When did the Apocalypse get so generic? “Independence Day: Resurgence,” a sequel at least 15 years overdue that no one actually asked for, sneaks into town this weekend without benefit of advance press screenings — generally a sign that a major release is invading from one of the lesser planetary systems. The movie’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox, isn’t even bothering to open it on July 4th, a natural marketing hook that this franchise pioneered back in 1996. And that title? It sounds like the return of a foot fungus.
The movie must be bad, right? Worse, it’s a bore — an alien invasion battle extravaganza wholly lacking in the exuberance and charisma of the original “Independence Day,” which jump-started the modern sci-fi summer blockbuster and Will Smith’s career two decades ago. Smith and his character, fighter pilot Captain Steve Hiller, are gone from the sequel; in their place are many busy and capable actors, playing characters new and old, who never work up a convincing head of steam. Director Roland Emmerich has returned as well, and he and four others are responsible for the script, which contains not one new idea and a lot of boilerplate.
In the two decades since the aliens were repulsed at the end of the first film, the world’s nations have learned to live peaceably together while availing themselves of the attackers’ technological breakthroughs. Apparently it took that long for the beasties’ distress signal to reach home and bring in an even bigger mothership, with a big mother of a Queen Bug on board. “It’s touching down over the Atlantic,” someone breathlessly informs President Lanford (Sela Ward). “What part of the Atlantic?” she asks. “The whole thing.”
Gigantism was the first film’s strong suit — that and the shock and awe of seeing Washington, D.C., obliterated — and “Independence Day: Resurgence” tries to up the ante with a broader cast and more pulverizing special effects. Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, and Hong Kong actress Angelababy are tepid young flyboys and flygirls, collectively adding up to about a tenth of Smith’s wattage in the original.
Returning veterans include Jeff Goldblum as heroic know-it-all David Levinson — he gets a love interest in Charlotte Gainsbourg, of all people; Bill Pullman as ex-President Whitmore, off his meds and better for it; and crusty old Judd Hirsch as Goldblum’s father, who ends up piloting a school bus full of kids into the middle of an interstellar firefight. “We have to wait until the end of the world to see each other?” he barks at his son, and there you have the one amusing — and human — moment in the entire two hours.
Independence Day: Resurgence
Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Emmerich, and James Vanderbilt. Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs; Jordan’s Furniture IMAX in Reading and Natick. 120 minutes. PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, some language).