Whoever said “good things come to those who wait” was clearly not referencing blockbuster sequels. Last year’s record-breaking Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens, was, technically, 32 years in the making. That it was actually good would buck a trend of disappointment as long as movie law itself. Indeed, apart from The Godfather Part II, Toy Story 2 and, of course, The Empire Strikes Back, has there ever been a decent big-budget follow-up? Even last year's Jurassic World – critically and commercially successful as it was – was the third attempt (after the dismal parts two and three) to recapture the magic of Spielberg's original.
But now there’s Independence Day: Resurgence, bringing alien invasion back with a bang. And a big US$200m (Dhs735m) budget, exactly 20 years to the week since Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman sent the extra-terrestrials packing from Planet Earth. Can they re-bottle the lightning?
Certainly, this is a genuine sequel, not just a cash-in – with a real arc linking both parts. Smith is really the only missing link, his character Steven Hillier “killed” in the intervening time on a training mission (the star is on record as having said a schedule clash with Suicide Squad, plus a recent spate of personal sci-fi flops played a part in his decision to snub Emmerich’s advances).
Stepping into the breach, indirectly, and inheriting a significant chip on his shoulder, is Liam Hemsworth as Jake Morrison, channelling that enigmatic persona that made Smith’s character so likeable.
“I didn’t really try to recreate anything he did directly in the first one, but there is one bit where I have a physical altercation with an alien, which wasn’t in the script – I asked for that,” the Australian explains to Time Out, with a nod to Smith’s iconic “Welcome to Earth” moment.
Very much in the fray, though, is Goldblum. The awkward and unlikely hero of the original is now the world’s preeminent scientist and the man charged with preparing everyone for the inevitable strike-back that forms the narrative of the new film.
“A few years ago the guys called and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got an idea’, and I thought it was fantastic,” he tells us, during a whistlestop tour of the Middle East.
“They’ve really paid attention to, and were passionate about, making it satisfying to people in the same way the first one was. To have that spirit of gripping drama you can believe in even though it is far fetched, that’s special. And then there’s humour and a sense of strength in diversity that warms people’s hearts and excites them.”
Goldblum is equally effusive about the underlying message of unity – a tricky feat when the spine of the movie is the eradication of humanity.
“All of Earth’s people have come together. It’s peaceful, nobody has fought among themselves, they’ve overcome, they’ve transcended their petty political, religious, national differences and all realised they are part of the same family, working and pulling in one direction.
“It is my pleasure to be in a leadership position in that situation. ‘Look after each other and look after the planet’, yes, yes, yes. We must stop fighting among ourselves. Besides anything else it is stupid, it is just dumb, dumb, dumb, very, very stupid.
“We must stop it, we must embrace science and the knowledge the modernists tell us. It’s like that John Lennon song, Imagine.”
Director Roland Emmerich holds similar values. “Yes it is for entertainment and yes it should be a riot and all these kind of things, but it can also teach people something, you introduce certain things to make people aware,” he says. Although he takes a more clinical movie-making view, too.
“It was first determined by technology,” he explains. “That, for me as a filmmaker, is the main reason to try another Independence Day. So much has changed in 20 years. Back then I felt very limited, but more and more things have caught up to my imagination. In the first one we had some ideas we tried but couldn’t do, so we had to cut them. Not so much now.”
Emmerich has pioneered the disaster movie genre. The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla and 2012 were made by his bombastic hand, and all, he says, using the 1996 crash-bang-wallop template, sprinkled with a smidgen of comedy.
“In all my films I try to deliver some humour. These movies, I think you shouldn’t take them too seriously,” the German explains. “It’s not Shakespeare, who is a little better than a lot of Hollywood writers,” he adds with a chuckle.
“I want to hear the audience laugh, and when I hear that I am very happy about it.”
No surprise, then, that Resurgence is packed with the kind of quips that stand the original out even now. So for 1996’s “Now that’s what you call a close encounter” and “Forget the fat lady, you’re obsessed with the fat lady”, we have “It’s coming over the Atlantic,” “Which part?” “All of it!” and
“They like to get the landmarks”. The latter, reveals Emmerich, was improvised by Goldblum on set.
“In the first one there were lines written but sometimes the actors were riffing on them and making them even funnier,” he says, while Hemsworth reveals the director has one or two of his own.
“I think that’s what makes a film like this iconic. Roland makes these films epic, it’s what he does. He pioneered this genre, and when you have someone like that behind it, you can trust that everything will come together. However small the line, it will come with epicness [sic] behind it all.”
Maybe good things do come to those who wait, after all.
Independence Day: Resurgence is out in cinemas across Dubai from Wednesday July 6.