Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods
Release date: June 28th, 2013
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 131 minutes
Best part: Tatum and Foxx’ chemistry.
Worst part: The dodgy CGI.
Hollywood has become an industry that will recycle any concept for a quick profit. I know I’m repeating myself when I state this claim, but, for some reason, studios have no problem blatantly copying one another. Famous Hollywood double-ups such as Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante’s Peak/Volcano and Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman are frequently mentioned whenever someone goes on a tirade against big-budget movies. This year, Olympus has Fallen and White House Down have formed the paranoia inducing and jingoistic double-up to end them all.
These blockbusters have stretched the bonds of societal comfort and plausibility by destroying one of the world’s most important landmarks. White House Down may cause fatigue, primarily because it was released after Olympus has Fallen, but it’s a popcorn flick with brawn, laughs, and gusto. This extravaganza starts out with a comparison between two commendable and ambitious characters. Washington D.C. Capitol officer and single father John Cale (Channing Tatum) achingly wants to impress his precocious, politically motivated, tech-savvy daughter Emily (Joey King). Taking her on a White House tour, Cale hopes his corresponding job interview with the Secret Service will go as smoothly. Meanwhile, US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing world leaders to sign a peace treaty which could pull all troops out of the Middle East. This controversial plan runs into resistance from Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), the military, and the media. While these events take place, suspicious figures, led by Stenz (Jason Clarke), waltz around the White House and Capitol Building dressed as janitors. These figures, of course, turn out to be psychopathic mercenaries with a reckless distain for Sawyer’s time in office.
You can pretty much guess what happens next. In fact, this entire movie is based around plot-points, character arcs, and clichés from other, more inventive, action-dramas. Its ‘Die Hard in the White House’ premise has been trodden on tirelessly throughout modern action movie history. Thankfully, this mash up of Air Force One, The Rock, The Siege, and Taken is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. Despite the tired narrative, White House Down‘s many zippy and unique aspects make for an enjoyable explosion fest. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), gladly, avoids the tropes and ticks that make several of his previous efforts nigh unwatchable (God knows how both he and Michel Bay made tolerable movies within the same year!). Known for blowing up monuments and wiping out large populations on screen, Emmerich’s work is normally drowned in cartoonish humour and nonsensical plot strands. Here, despite the film’s exhaustive run-time and cheesiness, he applies a more subtle yet enrapturing approach to silly material. It was baffling to see the first 30 minutes of an Emmerich film being based around witty banter and noticeable character development. I was enjoying each interaction and plot strand before the inevitable shoot outs and explosions kicked in. To begin the necessary comparisons with Olympus has Fallen, I’ll state that the Gerard Butler-led action flick works better as a whole. However, White House Down does contain many awe inspiring and applaudable moments. Thanks to the brisk pace and baffling twists, this slightly satirical and excessive action flick is one of 2013’s biggest surprises (ironic, given its disappointing box office performance).
Emmerich, however, doesn’t pull back from making preposterously stupid links between the plot and the heavy-handed messages. It’s right wing, fascist agenda is glaringly obvious and beyond inappropriate. Despite the shout outs to republican craziness, NRA, military injustice, Government conspiracies and preachy journalists, Emmerich can’t pull anything together to say something meaningful. Thankfully, the terrorists aren’t defined by race or ‘religious’ creeds. I know I’m asking too much of an action-disaster flick, but Emmerich should’ve stuck to the courage of his convictions. Where he does excel, however, is in the explosive action set pieces. From destroying New York with a mutant lizard (Godzilla) to obliterating Earth with freak winds and intelligent tornados (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich continually puts the pedal to the metal. His video game-esque apocalyptic-disaster movies push the boundaries of believability and filmmaking technology. Here, we go room by room as the world’s safest residence is torn apart. He finds inventive and baffling ways to tare chunks out of famous buildings and American ideals. Though lacking the grit and intensity of Olympus has Fallen’s invasion sequence, the White House takeover here is gleefully swift. The camera moves from one kill to the next as the punchy and kinetic action set pieces thrill and spill. Emmerich delivers one stupefying moment after another. I threw my hands up when Cale and Sawyer pulled donuts on the White House lawn with the President’s suped-up limo (aptly titled ‘Ground Force One’).
“Can you not hit me in the head with rocket launcher when I’m trying to drive?” (John Cale (Channing Tatum), White House Down).
James Vanderbilt(Zodiac)’s screenplay elevates a movie packed with tension inducing set pieces and brutal murders. The hilarious dialogue and zany winks and nudges come thick and fast. A White House tour turns into a pacy back-and-fourth between several wacky individuals. These moments, gladly, boost the archetypal characters. Cale, fit with a white singlet and point to prove, is a pretty yet emotionally damaged John McClane clone. Despite the laughably predictable plot and character turns, Cale comes off as a sympathetic and courageous hero. Butler may be a more charismatic presence, but Tatum still establishes himself as a charming and beguiling action star. His physicality and snappy delivery push him through each set piece and conquering speech. His rapport with Foxx highlights the sheer talent flowing between these popular performers. Foxx, though miscast, delivers an enjoyable and intriguing turn. Whilst bringing out his inner Barack Obama, Foxx urbanises the all important Leader-of-the-Free-World role. With his can-do attitude and Air Jordans in tow, Sawyer is a Political character by way of youth marketing and focus groups. Unfortunately, the supporting cast members, though talented, are stuck in bland, two dimensional roles. Gyllenhaal, though effective in her early scenes with Tatum, is left to simply yell orders over the phone and look mildly concerned. Jenkins can only draw a mild shade of life from his tiresome role. Meanwhile, Clarke, James Woods, and Jimmi Simpson go overboard as the sociopathic and vengeful villains.
With its talented cast and punchy action set pieces, White House Down is a surprisingly engaging action flick. Emmerich, thankfully, has crated a ludicrous, explosive, and funny extravaganza. I’m now trying to figure out what the next blockbuster double-up will be. ‘Taken on a cargo ship’, anyone?
Verdict: A fun, noisy and excessive action-disaster movie.
Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune
Release date: March 22nd, 2013
Running time: 120 minutes
Best part: Butler as an action hero.
Worst part: The poor CGI.
In the 80s, the Soviet Union (Russia) was seen as a crippling nuclear threat. In the 2000s, the Middle East was seen as a dangerous and chaotic region. Today, North Korea is seen as the most villainous country on Earth. The Red Dawn remake and Olympus Has Fallen contain intelligent and dangerous North Korean villains. Olympus Has Fallen is an ultra-fun B-movie with a taste for violence, patriotism, and theatrics.
It’s a film that goes far beyond its ridiculous and cheap premise. It’s insanely silly in more ways than one, but it relishes its opportunities. The film starts off with four American flags waving proudly within the first 30 seconds. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) share a close bond. However, their lives are drastically altered by a car crash that kills two Secret Service agents and the first lady. 18 months on, Banning fails to adjust to his new life as a Treasury Department worker. One day, Washington D.C. is attacked by an army of North Korean Paramilitary trained terrorists. Led by Kang (Rick Yune), the terrorists hold President Asher hostage and threaten to destroy America. With the help of Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Secret Service leader Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), Banning must tip-toe through the white house to save both his friends and the country.
Similarly to G.I. Joe: Retaliation and A Good Day to Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen is a jingoistic and excessive action extravaganza. It’s another actioner that revels in both nostalgia and explosions. The movie is the best ‘Die Hard‘ flick of 2013 so far. This film has the ridiculousness and epic scale of a Die Hard sequel. However, unlike AGDTDH, the movie knows how to entertain both Die Hard fans and the average cinema-goer. I love this film despite its inconsistencies. The film is much more than just its right-wing and fascist agenda. It’s a heart-thumping action flick in the vein of Air Force One and Escape from New York. Many modern action flicks aren’t violent. They use the M15+ rating to capture the largest possible audience. Olympus Has Fallen willingly pushes its MA15+ rating to the max. The film’s introduction contains a tragic event. It’s an emotionally affecting and tense sequence that establishes bonds between important characters. Soon after, the film becomes even more unsettling with the grotesque and ridiculous terrorist attack. Every step of the terrorist’s plan is both implausible and gratuitous. However, this meticulous attack takes out famous monuments, Secret Service agents, and innocent civilians. Given the recent events in Boston, It’s a sequence that may be too difficult for some people to watch.
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) is one of the best action-drama directors working today. He builds character and tension before the spectacular set-pieces take place. His film moves at a cracking pace as the clock ticks down. However, many of the action sequences are let down by poor CGI. These sequences look like video-game cut scenes. Set-pieces that should be thrilling are void of emotional pay-off. This film is a subjective look at recent events. The feud between North and South Korea, and the west, is intensifying. The film gives you a preposterous yet dangerous interpretation of this conflict. This cliché-ridden script is uncomfortably xenophobic and jingoistic. There are many scenes in which the American flag is proudly raised, riddled by bullets, or thrown from the White House roof in slow motion. Major plot-holes and confusing character motivations aside, there are many scenes which heavy-handedly depict American pride and valour. For example, the scene in which the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, whilst being dragged along the floor, is unintentionally laughable. There are also many silly one-liners which inappropriately end important scenes.
“Why don’t you and I play a game of f*ck off. You go first.” (Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), Olympus Has Fallen).
Butler & Aaron Eckhart.
Likeable action-movie characters are difficult to find nowadays. In the 80s, they were either skilled tough guys (any character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) or average Joes (John McClane). In Olympus Has Fallen, Banning is as charming and threatening as an 80s action hero. He struggles to adjust to his new life as a desk jockey. This damaged hero must complete his new mission in order to redeem himself. Much like McClane, he is both charming and vile whilst dealing with one henchman after another. The torture sequence is both shocking and enjoyable; establishing how far he is willing to go. Butler convincingly fits into the action hero role. His physicality and charisma turn an otherwise generic lead character into someone to root for. There are many esteemed character actors peppered throughout the movie. Eckhart is underused as the President. Freeman’s performances in Olympus Has Fallen and Oblivion prove that he is still one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. Yune is charming as the slimy villain while Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster and Radha Mitchell are charismatic in underwritten roles.
Despite its inconsistencies, Olympus Has Fallen is a rollicking action flick that isn’t afraid to be exploitative. It may be too much for some, but action movie fans will have a great time watching landmarks being destroyed and Butler kicking ass. Fuqua has created an enjoyable and inventive action flick.
Verdict: A visceral and intensifying action flick.