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Independence Day: Careful What You Wish For

Independence Day: Resurgence is a lot like Brexit

K, I don’t think it qualifies as a spoiler if say that Independence Day: Resurgence is… How shall I put this diplomatically…Pants.

I had fond memories of the 1996 movie and although reviews hadn’t been encouraging, most of the original cast was on board so I figured “how bad could it be?” After a week of helplessly watching the UK sink into Brexit chaos I was ready for bit of good old-fashioned escapism, and a break from throwing things and shouting at various screens. Unfortunately that was exactly what I found myself wanting to do as IDR unfolded. Much like with Brexit, turns out you should never underestimate the power of idiots to misunderstand a much-loved institution and ruin it for everyone.

Much like with Brexit, turns out you should never underestimate the power of idiots to misunderstand a much-loved institution and ruin it for everyone.

There are many things wrong with the film, most of them so obvious I won’t bother to list: Yes the special effects are mediocre at best, with some elements pinched straight from Pixar’s Wall-E. Yes the actors were utterly wasted by clueless and stilted scriptwriting (frankly Jeff Goldblum could have gotten more classic gags reading the back of a cereal box) and yes the whole thing lacked pace, flair, or any sense of a coherent storyline, even by mindless blockbuster standards.

Even had those standards been higher, however, I still think it would have been a flop, because the biggest error of judgement that doomed the whole premise was this: The story is set in the present, but it doesn’t look like the present. It is set in our world, but doesn’t look like our world. You spend half the time just figuring out where you stand in relation to the new and familiar characters, and you fail to give a shit about a single one of them.

You spend half the time just figuring out where you stand in relation to the new and familiar characters, and you fail to give a shit about a single one of them.

The film essentially asks you to believe in a parallel universe. This is not an impossible ask (Star Trek has managed very well in that vein over the years) but in this case it is clumsily done. Had they set it even 10 or 20 years into the future perhaps it could have worked. For all we know we really will have hoverboards in 2036 (The Back to the Future ones, not the shitty kind on wheels) but right now the world looks pretty grim and ordinary, we’re still embroiled in petty wars, and there are definitely no bases on the Moon, so the premise of IDR just looks like a bad, and often cruel, joke.

The one moment in which made a real emotional connection was when I realised that it had been 20 YEARS since I sat in the cinema enjoying that cheesy script and laughing as Smith and Golblum smoked their cigars after wupping some serious alien ass. At that point I felt teary at the realisation of my own mortality, but can hardly credit the script for that.

The one moment in which made a real emotional connection was when I realised that it had been 20 YEARS since I sat in the cinema enjoying that cheesy script and laughing as Smith and Golblum smoked their cigars after wupping some serious alien ass.

John Oliver referenced the film several times in his post-Brexit Last Week Tonight rant. It was hard to miss the connection with the ecstatic “Leave” camp proclaiming that June 23rd would henceforth mark Britain’s day of independence from the shackles of a tyrannical EU bureaucracy.

Today America celebrates its own breaking from, well… Britain. So it seems strange to say the least that some politicians in the UK think it appropriate to, as Oliver puts it, “quote President Bill Pullman” as they, even as we speak, unceremoniously walk away from the ashes of the mess they’ve made — Farage has just resigned as UKIP leader, even as Boris Johnson announced last week that he would not be running for Prime Minister.

As I walked away from the cinema thinking about how I’d never get back those two hours of my life — and pondered where the hell the last couple of decades had disappeared to — it occurred to me why the original Independence Day had succeeded where IDR failed.

Yes, it had a better script, direction, and special effects. But most of all, it presented a world, and characters, we could relate to. That is not to say that it was realistic. One of the things I enjoyed the most about Independence Day was that it was, in fact, a satire. It poked fun at American patriotism by hamming up the stereotypes, addressing issues such as environmental destruction without ever being preachy.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about Independence Day was that it was, in fact, a satire.

It made us laugh and it made us care. Much like John Oliver’s rants (and his mentor’s Jon Stewart’s before him) it is brilliant, and funny, precisely because it cuts so very close to the bone. But that all seems to have been lost in the sequel. It’s like people who watch Monty Python and only see the slapstick. Yes you can laugh at the silliness, but scratch the surface and there is a fierce, intelligent and razor-sharp critique of society that is worth listening to, and makes it that much more enjoyable if you engage with it.

If there’s one thing that Brexit and Independence Day Resurgence have both taught me, is that it’s dangerous to f**k with a good thing.

I must indeed be getting old, as I increasingly find myself wondering why other people “just don’t get it” . Which leads me to think I’ll definitely be skipping the next Ghostbusters. There’s only so much ruining of youthful memories one can take, so I’ll just watch the originals again instead.

Because if there’s one thing that Brexit and Independence Day Resurgence have both taught me, is that it’s dangerous to f**k with a good thing.

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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