Film Review: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Also known as: ID Forever (working title), IDR (short title), Resurgence, Independence Day 2 (informal titles)
Release Date: June 20th, 2016 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt
Based on: characters by Dean Devlin, James A. Woods
Music by: Thomas Wander, Harald Kloser
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Travis Tope, Sela Ward, Angelababy, Vivica A. Fox, Deobia Oparei, Nicolas Wright, Ng Chin Han, Robert Loggia, Mckenna Grace

Centropolis Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 120 Minutes

Review:

“We convinced an entire generation, that this is a battle that we could win. We sacrifice for each other no matter what the cost. And that’s worth fighting for.” – President Whitmore

When I saw this in the theater, there was that part of me that hoped this would be a sleeper hit that ended up impressing me, as opposed to being another half-assed sequel. Plus, I hadn’t liked anything that Roland Emmerich had done since the first Independence Day in 1996. But my absolute love of that film made me hopeful that this one would generate the same sort of effect that the first film had on me.

Initially, it didn’t and I was pretty disappointed with the final product. However, four years later a.k.a. now, I actually found this a bit more enjoyable. I think that mainly has to do with my love of the original core characters who returned.

This isn’t anywhere near as good or memorable as its predecessor but it’s still a fun, over-the-top blockbuster that uses Emmerich’s style better than any other film since the original Independence Day. This certainly blows Godzilla out of the water and it’s a better movie than The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC and 2012. I’d probably put The Patriot and White House Down ahead of it but I was extremely drunk when I saw White House Down, which is why I didn’t officially review it.

I liked Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch in this because they’re so good as father and son. I also liked what they did with Bill Pullman’s character and how they brought back Brent Spiner, who was still on his A-game even after a twenty year coma and new technologies that he had never worked with. But whatever, just turn your brain off; this is an Emmerich movie about kicking alien ass!

My biggest complaint about the film is the opposite of how I feel about most films and that’s that this needed more time to develop its characters and to get you more invested in it. Granted, I think they overdid it by trying to introduce so many characters for the next generation of heroes. It really only needed two or three core newbies and not a whole squad and separate environment with its own large supporting cast. Most of these characters don’t make much of an impact and are easily forgotten, unlike the first movie where even the small roles were memorable and felt important.

However, I like how this does make the human victory feel like a real team effort. That’s what I loved about the original story and this replicates that well, even if some people are lost in the shuffle.

I also liked the introduction of the aliens having a hive mind and a queen. While that’s nothing new, I liked how they made the queen massive and the final battle essentially turned the film into a kaiju movie. The only mistake with it was that the giant alien queen was thrown into the desert and not a city or populated area where she could smash buildings and bitchslap tanks.

In the end, this pales in comparison to the original but it expands the universe in a neat way and brings back characters you love, giving them more life.

Sadly, this under-performed and we most assuredly won’t get a third movie despite this ending in a way that made it seem like one was definitely coming. Despite this film’s overall quality, I would’ve liked to have seen a good, final chapter, making this a fun and entertaining trilogy where the lowly, primitive Earthlings finally destroyed the biggest threat to the universe.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: it’s predecessor and other Roland Emmerich films or movies where Jeff Goldblum plays a heroic boffin.

Film Review: Godzilla (1998)

Release Date: May 18th, 1998 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Based on: Godzilla by Toho
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Doug Savant, Vicki Lewis, Richard Gant, Nancy Cartwright, Frank Welker (voice)

Centropolis Film Productions, Fried Films, Independent Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Toho Co. Ltd., 139 Minutes

Review:

“What the hell’s the matter with you people? You’ve caused more damage than that goddamn thing did!” – Mayor Ebert

Yes, Mayor Ebert… you’ve got a fucking point, as most of the actual destruction in this movie is committed by the moronic military and not the giant monster.

I’m not sure if that’s because Roland Emmerich wanted to paint the military and the government as incompetent assholes or because he’s just a shitty director that didn’t have the talent to replicate the success of Independence Day. But his first big mistake was making this story’s heroes the absolute antithesis of those from that much better movie.

Whatever the reason though, this movie is so fucking stupid that it’s painful to watch, which is why I have never actually sat down and watched this in its entirety in one sitting. Sure, I’ve seen the whole film in increments thanks to cable television but as a lifelong Godzilla fan, I had no urge to see this in the theater when it came out and all the footage and sequences I’ve seen over the years has only solidified my disdain for this big budget kaiju-sized abortion.

Many people have claimed that this isn’t a true Godzilla film and that it is the worst one ever made. Those people aren’t wrong, as I’d rather be stuck in a room for 24 hours being forced to watch Godzilla’s Revenge, over and over, than have to watch this film ever again.

It’s completely incompetent from top-to-bottom with brainless characters, impressively bad dialogue and a story that feels like it was freestyled from the mind of a child playing with kaiju toys in the bathtub.

There is no traditional three act structure and this is just a string of sequences where some of them feel like they don’t even fit within the same movie. It also gets so far away from the core of what Godzilla is that it truly isn’tGodzilla movie, it’s some sort of generic kaiju flick trying to borrow more from Jurassic Park than its own namesake.

Had this not been given the Godzilla name and branding, it may have been more palatable but there is nothing about this that can win over the fans they assumed they’d lure in just by using the name of the world’s most famous giant monster. While that may have been a run-on sentence, 1998’s Godzilla was a run-on movie.

About two-thirds of the way into the film they “kill” Godzilla, after destroying half of Manhattan. Then suddenly we’re sucked into a different movie where baby Godzillas are chasing the heroes idiots through Madison Square Garden like an army of velociraptors in a cheap attempt at trying to one-up the far superior Jurassic Park movies. Once the babies are killed, Godzilla miraculously rises from the ashes like, “Fuck you, hoes! Ain’t dead!” It’s a clusterfuck that shows that Roland Emmerich doesn’t have time for any sort of traditional narrative structure. And no, that’s not an artistic choice it’s just the incompetence of a moron that cares more about mass destruction than actually making cinematic art.

I haven’t even talked about the special effects yet, which are a mixed bag but mostly shit. Where practical effects are used, things actually look quite good but where the film employs CGI, it looks terrible even for 1998. Hell, this movie came out two years after Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day and it looks significantly cheaper than that film. This is really where big studios started to rely on CGI too much and it killed the immersion into the cinematic world onscreen. I never feel that way when watching Independence Day or Jurassic Park but here, it’s fucking distracting.

The action sequences with dozens of Apache helicopters flying through the canyon-like streets of New York City like swarms of insects just look cartoonish and buffonish. In fact, all these big action sequences between the military and Godzilla look more like a video game than a motion picture. Maybe modern HD makes it look worse than it did in 1998 but the digital flaws are really apparent and it looks like the studio cut corners in post-production or just rushed this out too soon.

Based off of the final product, Roland Emmerich could’ve just invented his own kaiju creature. But I guess less people would’ve gone to see that, so bastardizing something beloved was the easiest route to go when you can’t actually rely on talent.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other Roland Emmerich schlock that cost way too much to make.

Film Review: Stargate (1994)

Release Date: October 28th, 1994
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Erick Avari, John Diehl, French Stewart, Richard Kind, Djimon Hounsou

Centropolis Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Give my regards to King Tut, asshole.” – Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil

This is the first time that I have watched Stargate since the movie theater in 1994. I was a sophomore in high school when it came out and while I wasn’t blown away by it, at the time, I still thought it was a fun blockbuster that probably should have been a summer movie.

I think that other people had a much stronger impression of it than I did, as it would go on to spawn three sequel television series: Stargate SG-1Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, as well as two other movies related to the TV shows: Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum. Not to mention a web series, an animated series and lots of books and comics.

Because of how big this franchise has gotten and because I do enjoy Roland Emmerich’s work before 1998’s Godzilla, I figured I’d give this a watch again with the possibility of me finally giving the television shows a shot in the near future (assuming I can stream them for free somewhere).

Stargate was really enjoyable. While it does feel a bit dated, it’s a solid ’90s sci-fi action flick. It had a decent story that was interesting and really set the stage for something that needed to be much larger than this self-contained film. I guess it’s a good thing for the hardcore fans of this movie that it was expanded out into other forms of media.

Kurt Russell is a true man’s man and James Spader is always great to watch. Seeing them come together and having a big contrast in personalities here was a lot of fun. Spader didn’t play his typical role and was pretty much just a very brave scientist that often times jumped into the water without checking for sharks. Russell usually had to pull Spader’s ass out of trouble but it was a treat to watch.

I loved how this gives a sci-fi explanation for ancient Egyptian culture and the Egyptian styled aliens were just badass. The backstory was pretty simple but awesome and I really liked how this was just a simple tale with a lot of emphasis on action.

Emmerich did a great job of writing this alongside Dean Devlin. But his eye for style and his execution of action, while he sat behind the camera, was terrific. I really wish that Emmerich’s mojo didn’t get sucked out of him after Independence Day.

I also really enjoyed the film’s score. It was heavy handed but in the right way and frankly, I miss powerful scores like this in my blockbusters.

This is just a rollercoaster ride of a bunch of guys having fun in an alien desert, fighting stylish aliens with cool technology. What’s not to love? There’s even a bit of a love story but I was too captivated by the testosterone and the Egyptians with lasers to care about that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Independence DayThe Mummy and the various Stargate TV shows and related films.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Erick Avari, Leland Orser, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.