Travis Tope) have just finished the installation of a massive new weapon when an alien ship appears from out of a wormhole. The new weapon is used to shoot down the spherical craft despite the objections of Levinson who says it looks nothing like the ships from the original attack. Morrison takes a spacecraft and heads to Earth to pick up Levinson so he can see the wreckage. As they are investigating, a massive alien ship that more closely resembles the vessels from 20 years ago appears and quickly destroys the ESD lunar base. Morrison and Levinson, still at the scene of the downed sphere, discover a piece of the craft that looks like it could be important. They are able to scoop it up and nearly escape the moon when they are captured by the gravitational field of the alien ship and dragged along back to Earth to face an uncertain fate.

Above is a very much abridged plot synopsis of approximately the first 20 minutes of “Independence Day: Resurgence.” I could have mentioned about a dozen more characters and several more subplots and bits of backstory that are crammed into the same amount of running time but that would make this introduction to the film about four pages long. There is a great deal going on in “Independence Day: Resurgence” and most of it doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans as the only thing anyone is interested in is when will the aliens show up and start destroying everything and when will someone give a rousing speech that brings the whole world together in the fight against the alien menace. It doesn’t take long to get to the destruction but the speeches (there are two) require sitting through most of one very dumb movie.

What makes “Independence Day: Resurgence” so dumb, dumber even than the original, is the utter implausibility of most of what happens. I’m not talking about the alien invasion parts. I’m talking about the human interactions and the amount of coincidence and head-scratching illogic on display. For instance, Umbutu, a government bean counter, a former girlfriend of Levinson’s and Levinson all wind up travelling to the moon and then to Area 51 together. The presence of three of the four of them cannot be rationally explained by anything other than they were given a ride. There is not even a reason for them to exist in the film for more than a scene or two. “Independence Day: Resurgence” is full of this kind of thing: An aide to the current president is the daughter of President Whitmore and she is a former fighter pilot and friends with Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher), the stepson of Will Smith’s character while also being engaged to Morrison but he and Hiller hate each other because of a flight training accident but they will run into each other because Hiller is headed to the moon base where Morrison is stationed. Again, none of this has anything to do with the alien invasion and the film stuffs much of its two hour running time with meaningless trash, subplots and backstory.

The movie also doesn’t mind giving everyone abilities and knowledge from out of nowhere: President Whitmore can fly the spacecraft Morrison brings back to Earth. Human military pilots are able to operate alien fighters (just like Will Smith from the first film). Guys looking for sunken treasure are able to monitor how deep the aliens are drilling into the Earth’s crust and report back to Area 51. It all is utter lunacy.

All that being said “Independence Day: Resurgence” does have some pretty spectacular visuals including a 50 foot tall alien and the sight of buildings being uprooted by the massive mothership then being dropped on other cities thousands of miles away. There are dogfights where the sky is filled with craft from both sides yet it is fairly easy to keep track of what is happening. While it is difficult to get a real impression of the size of the mothership (said in the movie to be 3000 miles across) it is impressive nonetheless. All the various bits of merged human and alien technology have a pleasant blue/green glow to them. And of course, the film gives the audience what it really wants with heartwarming reunions and celebrations of a job well done. It panders to the base instincts of moviegoers with easy answers given out by pretty people. It may be lazy filmmaking but it does deliver a kind of dirty satisfaction.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action, destruction and some language. As described earlier we see buildings uprooted from one city and dropped on another. While death is talked about we see mostly dead aliens except for one onscreen human death with a small amount of blood. There are deaths of human characters but we don’t actually see the deaths, only the explosions that cause them. Foul language is widely scattered and very mild.

When “Independence Day” came out, I didn’t see it in a theatre. My first viewing of it was when if premiered on one of the pay cable channels. I really liked it on first viewing but then repeated viewings made its weaknesses stand out. It only took one viewing of “Independence Day: Resurgence” to see how much of this film is silly; far more silly than even the original. It’s like director Roland Emmerich and the four other credited writers thought it had been so long since the first film and the buzz for this movie had been going on for so long they didn’t need to try and release something with a coherent story or much in the way of logic. Emmerich has even been recently quoted as saying Marvel’s superhero movies are “silly.” Based on his latest effort, he appears to be an expert in silly.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” gets three stars out of five but only because of the special effects. Everything else in the film is a waste of time.

This week there be giants, an ape man and the wholesale murder of anyone and everyone for 12 hours.  I’ll see and review at least one of these films:

The BFG-

The Legend of Tarzan-

The Purge:  Election Year-

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and contact me via email at

Review of “American Ultra”

“To thine own self be true.” A character in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” says this to his son just before the young man boards a ship bound for Paris. Couched in flowery language, the father is telling his son to take care of himself in such a way that if the need arises he can take care of others; but what if you do not know who exactly you are. Is it possible to be true to yourself if you question your own existence? Some question their sexuality, their belief system, their choice in a mate, their career and many other aspects of life but in the film “American Ultra” the main character faces the kind of existential crisis the puts his entire life history into question. Adding to his stress during the predicament, he must also face down over a dozen trained assassins.

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives a simple life with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) in Liman, West Virginia. Mike works at a small grocery store, passing the slow times drawing comic book-like stories about a space travelling ape and getting stoned. Mike loves Phoebe and wants to ask her to marry him during a romantic trip to Hawaii. Sadly, Mike suffers from paralyzing anxiety whenever he tries to leave Liman and they must cancel their trip. Mike’s attempt to leave Liman triggered various alarms at the CIA as Mike was part of a secret operation to create super spies with exceptional training and combat skills. Called the Ultra program, it was led by Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) who shut it down when it didn’t produce significant results and it appears Mike has had memories of the program blocked. Lasseter gets an anonymous phone call telling her Mike is about to be killed. Lasseter confronts her supervisor, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), and he tells her he is purging what’s left of Ultra and there’s nothing she can do about it. Lasseter travels to Liman and says a phrase to Mike that should activate him but he doesn’t respond. Later, Mike finds two men messing with his car in the store parking lot. When he confronts them, they attack him. Armed only with a cup of ramen noodle soup and a spoon, Mike is able to disarm and kill both men. Panicked, Mike calls Phoebe. Yates is furious when he hears Mike killed the men he sent to Liman and figures out Lasseter activated him. Yates then calls in a full mobilization of troops and special agents to shut down Liman, find Mike and Lasseter and kill them both.

“American Ultra” is a good mix of action and humor. The movie never takes itself too seriously and makes fun of characters within it that do. It has the kind of irreverent tone one might expect from writer Max Landis, the creative mind behind the script for “Chronicle” and several other films coming out this year. Landis is an entertaining follow on Twitter as he has very little in the way of a filter. If a thought crosses his mind it will find an outlet within 140 characters. That reckless disregard for authority and the powers that be are on full display within the story and characters in “American Ultra.” It may be the most dangerous summer movie of the season that isn’t about rap music.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart make a believable slacker couple. They have a grungy chemistry together that works despite Stewart’s reputation as having only about one and a half emotions in any of her movies. She actually displays a fair range of feelings as Phoebe and manages to pull off the biggest shocker of the film with a twist about half way through. It isn’t telegraphed or made obvious in any way and actually surprised me when it was revealed.

There are several good performances in the film aside from the two leads. Topher Grace makes a terrifically obnoxious and power-mad bureaucrat as CIA mucky muck Adrian Yates. He also manages to be funny despite his odious character and his willingness to violate the constitutional rights of just about everyone he meets. Connie Britton’s Victoria Lasseter is the motherly figure Mike needs as things get dark near the story’s end. Britton is able to pull off the hard-edged agent as well as the caring and concerned parental symbol to this very confused stoner. The only other major character is Tony Hale as Lasseter’s assistant Petey Douglas. Hale is able to make Petey both a friendly and efficient agent but also I man with a conscience that struggles when given an order that contradicts his beliefs. One scene shows that struggle in such a way that I was gripping my theatre seat arms as his life and death decision needed to be made. From a story point of view, his decision could only go one way but Hale shows the frustration and anguish his character is going through in such a visceral way that it put his final choice in doubt for me. While he doesn’t have much in the way of screen time Hale puts every second to good use.

There is one other major player I left out that had me kind of scratching my head. John Leguizamo plays a character named Rose. Rose is a drug dealer and friend of Mike’s that seems to have been pulled from a completely different movie. Rose is a character I might expect to see in a major city or one of its suburbs. The film is set in what looks like a fairly small town (that also has a fairly large airport). Rose deals all kinds of drugs as well as illegal fireworks and has two guys working for him as what appears to be bodyguards. None of this makes sense within the small town setting of this movie. Leguizamo plays Rose like someone from the gritty streets of New York City. He refers to both Mike and his two African-American bodyguards as the “N-word.” His presence is probably an effort to throw an unusual character into the mix to stir up some humor and add a little color into what is a very white movie. I have no problem with creating roles for people of color even if they are a little stereotypical; however, this doesn’t really work within the whole universe of this movie. Perhaps if there had been some kind of explanation for Rose being in that town that tied in to Mike and his past then it would have been a somewhat better fit. Leguiazmo gives an energetic and entertaining performance that still had me a bit baffled as to what it was doing in this movie.

“American Ultra” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content. There are some brutal fights in the film. Several people are shot at point blank range and there is a great deal of blood splash from these wounds. There are also some sound effects that imply necks being broken during some fights. Mike smokes weed through practically the entire film. Others are also shown using various kinds of drugs. The sexual content is brief with no nudity shown. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Despite having a character that seems to come from a 1980’s B-movie, “American Ultra” is a fun and exciting film. It starts the meat of the story quickly and keeps the momentum going right up until the end. Eisenberg, Stewart and crew all give winning performances and manage to pull off some pretty good stunt work as well. It isn’t finding an audience in its opening weekend but it deserves one. It may not sound like the kind of flick that appeals to you for some reason but I encourage you to give it a try as it may be one of the most interesting film I’ve seen this year.

“American Ultra” gets five stars.

Two new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them. Watch the trailers below.

No Escape—

We Are Your Friends—

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