Full disclosure, this review should’ve been written last month as “Independence Day” was released on June 25th in 1996. However, seeing as how it’s 4th of July Weekend, I can’t think of a better film to highlight for the holiday weekend.
“Independence Day” has become a staple of American cultural patriotism, the sort of self absorbed “America saves the world” propaganda film that rivals many other totalitarian country’s media. What sets “ID4” apart from actual propaganda films is that everything it’s become known for or idolized for is unintentional. Sure, it’s a very “America, fuck ya!” kind of film, but it doesn’t set out to be that. Everything patriotic happens more organically than purposefully, and the film strives to be more ridiculously fun than some kind of social commentary about American importance.
The film has had no shortage of iconic scenes that have managed to stand the test of time, be that in or out of context. Watching the White House get blown up by an alien space shit has not and will not ever get old, and that scene in particular has been used over and over in countless iterations and parodies. “Independence Day” not only gives us countless quotable lines that have been entered into the cultural lexicon, but its clever use of technology and cinematography provides us with iconic scenes that truly redefined big budget action movies. The film manages to take the most basic of concepts and formats in both sci-fi and action and subtly elevates them to become THE standard.
That might seem like high praise for a film like “Independence Day” that centers around an alien invasion, a drunk crop farmer, a model president (like, literally a fantasy of a patriotic but honesty, people first president) and a caricature of military personnel. It’s all so damn silly and yet so damn fun, with the fun outweighing the ridiculousness of its premise. This is perhaps the key to its longevity. “Independence Day” never takes itself too seriously, with everyone seemingly being in on the joke even when things get “intense.” The film is as basic as it comes and yet manages to stand out above the rest of them.
The film also sports an impressive cast that help to elevate “Independence Day” well above their respective roles on paper. This is the literal birth of Will Smith, who up until now was just starting to break into his stature as a leading man. “Independence Day” puts him front and center and highlights his charm and charisma to the masses. One could argue that things like “Fresh Prince” and “Bad Boys” put him on the map, but Will Smith vs Aliens is really what cemented him into A list celebrity status. He literally did “Men in Black” a year later, capitalizing on his alien invasion fame and truly coming into his own, never looking back.
Of course, having powerhouses like Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Mary McDonald helps a lot too. There is just so much iconography forever canonized in the cultural zeitgeist from the performances of these guys it’s actually pretty incredible when you really sit back and realize how dumb the film actually is. “Independence Day” makes you long for the days of sane Randy Quaid as he chews through scenery portraying a sub plot character with big plot implications. I’m not going to send you down the Randy Quaid rabbit hole, as the internet is dark and full of terrors. Trust me when I tell you, “Independence Day” is how you want to remember him. Y
es, a drunken crop farmer abducted by aliens who saves the day by flying directly into an alien beam is better than how he actually ends up in real life.
“Independence Day” is one quotable line after another, with one big action set piece after another being forever remembered as a classic Fourth of July rewatching tradition. The truth is, the film really isn’t that good. It’s pretty damn silly and kind of dumb, and even more so extremely formulaic within its operating genre. Apart from some big memorable action scenes like the destruction of the white house and some quotable moments from beloved actors, the meat and potatoes of the film itself are actually kind of dull and uninspiring. There isn’t really anything original or unique about “Independence Day,” and over time it’s become abundantly clear just how far fetched it is that America would be at the forefront of innovation and global defense security. Not to get too political, but recent years have kind of shown us that America is really not the hero to lead us into the promise land, be it alien invasion or say, I don’t know, a global pandemic that completely changed the global landscape indefinitely.
Dispute ALL of this, “Independence Day” is a fantastic thrill ride of a summer blockbuster, one that stands the test of time decades later. It’s big, loud, and dumb, and as much fun as anyone can have with these kind of movies. It is as basic as these things get, and yet somehow is exactly the kind of movie we’ve always needed.
There’s a reason it was one of the highest grossing films of 1996, beating films like “Scream,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “Twister.” I don’t know what that reason is exactly, but I guess…. ‘Merica?
None of that matters. “Independence Day” has give us one of the greatest fictional, presidential speeches of all time, the greatest fuck you send off to any alien invasion in “Hello boys….I’m back!” and of course, the misquoted but vastly improved when done so, “Welcome to Errff!”
In the end, “Independence Day” refused to go quietly into the night, and we’re all the better for it.
‘Murica, am I right?