Independence Day Review

Not so independent now, are you America? Not when aliens from outer space blow up your homes and threaten your leading actors. Independence Day and Mars Attacks! is surely no coincidence. It is not often a year will feature not one, but two, middling Martian movies. Unclear it may be as to which is the better of the two, Independence Day is the least scatterbrain out of them both. Roland Emmerich must have a penchant for destroying the world, as he has now done it several times over with The Day the Earth Stood Still2012 and Godzilla. At least in this early work, he knew what he was doing, though. With Independence Day is the bulky realisation of action leading the way, and good times rolling. 

They do not roll as smoothly as one would suspect, nor as well as they should. Giving a sudden burst of life by diving deep into the action immediately, Independence Day is full throttle from the very first moments. It is carnage and explosions from start to finish because that is the cover-up of poor writing. It works to some degree. Emmerich has an eye for the suited government officials tearing up the world to try and defend themselves from alien lifeforms, he just has no message or reasoning for it. Not in subtext, not in active consciousness. Independence Day says nothing and does nothing. It is there to kick some alien teeth in, and we can only admire the courage it takes to make a science-fiction feature with no subtext. 

Subtext is for cowards, a great fictional writer once wrote, and Emmerich is no coward. Neither are his protagonists. Steven Hiller (Will Smith), David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) are strong and burly leads with all the action bravado expected of a soldier, a dashing scientist and a president. With enough record-scratch moments and cool characters confused by shaky environments, Independence Day will find an audience who desire explosive nothingness. It’s good fun, but not much of it is all that gripping. There are the odd bouts of brilliance, but they are few and far between when every character is caught up in a web of cliché. Some films handle it well, like Con Air or Face/Off, but they have the benefit of running truly free with the source material. Independence Day does not have that open mockery. 

It’s the beautiful explosion of American heroism caught in action. That old chestnut of America being an independent heroic nation that doesn’t need help from anyone but itself. England may be annoying with that mentality, but Independence Day is frankly manic with it, and it helps that they have such a brainless love for themselves and their country. Implying anyone would sacrifice themselves to save the day and not just crash land into the nearest Wendy’s is a delightful thought, and one Independence Day wishes to run with. Bless its heart, it is the American Dream come true and through the wringer of reality. Not quite John Steinbeck-levels of dreaming big, but certainly enough to churn out the idea that any ordinary American can be a day-to-day hero. At least alongside that is a relatively enjoyable time. Explosions here, democracy there, all tied together by Smith’s heroics and of the proud Americans surrounding him.  

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