It’s twenty years after the alien invasion and Earth has managed to rebuild itself. With technology salvaged from the crashed spaceships they have built a defensive network with bases on the moon and Saturn, but is even this advancement enough to save Earth when a new ship arrives. A ship that is the size of the Pacific Ocean, and wanting to finish what the first invasion started.
Like its 1996 predecessor, this is as dumb as a bag of moon rocks. Cities are torn apart, landmarks are laid waste, and noble presidential figures make inspiring martial speeches as the music swells. It is all about the spectacle, and love him or hate him, Emmerich certainly knows how to blow things up for audience’s entertainment. Here he brings all of the excitement and unintentional humour of the first film, but twenty years later on it really doesn’t feel quiet as fresh or vibrant.
Partly this is because ID:R is cluttered with pointless characters. Some are returning, some are legacy, and some are new. Most are merely two dimensional archetypes in what is a fairly thin script, and serve little dramatic purpose. For example, as great as it is to see Judd Hirsch, his character could easily been cut to make a tighter film with no detriment to the final story. Truth is you could probably say that about the majority here, as besides a few exceptions they are given little real character development.
Still a couple of actors shine through the malaise. Hemsworth’s (obviously genetic) charisma is clear to see, Pulman struggles on to give his best with a fairly pointless character arc, and Goldblum is (as always) good value. The real scene stealer is Brent Spinner (Star Trek: TNG’s Lt Commander Data) who’s utterly committed to his role of a mad scientist, but still manages to bring a lot of emotion and pathos with him.
ID:R is at its best, when it forgets about its cavalcade of fairly stock standard characters and just runs with it special effects spectacle. Here it brings us a vision of a world that has rebuilt from the invasion of 1996, bootstrapped by the use of alien technology, poised to defend itself. It gives us a little glimpse at the universe beyond the solar system, and of alien worlds to come in a possible sequel (a hook blatantly dangled at the films end). It even throws in a little kaiju action for good measure. Taken as pure dumb popcorn guzzling entertainment, it certainly meets the criteria.