There are many, many complaints you could make about Independence Day—the original one, the only one that matters, the one released at the height of the summer of 1996. There’s the fact that several of its key elements, production- and otherwise, were lifted from War of the Worlds, Alien, Star Wars, Top Gun, and Planet of the Apes. And that its plot, when picked apart, makes no sense at all. (Roger Ebert, reviewing both the film and the plan its characters concoct for saving the world: “My theory is that any aliens who could be taken in by this particular plan probably arrived here after peddling across space on bicycles.”) There’s also its blithe reliance on tired stereotypes. (“Look at me, I look like a schlemiel!” a character says at one point.) Its shameless product placement (Coke, Reebok, Apple, etc.). Its Team America-but-without-the-irony militarism. And its decidedly poor grasp of how humans might react, psychologically, to the world’s major cities and their occupants being destroyed by aliens.
And yet. Ohhhh, and yet. Independence Day ages, its storyline’s heavy reliance on the battery life of a Mac PowerBook 5300 notwithstanding, surprisingly well. It remains what they refer to in the jargon of critical theory as “a delightful romp.” And that’s not just because the film features Will Smith at Peak Charm, or Jeff Goldblum at Peak Goldblum, or Egg from Arrested Development, or the mom from Gossip Girl, or the dad from The Wonder Years, or a psychologically satisfying message about the enduring power of teamwork. Independence Day ages well not because it transcends its time, but instead because it is so deeply a relic of it. It’s a dumb movie that came along right before even dumb movies were expected to be smart.