Happy belated Independence day and the second Movie Monday. Like many people, the first Independence Day was an emotional experience for me. I was 14 and saw the movie twice in the theaters. Both times, the audience was made of military families and veterans, which made it all the better. There was laughter, there were tears, there was raucous cheering at several points. The cheers were so loud, in fact, that my father's non-American friend actually asked him if the audience understood that the action onscreen was not real (European audiences are much more subdued). But here's the thing—in a way, Independence Day was real to us. It was real not just because of the awesome special effects or the tightly written plot, but because of the characters. This is why the sequel was not only derided as BAD, but as a slap in the face.
Before I deconstruct what made the sequel so awful, let's reflect on what made the original great.
Captain Steven Hiller — Will Smith brought Steve Hiller to life as a great pilot and a great American. He was funny, he was loyal, and he was a strong friend, father, and soon-to-be husband. He was engaged to a stripper, something heavily frowned upon by the conservative military culture, particularly for officers with NASA aspirations. But Steve didn't care. He loved Jasmine. And based on her quick thinking in the face of absolute disaster combined with her kind heart and protectiveness of total strangers, we can see why. We were rooting for the Hiller family from 'kick the tires and light the fires' to his 'fat lady sings' cigar. He promised us fireworks, and he did not disappoint.
David Levinson — Not all heroes are soldiers. David is the nerd in all of us, the good man who works hard and does right. He is smart, he is driven, and he will not allow lesser minds to bully him into silence. He is divorced from a woman he loves, and who loves him, because she simply didn't understand what was in his head. We can all relate to that moment when his ex-wife asks him, "Didn't you ever want to be a part of something special?" He slams down his bottle and quietly responds, "I was doing something special." And we, the audience, know that. We know it was David who saved the president and his daughter from death and who knows how many other people. And now his ex-wife knows it too. She finally sees what was there all along.
Russell Case – PTSD-afflicted veteran, problem drinker, and loving father who can't quite get his shit together. Russell is the guy we hope we will never be. The one who loves and feels so deeply and reacts wrongly in almost every situation. His children are sick to death of not being able to rely on him, sick of being the parent. But when it all goes to hell, when it really matters, Russell is there. He gets his drunken ass in gear and protects his children. He helps a wandering Marine get to Area 51. And then he saves the entire planet, giving his life in the process, knowing that for once... his children will be proud of him.
These characters were the heart and soul of the movie, as were the supporting characters.
Judd Hirsch as David's father who rediscovers his Judaism and helps others with humor and with spiritual guidance; Harry Connick Jr. as Hiller's friend and fellow Marine with his true friendship and ridiculous levels of charm; Robert Loggia as the bad-ass General who will do what it takes to get the mission done; even the underutilized Adam Baldwin as the steady, stoic Major Mitchell who ran Area 51 like a boss. These people, some with only a few lines, made Independence Day the great movie it is.
Now let's look at what the sequel included.