‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ Review

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, and James Vanderbilt

Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Angelababy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deobia Oparei, John Storey, Nicolas Wright, Travis Tope, Patrick St. Esprit, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Joey King, and Vivica A. Fox

Synopsis: Two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extra-Solar threat. But will mankind’s new space defense be enough?

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

When Independence Day came out back in 1996, it changed the Summer Blockbuster forever. It changed the way studios thought about making films and made Will Smith an automatic star in Hollywood. Needless to say, Independence Day was a huge hit. While a sequel was in wanted by the studio way back when, it never came because Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin couldn’t crack the story. Fast forward to today, where every studio in Hollywood is trying to create franchise and their own universes, but are always going by the motto, “what old is new again.” Cue Independence Day: Resurgence, and trying to copy what the original did and try to catch some of the nostalgia going around. So, does Resurgence work? Well, sort of.

The film takes place twenty years after the War of 1996, as they call it in the film, and the world leaders have put aside their differences to use the technology from the aliens to better their own world, and create their own advanced technology like weapons, spacecrafts, and defensive bases within the solar system. Of course, everyone knew they might be coming back, but it might be worse than they originally thought when former President Whitmore (Pullman) gets a vision that suggests another alien invasion is coming sooner than we all thought.

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Meanwhile, David Levinson (Goldblum) goes find an old ship that has been mysteriously turned on, and finds out that it has sent out a distress beacon. While this is happening, up on the base on the Moon, former pilot Jake Morrison (Hemsworth) and his flight partner Charlie Miller (Tope) welcome the new flight team that is lead by Dylan Hiller (Usher), the son of Will Smith’s character from the first film that tragically died in-between events of the film, and now carries on his father’s legacy. We also find out that Jake and Dylan have a history together, and also have a common friend in now an adult Patricia Whitmore (Monroe), who works for the new president in President Lanford (Ward). Eventually, Whitmore’s vision comes true and a new mothership comes, which as David puts, it is “definitely bigger than the last one.” What follows is all of our old and new band of heroes coming together to stop this new threat and save the world once again.

At this point, we should all know what we are all walking into with a Roland Emmerich-directed film: Mass Destruction. We get that in Independence Day: Resurgence early on when the new mothership comes to Earth and covers most of the Pacific Ocean, it takes out a couple cities, London and I believe Tokyo or Hong Kong (I wasn’t sure and it wasn’t said). The destruction scene feels similar to what we’ve seen before, I mean, a lot has been done since 1996, and Emmerich has tried to destroy the world a lot sense then too. The ship having its own gravity is a nice twist, but it’s never really bought up again.

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The real focus of the film is the humans, and here is where we have a mixed bag. None of the new characters really stand out, and it’s nothing against them as actors, it’s just that some to most of all the characters arcs are underdeveloped. Then there actors, like Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch and Sela Ward who don’t really do anything of significance at all. Even Bill Pullman takes a bit of a backseat, while Brent Spiner as Dr. Okun is trying a bit too hard to act like he did in the original film, and his return does make some sense, for those wondering how the hell he’s back. The last returning member is Goldblum, whose character is now head of the Space Defense Program, but his character isn’t as fun as he was in the original.

Jessie Usher as Dylan Hiller is okay, but he isn’t Will Smith, not many are, and while that sounds like an insult, I wasn’t trying to say it as a negative thing, but he doesn’t really give off the same charm. Hemsworth feels like he’s really the bigger lead character as Jake Morrison. He’s also got a little more going on than the other characters, but like the other characters isn’t developed enough to make us have any real connection. Maika Monroe, who I have become a real fan of, tries to standout, and while her arc makes a bit more sense, again, it’s underdeveloped and pushed aside for the sack of having more action. The rest of the supporting cast is okay with William Fichtner plays a General, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays someone from David’s past, Deobia Oparei plays a warlord’s son that has a strange connection with President Whitmore, and Dr. Okun. Nicolas Wright plays Floyd Rosenberg, a lawyer of some sort, who is one of the comic reliefs, yes I said one, because the other is Travis Tope’s Charlie Miller, who is friends with Hemsworth’s character.

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While it sounds like I’m bashing Independence Day: Resurgence, I did have some fun watching it, and not in the fun making fun of it while watching, I thoroughly enjoyed a great deal of the movie because let’s face it, none of us were walking into this thing thinking, Oscar winning, grade-A acting, and sophisticated story and plot. No, we walked in to turn our brains off and watch some humans vs. alien’s action.

Is it a mess? Oh hell yes it is. There are things that don’t really make too much sense when you step back and think about. Which again, it’s a sci-fi movie about aliens coming to our planet who we fight back with every nation in the world using weapons we built with their technology, but you know, still. There’s even a questionable use of the flawed de-aging effect, that really didn’t need to be used at all, and to be honest, it took me out film completely. There is an interesting twist in the third act that opens the film up to a sequel, but it’s bought up so late in the film that it loses it’s real effective and just feels like a “hey, we got one more for all of you!”

All in all, Independence Day: Resurgence is dumb fun, which is probably what many expected, but regardless, the film does have its pitfalls that make it go from okay and fun, to it’s alright and fun. The only gripe I have with the film is the ending which is a completely opened ended film that feels a bit cheesy for it’s own good. Small thing, considering the world we live in with Hollywood now, but it doesn’t mean we can let things like that pass.

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Independence Day: Resurgence

3.5 out of 5

‘American Ultra’ Review

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Dir: Nima Nourizadeh

Writer(s): Max Landis

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo and Bill Pullman

Synopsis: A stoner – who is in fact a government agent – is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he’s too well-trained and too high for them to handle.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

When you think of movies with stoner leads you don’t really imagine there is going to be any action in it, or at least hardcore action. That is not the case with American Ultra, in fact, it works almost the opposite. It’s an action film with stoners in it. It’s a rather odd mix considering the action in the film is very heighten at times and albeit a bit shocking at times, but it always makes sense when you see the events of the film and how the movie operates.

 

American Ultra follows Mike Powell (Eisenberg), a stoner working in a convenience store in Liman, West Virginia with his girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart). The two are happily in love, however Mike was part of a failed CIA operation called “Wise Man” and ambitious upstart CIA agent Adrian Yates (Grace) plans on wiping away everyone in the program, which includes Mike. When the program’s former head Victoria Lasseter (Britton) goes against the agency and actives him, the town is put into lockdown and Mike’s programming starts to go into effect, making him a lethal and trained killer. Now with Yates and his own program assets try to kill Mike, he must protect himself and Phoebe from getting killed.

 

I wasn’t really expecting much from this to be honest. I thought it would be a dumb fun action comedy, and while it is that for the most part, there is something about it that sets it apart from other action comedies. The other reason I wasn’t looking forward to it that much was I’m a little tired of Jesse Eisenberg playing the stoner/deadbeat-like character. Thankfully, here it isn’t too distracting. Sure he goes on some stereotypical-like dialogue, but Eisenberg’s deadpan and rapid delivery make it work, especially with the great chemistry he has with Stewart. I will say though, that his rambling does get a bit old during some points.

 

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The rest of the cast works too and all have their shared moments to shine. Kristen Stewart – who is still probably shaking off the Twilight hate from fans – is pretty good here, playing Mike’s girlfriend Phoebe, who loves and supports him and thankfully there is more to her character than that, but is hurt a bit by becoming a de-factor-o damsel in distress in the last act of the movie. Topher Grace is weirdly miscast as the films villain. Although it makes some sense, as he’s trying to prove himself, there is a weird disconnect since because he’s more humorous than bossy.

 

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It’s actually Walton Goggins, who is as reliable as always, that plays more of the villain role as the asset Laugher, for reasons you can probably imagine. Connie Britton looks to be having some fun playing her serious CIA agent, but at the same time has a protective side of her as she tries to help Mike get through everything. John Leguizamo plays Mike’s drug dealer Rose and has some funny moments, but is nothing more than a minor character, and the same can be said for Tony Hale who plays another CIA agent, Petey, caught in the middle of the power struggle between Britton’s Lasseter and Grace’s Yates. Finally, Bill Pullman pops up in a cameo performance that doesn’t really serve too much purpose other than being another government official.

 

While the film is highly enjoyable, American Ultra does take a hit early on as it does something that kind takes away from the enjoyment of the film as it “rewinds” everything. In some cases it works in films, but only if they do it as a final ta-da moment in the final few minutes, but not the very start of the film. Also, the film’s tone is a bit scattered. The film goes from action-comedy to spy espionage film, and the flip flop is a bit jarring at times, especially with the heighten and hyperactive violence in the film.

 

As for the action, the scenes are great to watch unfold. Yes, they might be a bit violent or jarring for some people, but considering what the movie is, I’m not surprised by how the violence is approached. A highlight is definitely the final act supermarket sequence.

 

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All in all, American Ultra isn’t that bad of a film. Yes, there are some jarring things about it tone wise, and while the rewind aspect hurts the film, the enjoyment of watching the events unfold in real time is enough to make you forget that to some extent. If anything, the chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart is enough to keep you entertained.

 

American Ultra

4 out of 5

‘The Equalizer’ Review

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Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo

Synopsis: A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

Based on the CBS show of the same name, The Equalizer – which had one of the highest test-screening results for Sony Pictures – follows Robert McCall (Washington) who enjoys his quiet and simple life. He follows a routine, works at a Home Depot-like store, is friendly with his co-workers Ralphie (Skourtis), Jenny (Anastasia Mousis), Jay (Rhet Kidd), and Marcus (Allen Maldonado), but besides all that he has a problem sleeping. Instead of staying at home he spends his nights at a diner reading classic books and talking to a young prostitute Teri (Moretz). When she shows up the next time, she has a bruised cheek and later ends up in the hospital. When Robert finds out that she has a connection to the Russian mob, he takes matters into his own hands. Unfortunately for Robert, the Russian mob sends in Teddy (Csokas), a violent and smart fixer that wants to take down Robert.

 

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Some of the ads show The Equalizer as another somewhat hardcore action movie and even though the action sequences are very well done and have a ton of great moments, director Antoine Fuqua gives the movie a kind of low-key feel. We see McCall dealing with crocked cops and lower level henchmen before he gets to the big baddies at the end. Fuqua also doesn’t rely on CGI – only some moments – but mostly on the cast and more specifically Denzel Washington, who is in almost every scene in the movie.

 

Since the movie is pretty much the Denzel show – not a bad thing – we get a lot of Robert McCall. We get right from the start that McCall is a bit of a loner, but he does have a relationship with his co-workers, more so with Ralphie, who he helps train to become a security guard by losing weight. But, Washington is once again reliable here playing McCall as a man of mystery who is patient and fearless when the situation calls for it. McCall doesn’t have to use threats to get his point across either and will sometimes even use some wit and jokes when someone else is threatening him. He’s also such a great character that you can’t wait to see him kick someone’s ass.

 

The other thing that McCall brings is what most people will probably call, and what I’ve seen in a few reviews, “Equalizer Vision.” Simply, he looks around the room or surroundings to see what he could use to his advantage. The big example is the highly advertized scene with him taking out a room full of Russians. The nice thing is that it only really happens about twice and although we have seen it in other films, it works here and feels like it belongs to the character. Plus it is a fun way to see how some baddies are going to die.

 

Of course every hero needs a villain right? Here it’s Teddy played by the also always reliable Marton Csokas. Right at the beginning Csokas gives Teddy a remarkable presence and while he plays him as a bit of a talker at the start, you soon realize that Teddy is just as deadly and smart as McCall, if not more. We could have just gotten one scene about how evil he is but Fuqua does show how evil Teddy is and how uncontrollable he can be. They also have a great scene together and I kind of wished it went a little longer because it was great to see the two of them go back and forth.

 

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The rest of the cast holds their own but the movie really does belong to Washington and Csokas. Johnny Skourtis’s Ralphie has some nice moments and scenes with Washington while David Harbour’s crocked cop character serves his purpose. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo play Brian and Susan Plummer in really glorified cameos as McCall’s friends and former CIA contacts. The role they really play is just telling McCall how deadly Teddy is and who he’s really messing with. Haley Bennett has a small role as Mandy that really goes nowhere but her telling McCall about the first group of Russians.

 

Chloe Grace Moretz’s Teri plays in what you would think would be a big role character wise but it never really happens. Teri is an important character because she’s the reason McCall goes on his rampage of vengeance but after she goes to the hospital she disappears and not to be seen until the end of the movie when she sees McCall again. It is a little unfortunate because Moretz does bring some levity to the character that clearly wants out of current life. Also to the perverts out there, you never see Moretz doing any prostituting, so there’s that.

 

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I mention the action earlier and while the action at the beginning is great to see, it’s the final showdown that truly makes the movie. Everything builds up for the final showdown and we get to see how truly deadly McCall is when he single-handedly takes down bad guys in brutal fashion. The mood in the scene definitely makes the scene more powerful.

 

All in all, The Equalizer is highly enjoyable and the showcase of the movie will definitely be the final showdown at the end. The movie is pretty violent which I wasn’t expecting but not so over the top that will take you out of the movie or ruin it because it kind makes sense. Denzel Washington and Marton Csokas highlight the film, and with Fuqua’s directing I think fans will appreciate the film.

 

The Equalizer

4 out of 5