Don’t expect logic from Independence Day. Don’t try to make sense of all the impossibilities in its script. Don’t hope for characters who are more developed than a loaf of bread. Don’t think while watching it and you might have a decent time. The type of film that is Independence Day exists to excite and enthrall and do nothing else beyond that. It doesn’t make you use your brain to do anything other than appreciate the special effects and the explosions, of which there are many because it’s a disaster movie.
The film begins with an alien invasion. A spaceship that is 1/4 the size of the moon is approaching Earth, and is messing with our satellites. It soon breaks into many smaller ships, which only measure a paltry 15 miles in diameter. They wind up hovering above many of the largest cities on our planet, which causes terror among the citizens. Presumably that happens worldwide, but save for a few short moments where we observe military units stationed internationally, all we get to see is how this plays out in America.
To that end, we follow a diverse cast including the President of the United States (Bill Pullman), a fight pilot (Will Smith), and a technician who fixes broadcast signals (Jeff Goldblum), as well as the various family members who come along with these people. The President has a wife and daughter, the pilot has a wife and son, and the technician has a father and ex-wife. We’re supposed to care because they have family. That is as much depth as these characters get.
Independence Day winds up being primarily focused on the earthlings’ attempts to stave off the alien invasion, which most definitely is not a friendly one like has been the case in Steven Spielberg’s movies. We’re not making friends with these aliens; they’re going to annihilate our entire species if we don’t do something quickly. And it’s up to these three people — eventually, anyway — to figure out a way to stop them. If only one of them was the President, one of them was a technological genius, and one as a fighter pilot who dreams of going into space. Oh, wait.
I guess it all seems contrived and too easy. Of course it’s these three men — and they must be men — who manage to survive the first wave of the invasion so that they can come together in an attempt to save the world. If any one of them died, there would be no hope. The alien spacecrafts have invisible barriers meaning that not even a nuclear strike has any impact. Entire cities get destroyed in the process, and much of America is in ruins. It’s so lucky that these three survived and found each other.
Part of me wants to appreciate that this doesn’t feel quite as forced as it could. It easily could have been even more contrived, and would have felt more like a parody than a serious movie. The script isn’t quite as stupid as it could have been, even if there’s absolutely no depth to its proceedings. The only thing the script needed to do right was provide plenty of action — which it does — so any sort of bonus, such as this, is definitely appreciated.
There is a lot of action, and if all you need is something to entertain you for over two hours while you down popcorn and soda, Independence Day will do the job. It might thrill, it might excite, and it might keep the 12-year-old inside you happy. It won’t make you think, but then you can go see good movies for that, can’t you? You just want to turn off the brain and escape to a fantasy where aliens invade and humans make things up which can maybe or maybe not (for I wouldn’t want to spoil a film such as this one) stop them.
If there’s one thing I really disliked about Independence Day is that it’s not terribly creative. The aliens aren’t that well designed, the action scenes have all been seen before, and the technology looks an awful lot like ours. The effects used to create all of this are great, but because of a lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers, they feel too familiar. Even though it will consistently entertain — if you’re looking for nothing more than a brainless disaster film — you might be disappointed that there isn’t more.
This isn’t the type of film for actors to gloat about, especially because most of the dialogue is incredibly silly. The “inspirational” speeches given by Bill Pullman and the one-liners Will Smith has to deliver are both really funny, especially if the film doesn’t completely enthrall you to begin with. It is only Jeff Goldblum who shows well, and possibly only because he sounds incredibly intelligent in comparison to the rest of the cast, thanks to the way his character is written.
Independence Day isn’t a good movie but it is a consistently entertaining one. If all you want to see is a bunch of action and destruction taking place in large American cities, then you’ll likely be content with this film, even if you might hope for more creativity. If you want intelligence, strong characters, a good script, or anything resembling depth, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Get yourself in the mindset of a 12-year-old and you might have a good enough time to justify watching this movie.