There’s one key character missing from this bloated behemoth of a sequel to 1996’s popcorn blockbuster ID4 and it isn’t Will Smith. It’s Randy Quaid. His crop-dusting, boozy, Vietnam vet-cum-alien abductee Russell Casse died a hero’s death at the end of the original movie. The intervening years have witnessed a depressing, surreal morphing of the fictional paranoiac Casse with the all-too-real Mr. Quaid, who until last year was literally on the lam from the State of California (you can Google the whole sordid story if you like). Suffice it to say, Quaid’s manic, frequently hilarious turn in ID4 helped leaven director Emmerich’s overblown aliens vs. Earthlings disaster epic, and of course, a presumed-dead character returning hale and hearty for a sequel is hardly a shocker. Case in point: Resurgence resurrects ID4’s Area 51 mad genius Dr. Brakish Okun (Spiner), who turns out to have been not DOA but merely comatose.
Independence Day: Resurgence is everything you were probably expecting and less. The aliens return, this time in a 3,000-mile wide mothership that has its own gravitational field, the better to drop Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, Singapore’s Esplanade, and pretty much every other global landmark. It’s here, in these frequent sequences of epic destruction, that the film crackles with something approaching giddy, ghastly good cheer. (Nine VFX houses, headed by Digital Domain, handled the CGI chaos.)
But the movie’s a rollicking bummer, and a messy one at that. Various plot lines involving everything from a Congolese warlord (Oparei) to Jessie Usher as the hotshot pilot son of Will Smith’s original character (lamely, it’s explained that although he survived the first invasion, USMC Captain Hiller perished while flight-testing some alien tech-enhanced hardware) converge and collide to little emotional affect. There’s a nifty ESD (that’d be the Earth Space Defense) moonbase that’s cribbed right out of Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999. (I kept thinking how subversively wild ID:R could have been had Emmerich and company employed Thunderbirds’ “Supermarionation,” but no such luck.)
On the plus side, Jeff Goldblum returns as Dr. David Levinson, Judd Hirsch is back as his crotchety pop, and even the late Robert Loggia reappears. Charlotte Gainsbourg is on hand as well, as a linguistics expert and love interest for Goldblum. I can only assume casting Serge Gainsbourg’s daughter is some sort of trippy homage to fellow French icon François Truffaut’s sci-guy in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” (Eh … probably not.)
Honestly, I could watch Goldblum and Gainsbourg – two of the most quirkily sublime multihypenate artists alive – reading phonebooks to each other and enjoy the experience thoroughly, but sadly even they seem wasted here. Ultimately, ID:R is what it is, planetary carnage on a mammoth scale, with some humans thrown in for good measure. It renders 1996’s Independence Day slightly less of a guilty pleasure.Read a full review of Independence Day: Resurgence.
Every generation gets the iconic treatments it deserves, and that’s what had me worried about this new Hollywood take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ enduring fictional megastar, Tarzan. Would the canonical ape-man be marooned in a CGI jungle, and rendered as phony as the animals and vines from which he swung? As it turns out, The Legend of Tarzan isn’t half-bad, and the film deftly put most of my fears to rest by creating animals and jungles that serve and enhance the story rather than detracting from it.
Visual magic, by now, must be second nature for director David Yates, who helmed the last four Harry Potter movies, and is currently finishing up work on J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Sure, there’s a lot of heavily foregrounded action and dialogue that’s set against hazy backgrounds, but when the apes, tigers, crocs, and hippopotami come storming across the screen or answer their friend Tarzan’s call, there’s little sense of them being fabricated creatures (or Andy Serkis dressed in an ape suit).
Where previous Hollywood Tarzan movies have seemed uncomfortable with the colonialist agendas and racial divides inherent in the stories, The Legend of Tarzan’s screenwriters Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) and Adam Cozad embrace the tale’s heart of darkness. They ground this film in a story that stems from the notorious rape of the Congo’s natural resources and enslavement of its people by the minions of Belgium’s King Leopold II at the end of the 19th century. Christoph Waltz delivers what is by now another one of his stock-in-trade villains as Captain Leon Rom, the king’s envoy to the Congo. He’s the covert engineer of the plot to return Tarzan (Skarsgård) to the jungle as the barter price for precious diamonds from a tribal chief (Hounsou). These days, the former feral boy is enjoying his manhood back in England as Lord Greystoke, a member of the House of Lords and husband to his longtime love, Jane (Robbie). When he returns to the Congo, he is accompanied by George Washington Williams (Jackson), an American soldier and adventurer who wants to document Belgium’s rumored enslavement of the native population. (A most curious character, Williams was a real person who actually did visit the Congo on a fact-finding mission and whose scathing letter to King Leopold II is heard at the close of the movie – although we’re certain he was not accompanied by the fictional Tarzan during his journey.)
Constant flashbacks to Tarzan’s childhood, and cross-cuts between the actions of Capt. Rom (who has taken Jane hostage) and Tarzan and Williams in chase, make the narrative more chock-a-block than necessary. But the film’s full-throated embrace of the story’s colonialist underpinnings, Skarsgård’s finely sculpted abs, Robbie’s self-actualized womanhood, Waltz’s gold-standard villainy, and the historical introduction of George Washington Williams make The Legend of Tarzan if not king of the jungle then at least a member in good standing of the royal court.Read a full review of The Legend of Tarzan.