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Without Will Smith, what is "Independence Day"?
That's the question Fox is facing now as they decide how to move forward with their sequel that they are planning to release on July 4 weekend of 2016, at least according to the report today that Will Smith has finally and officially passed on participating in the film.
Actually, Fleming builds in a little wiggle room at the end of the piece, making me wonder why report it again if this still isn't the absolute final total end result decision. Roland Emmerich has stayed busy in the blockbuster game over the last 20 years (has it really been that long?), but he and Dean Devlin did not remain paired in those films. Fox brought them back together to develop a possible sequel/reboot for what is, at heart, a fairly generic premise. Big alien ships roll in. Lots of people get worried. Stuff blows up. Good guys fight back. The aliens don't win. Will Smith was a member of a big ensemble when they made the first film, and while "Bad Boys" certain surprised people in terms of how well it worked, it didn't make him a giant bankable movie star. What worked in his favor in "Independence Day" was that he basically got to be himself, all swagger and charm, and punch an alien in the face.
I'd argue that in the first film, both Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman were bigger movie stars. Goldblum had been the MVP in "Jurassic Park" by being the guy with all the great lines who was smarter than everyone else, and in "Independence Day," they really challenged expectations by casting him as the guy with all the great lines who was smarter than everyone else. Smith popped out of that film because he was hungry and he was ready and he took full advantage of every moment he had. "Men In Black" was his reward for "Independence Day," and he's never looked back. Goldblum, on the other hand, has continued to have the same character career with occasional moments of increased heat, and I think audiences would enjoy seeing him back in the same role for this sequel. Besides, isn't he the one that actually beat the aliens? Don't you think they'd be looking for that human in particular?
Oddly, we are at the first moment in his career where Will Smith is no longer enough to guarantee a film's opening. While I think he could easily headline another monster hit, I don't think he is enough to make that happen anymore. "Men In Black 3" seemed to land on an audience that really didn't remember the first film, and "After Earth" not only failed, it failed because of Will Smith and the audience's reaction to Jaden being the lead. It was a personal rejection. I don't think "Winter's Tale" is in any danger of turning that around, and there's nothing coming from Smith that would suggest to me that him turning this film down is because he's "too big" for it. I think the opposite is true. I think he's afraid to be seen as someone who is coasting only on the past.
Then again, "Bad Boys 3" is in the works, so maybe he just plain doesn't want to do this.
Jamie Vanderbilt, who worked with Emmerich on "White House Down," has been working on two scripts for this, reportedly. One is with Smith's character, one is without. The fact that they can do that and it doesn't really impact the film one way or another would indicate they don't really need him. If you can imagine a draft without him, then how key can he really be to the story you're telling?
You tell me, folks… do you really want a sequel to this movie? Or does this seem like Fox worrying about an anniversary date instead of the actual movie they're making?