Sunday, June 26, 2016

Double Feature: Independence Day

So this past Thursday, I attended the double feature event showing both the original Independence Day, and the new sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. And yeah, to say that this screening was a disaster is really undercutting the experience. Hell, it's a story all its own, so before I even get into what I thought about the movies, I'm just going to have to recount the events that transpired at the theater. However, if you wanna skip right into my thoughts on the movies, then you can jump ahead to those reviews here.

Still with me? Alright. So, I was super hyped for this event, just stupidly excited. Independence Day is one of my all time favorite movies. I had seen it three times in the theater when it originally came out 20 years ago, and this was a rare instance where I was more than willing to make the trip out to the theater to check it out, despite already owning it on DVD. And so I get to the theater, and it would appear that only one single person in the entire town shared my enthusiasm (though a third person did eventually join us as well, about 30 minutes into the movie).

Whatever, it is what it is, and at least there wasn't any rude attendees talking or playing on their phones. And yeah, the first movie played flawlessly, and still holds up incredibly well to this day, but more on that later! So after the movie ended and the credits wrapped up, I guess we expected for them to either give us an intermission and perhaps show some previews or something before the next movie, but no, they literally left the lights out and the screen blank, as an ever increasingly awkward silence filled the void.

One of the people there asked the other if they knew when the next movie was supposed to start, before leaving to find out. Meanwhile, I looked up online and saw that there was an intended 30 minute break between films. Okay, that seemed a bit unnecessarily long, but whatever. Anyways, 32 minutes go by without anything changing, and it becomes apparent at this point that they had merely forgotten about us in this theater. So that guy who had left before leaves again, aaaaaand... he never came back. I was a little confused by that at first, but it made sense later! So now it's about 37 minutes of dark and silence, and I finally get up to tell them that the second movie hasn't started yet. Okay they're on it, and it's starting up as I return to my seat.

So it starts playing right from the beginning, no trailers or anything leading into it, which I thought was cool. But then one of the workers comes in and walks up to my seat, where she hands me 3D glasses. Because, apparently this second movie was playing in 3D. Huh. That was never mentioned on the ticket or any of the promotion. So I begrudgingly accepted my glasses, while meanwhile, the only other guy left in the theater at this point decided to leave, and it suddenly dawned on me that this was the reason why we never saw the first guy come back again. Probably a wise decision on both of their ends. And I actually considered leaving myself, and looked up the times for the next 2D showing. But seeing as it was 2 and a half hours away, I decided to suck it up and just watch the damn thing in 3D. How bad could it get, right?

And so there I was, alone in the theater, entirely to myself, watching the second Independence Day. In 3D. And I'm still kicking myself for not just getting up and asking if they could just play it in 2D, seeing as I was literally the only one there at that point. But whatever, anyways, the movie goes on, and we get near the end, when suddenly, as the movie's right in the middle of the last big action scene, the lights come up in the theater and the sound turns off on the movie. God dammit. So now I have to get up and tell someone to fix this, and as I return to my seat, I had the bizarre experience of having them come in the theater to ask me what scene the movie was on. And I had to awkwardly answer, "Uh... they were, um, being chased in a bus."

So they start skipping around to try and find where we were at, first playing scenes from way in the beginning, then skipping ahead to well past where we were, until they got about 10 minutes prior to where we had left off, and I told them, "good enough." And it was at that point, too, that I realized, well shit, they're playing the rest of the movie in 2D. Well, at least that was something, but now I was especially kicking myself for not just inquiring about that earlier.

So yeah, given all those technical errors, the movie ended up running so late that people were already filing into the theater for the next showing as the credits were rolling on this thing. However, after the movie, they did give me a free pass due to the sheer amount of technical problems on the theater's end, so that was at least cool of them, but good lord was that a disastrous experience! Though, in hindsight, it's almost fitting that the first movie played so flawlessly while the second movie was an absolute trainwreck, because in terms of quality, those experiences honestly mirror the movies themselves to an almost ominous degree.

But now that I got the theater experience out of the way, let's dive into the movies themselves! First, the original Independence Day. It had been a while since I had last seen it, so I was honestly expecting it to be showing its age. After all, we've become so oversaturated with so many big bombastic blockbusters of this ilk since then that surely this movie would just feel like more of the same by today's standards. But, honestly, this movie still holds up, and still stands out among the pack. This movie set a standard, and does so many things so well that a lot of modern day action fare get so wrong.

I also sorta expected for the movie to show its age and feel totally like a movie stuck in time. But that also proved to not really be the case, as it really stood the test of time effortlessly. And sure, now that I'm older I can definitely see how several elements of the actual story may be a little silly. However, the movie is so well executed that these silly moments are easy to overlook. The movie just takes its time really building up and establishing so much, from the world, to the scenario, to the characters.

You really get the feeling that this is a real, lived-in world, with real characters who you come to know and truly care for, and who are so charming and charismatic, and have such phenomenal chemistry with one another that you could just spend all day with these people. It's such a large ensemble, yet no one gets lost in the shuffle, it's so well balanced between all of the various stories that gradually become intertwined into one another.

And the action scenes and effects still look outstanding to this day! The initial attacks are just stunningly intense, and simply breath taking to see. And there's just a true sense of clarity that you just don't get often enough with a lot of modern blockbusters, the movie goes out of its way to make sure the viewer always knows explicitly what is happening on screen, why this is happening, and how this effects everybody. There's such an epic buildup to the initial attack that you really feel the impact of it yourself! And the movie spends so much time letting that sink in afterwards, all while naturally moving the story forward at a deliberate pace.

I was also sorta taken aback by just how much they accomplished in this movie. I mean, on top of the big bombastic destruction, this movie also fits in scenes that feel straight out of a sci-fi horror movie, aerial dogfights, and some action adventure space travel for our troubles as well. And I know a lot of movies where they try to jump around and do a lot, and it just comes across as messy and muddled. But here, everything transitions from one thing to the next so smoothly, and it all just meshes together so seamlessly, that it all just comes together and compliments the greater whole, and makes the movie have this big, grand, epic sense of scope to it, all while never really getting too big for its own good.

Seeing this movie again on the big screen was just a treat, so much so that I don't regret the theater experience at all, despite all of the issues that would arise with the second movie. And, speaking of which, let's delve right into that movie now, which proceeds to do the exact opposite of every single thing that made the first movie good, leading to the absolute worst case scenario of results.

Warning, from this point forward, there will be some pretty heavy spoilers sprinkled in here and there, so watch out for that.

Where the first movie has so much buildup, so many charming and likable characters, and so much clearly realized and awesome action, this movie had, well, none of that. Buildup? Hell, this movie's never even heard the word, as the pacing is so rushed it's just a damn miracle that there's even a movie left to talk about by the end of it. It's as if they were so concerned about taking 20 years to get around to the sequel that they were afraid of wasting any more time, so they went out of their way to make the movie as fast paced as possible, never mind if that means there's no breathing room to get a feel for the characters or any of the scenarios they find themselves in. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of watching someone cramming the night before a test, or procrastinating until the very last minute prior to a deadline. "We had 20 years to prepare," the tagline on the poster says. Yet it feels like they spent closer to 20 minutes putting the damn thing together, so sloppily rushed is it.

Hell, there was a scene that started with an alien attack on the moon, and then suddenly, that scene appears to be continuing already on Earth with the big attack you see from the trailers, where the aliens are controlling gravity. Nevermind when or how they got from the moon to Earth so suddenly, I sure as hell couldn't tell you. It's as if the movie skipped a scene or something, and I kept feeling this way all throughout the movie, like it just kept skipping forward with no rhyme or reason, forgetting to include natural transitions, let alone any time to actually catch your damn breath and let a moment resonate.

And speaking on those action scenes, my god were they just an absolute visual mess to take in. I honestly couldn't fucking tell you what the hell was even happening on screen half the damn time, so incomprehensible were the images. And yes, the shoddy 3D certainly didn't help matters, and it made me wonder if this would perhaps be more clear in 2D. But I've heard and read other reviews that are reporting the same thing, enough to where I feel confident sticking by that particular criticism. The first movie went out of its way to make all of the action so crisp and so clear, carefully setting things into place as coherently as possible, yet this movie appears to be doing the opposite, trying its damndest to just confuse the hell out of you, and leave you wondering, what the hell did I even just see?

Characters? There are none. Sure, a handful of characters return from the first movie, only to be entirely wasted this time around. Will Smith was right to turn this movie down, and it's kind of a shame that more of these actors didn't follow suit. I mean, is there a single person out there who, after watching the first movie, thought, "You know what this movie could've used more of? That quirky doctor from Area 51." Because that guy's back, and boy do they give him a whole lot more screentime this time out!

Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum's father played by Judd Hirsch also returns, but literally does nothing of any importance or value here, leaving me wondering, why even bring him back at all? In the first movie, the one sideplot that initially arguably felt out of place was the plot following Randy Quaid's redneck character and his family, but that all ends up paying off in a major way in the end. Here, though? Judd Hirsch just finds a group of kids after the big attack and randomly tags along with them until they randomly come across his son in the dessert so they could take part in the last big action scene. Not actually provide a pivotal role to it or effect it in any way, mind you. They're there merely to just be present for it. Aaaaaand, that's it.

But hell, at least he got to do something, I guess, if that's what you wanna call it. Others, such as Robert Loggia who played the General in the original, literally step on screen for their brief, pointless cameo, and are never to be seen again. And others still, such as Vivica A. Fox, show up solely to die almost immediately, and in the least impactful manner imaginable.

I mean, when the President's wife dies in the first movie, you feel the emotion of the moment. It hits you, 'cause you've spent so much time with these characters and all they're going through. You get a feel for their relationship, and as such, you can relate to the sheer loss when he loses her. Here though, I don't think Vivica A. Fox even has five minutes total of screentime, let alone shares a single scene with her son, so when she dies, it's like, who cares? Why was she even in the movie if that was literally all she was there to contribute? It's been 20 years since the first movie, so I don't even know this character anymore, and the movie never gave us a chance to catch back up with her before removing her from the rest of the movie as quickly as possible.

As for the new cast, not a single one of these characters is fleshed out, nor does any of them bring an ounce of charisma to the table with them. And outside of Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, and Jessie Husher, just about all of them get lost in the shuffle. Like, there's this random warlord guy, who just kills aliens, and that's his character. Then there's the bumbling fool who just bumbles around and is a fool, and that's his character. And then the President in this movie, who is barely a character, suddenly dies, off screen, and we witness them swear in the new President, who is just some guy who was just sorta there, and it's only in that moment that you realize, oh, I guess he's supposed to be kinda important?

And then Charlotte Gainsbourg is there, who I spent most of the movie anytime she was on screen trying to think of who she was, as I definitely recognized her but couldn't quite place her, until, about halfway into the movie, I was like, "AH! That's Charlotte Gainsbourg!" And despite barely sharing any real screentime with Jeff Goldblum early on, she's apparently supposed to be his love interest come the end of the movie? What? I mean, I guess they kinda hinted at something that had gone on between them a little, but that still felt way out of left field. And besides, what the hell happened to his ex-wife from the first movie? If that was explained away in a throwaway line of dialogue, I sure as hell missed it!

Hell, Will Smith's friend who died in the first air battle was a more fleshed out character than even our main cast, let alone the supporting players. But yeah, that's about what you get here. A lot of cardboard cutouts that look pretty. And let me tell you, when one of the very few positive things I had to say about the movie afterwards is, "Well, at least Maika Monroe looked nice," that doesn't fare too well for your shitty film. And hell, most of these characters' storylines feel straight out of one of the endless stream of YA adaptations, which would be fine, if this was yet another YA adaptation. But it's not. It's Independence Day. And if it wanted to use a source in which to reference writing out character arcs, the first movie was still there for them to watch and take note. Nevermind that to this day you can still quote lines from the characters in the first movie, you won't be quoting anything anyone says in this one, 'cause there's not a memorable line to be had in the whole movie.

I would say perhaps the one exception would be Bill Pullman, who is so damn charismatic that he has probably the only scene in the movie that kinda works, which also just so happens to be a depressing reminder of just how much of a fantasy world these movies reside in. He's hyping up a group of people by discussing how much the world has come together to work alongside one another since the last attack 20 years ago. This message, mind you, in a movie coming out during a time when the world is quite possibly at its most divided since the freaking '40s. So yeah, to say that the scene wasn't relatable in the least is putting it mildly, but again, Pullman brings something to the performance that still manages to somewhat pull it off regardless, and it's kind of a shame that they had to hamper down the rest of his character with all of these psychotic breakdowns throughout, because Pullman's one of the very few shining aspects in this mess of a movie.

I mentioned how the first movie was stupid in hindsight, but worked regardless because it was all so awesomely well executed. This obviously isn't the case here, as the execution is so poor, there's just no forgiving the god damn stupid fucking shit that happens in any of this movie. I mean, I'm all for trying to present this new world that's advanced well beyond our own thanks to utilizing the alien technology, but the movie spends no time actually building this world for the audience, really giving us a proper introduction to it. So as a result, it just feels like this movie flat out doesn't even exist within the same universe as the first.

And that feeling only grows as the movie progresses, and we learn of a second alien society who has come to Earth with the intention of aiding them in the fight against these more hostile aliens, and the ending even teases a third movie that would apparently take us entirely out into space in order to wage a full blown war against the main bad guys. And all I could think at that point was, please don't. I mean, if you wanted to start a brand new movie franchise in order to explore all of this stuff with, then sure, by all means go for it. But taking the Independence Day movies down this route just feels unnecessary and forced. If this were an original property, sure, I could buy this whole second group of aliens and building an army for war. But all of that feels almost too fantastical and unbelievable, coming off the much more grounded first entry, even given everything that happens in that one.

And I haven't even gotten into some of the stupider shit, such as that aforementioned bus chase scene, where they're literally being chased by a giant alien in a desert, and it looks as fucking stupid as it sounds. Or the fact that Maika Monroe was somehow able to disable said alien's shield by merely shooting at it alot. Like, what? How the fuck? In the first movie, they literally nuke the bastards, and it still couldn't penetrate through their shields. But now, they only have to just keep shooting at it enough times? Really movie? And people wanna complain about a computer virus taking their shields down as being stupid. At least that had some sense of internal consistency behind it!

This of course isn't even going into any of this movie's complete disregard for the laws of physics. But that's the thing, this movie kept thinking that bigger was better. It had bigger aliens, bigger ships, bigger destruction. And yet, no matter how much artificially bigger this movie got, the movie still never felt as genuinely big or as epic as the first. And that's because the movie forgot to at any point give us a reason to care about any of this bigger and badder shit going down. By the end of the first movie, we can feel the weight of all that we had just watched, and all the movie had accomplished. But by the end of this thing, with all of its pacing issues, lack of characters, and lack of clarity, the only thing we're left feeling is an overwhelming sense of, "... that's it?"

Now, there is a part of me that almost feels like the terrible theater experience may have perhaps played a hand in my negative feelings towards the movie. However, a counter example already exists, and a rather recent one at that, in the form of my screening for The Conjuring 2. That was an absolute horrible theater experience, with one of the worst crowds I have ever sat through. To my left were a bunch of girls who kept checking their phones every five minutes, and were at times even taking pictures with the flash on during the movie, and I could hear them whispering and giggling about it. And to my right were a group of people talking and providing commentary on the movie, and screaming in an over-the-top manner at inappropriate times in order to garner a reaction from the audience, making the experience about them, and not about the actual movie that we had all paid to see.

And that was just on my row. All throughout the whole theater this sorta thing was going on, ongoing conversations, people checking their phones. It was miserable. So bad that I actually considered walking out and trying again at another date. But I stuck it out, and you know what? Despite all of the distractions, despite the terrible theater experience, I actually quite loved the movie itself, which wasn't hindered at all by my terrible audience. In fact, it's one of my favorites of the whole year so far. So I had nothing but very positive thoughts in regards to the movie itself, even though my theater experience that accompanied it was something out of a nightmare.

So taking that into consideration, and also seeing many of my own thoughts being mirrored by so many elsewhere, I think it's safe to say that the movie really was as bad as I'm making it out to be. Though, that said, it does also serve as a stark reminder to me as to why I absolutely refuse to intentionally watch movies in 3D. Because all throughout, I found the 3D effects to be very distracting, and I'm almost certain that it muddied up the images even more than they already were, meaning that I'm pretty sure I had a harder time deciphering what the hell was going on than even most. Though, again, this isn't the only movie I've seen in 3D, and in fact, all of the others I have seen, I ended up liking them, despite not being a fan of the 3D itself. And besides, even once the movie changed over to 2D for me, I still very much found the action to be just as uninteresting as the rest of the movie, so there was really no change in that regard for me anyways.

Still, there is a part of me that's a little curious to give this movie another chance without the hindrances that I had experienced, because I really do hate to feel like I'm unfairly criticizing the movie. But I'm really not sure when I'll get around to that, probably not until it hits video at least, but we'll see. Because even though much of this movie does feel like a blur, all things considered, I still very much feel this was just a very depressingly terrible movie all the same.

What's especially sad is that Roland Emmerich has proven himself to still be capable of producing fun movies. White House Down came out only a couple years ago, and I loved that movie! That movie was so much fun, with awesome action and great characters. But here, it's like, what happened? And all of this movie's glaring flaws were made all the more so seeing it back to back with the first one, which also make every single one of those flaws absolutely inexcusable, seeing as it's the same people making this new movie. I mean, how did they not use that first one as a blueprint, see what worked that made that movie so good, and apply that here? How did this travesty of a movie even happen? It's really unexplainable, but the end result is just absolutely unacceptable coming from the same folks.

They had 20 years to get it right, yet they couldn't have gotten it more wrong if they were actively trying. And in the end, this movie winded up being an absolute disaster of a film that absolutely must be stopped before they produce any more of this bullshit. I mean, even as I'm writing this a couple of days after my screening, I'm still shocked at just how bad this movie was. I didn't expect it to be as good as the first, but there's really just no excuse for how low this movie stoops to.

Independence Day: Resurgence isn't just a bad movie. It's shockingly bad. It's depressingly terrible. So much so that, even though I rarely review movies anymore, and even more rarely write up full blown negative reviews at that, I just had to take the time to share my thoughts and explain in full detail just how god awful this movie was. And part of that is because I love the first movie so much. But hopefully this one's existence won't tarnish the legacy of the original too much, as can sometimes happen when a great movie is followed up by something so terrible, but the two honestly have so little in common that it shouldn't be too hard to ignore its existence. But yeah, this is unquestionably the worst movie I've seen this year so far, and it is going to take a lot to top it as such.