The original Independence Day was about a lot of things: stinky alien corpses, Will Smith hitting things, the White House exploding, Data from Star Trek getting possessed, unspoken words between lovers, families reaching across distance, and nerdy Jews.
The two main characters were a studly action star and… geeky, scraggly, hairy, fussy, introverted Jeff Goldblum.
Independence Day was mostly considered “Will Smith’s summer movie this year.” People said “Did you see the new Will Smith movie?”, not “Did you see the new Jeff Goldblum movie?”
It’s surprising, therefore, that Independence Day: Resurgence is a Jeff Goldblum movie. While there is a “Will Smith” character (a similar-looking actor who plays his adopted son from the first movie), he’s hardly on screen at all.
The franchise’s sequel-switcheroo changes everything. It even changes the way I think about the original.
To briefly summarize Independence Day Resurgence:
On the 20th anniversary of the attack, the aliens return. They want to kill us again.
The aliens blow up our satellites and most of our defenses. They wreck our landmarks. The odds look bad.
The president gives a rousing speech. Humans rally. There’s a fight. Some live. Some die. The aliens win. The end.
After watching the movie, my husband was confused about the huge part that David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum)’s father, Julius Levinson, played in the film. This time around, he doesn’t have any brilliant ideas. He just putzes around and uses a lot of Yiddish. He could have been removed from the movie entirely and not affected the plot a whit.
“Mr Levinson is the comedic relief,” I said. “This movie is basically a Jewish comedy with aliens.”
And I realized, after I’d said it, that it was true.
In my heart, David Levinson had always been the protagonist/mastermind. Will Smith was a pawn in Levinson’s game of mental chess against the aliens.
This was the movie version of Garry Kasparov (who had a Jewish dad!) vs Deep Blue — humanity versus the Other.
What’s interesting here is that humanity typically treats Jews like the Other. They’ve historically been treated like second-class citizens, yet they’re the ones spearheading the campaign against the aliens in these films. Their oddness — their unconventional approach — is what usually makes them loathed. But it gives them the intellectual edge here.
Jews are the underdog of humanity. Humanity is the underdog of this fight.
The Independence Day series is a David and Goliath battle, maxed out.
It’s basically Bible storytelling.
Which makes the plot really simple and archetypal.
Most critics agree that the movie didn’t need to be made twice. Independence Day 2 was a re-hash of the first, with a deluge of callbacks and references. Though it doesn’t break any new ground, it did make me re-consider the first movie in a new light.
And also? It was a shit-ton of fun.