Well, the other day, I finally had the chance to watch White House Down. You remember, that was the absurd, over-the-top action film that my wife was in the midst of viewing on the plane when the flight ended. When we tried to rent the movie later, we found that it wasn’t out yet, and so decided to get Olympus Has Fallen instead. This turned out to be my new benchmark film for bad movies, and commenting it was what indirectly led me to watching Sharknado a few weeks ago.
But now I’ve seen White House Down. And the big question was…could it possibly be worse than Olympus Has Fallen? Olympus was the bigger hit, apparently. And White House Down stars Channing Tatum, one of my least favorite actors, and is directed by Roland Emmerich, the mastermind behind many films that I very actively dislike, including The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow, and Independence Day. Could it possibly be better than even an sensibility-offending turkey like Olympus Has Fallen?
Well, to answer that, let’s first compare the two films. What do they have in common? They’re both action films that came out the same year, about the White House being taken over by hostile forces and the President of the United States being held prisoner by a ruthless maniac determined to get control of America’s nuclear arsenal. They both feature one not-exactly Secret Service Agent as the only person in a position to help the president (in White House Down, he’s a former slacker who has unrequited dreams of being a Secret Service Agent, whilst in Olympus, he’s a disgraced Secret Service Agent who quit after blaming himself for the death of the First Lady). They both feature a child who is placed in danger by the enemy forces (the President’s son in Olympus, the hero’s daughter in Down). They both feature villainous plots that involve wrecking havoc on other Washington, DC landmarks prior to the White House actually falling (Down: Capitol Building; Olympus: Washington Monument). They both feature the Vice-President being unceremoniously killed, apparently to make a point (Down: blown up with a missile; Olympus: shot in the head). They both feature extensive scenes of a group of mostly useless and stubbornly stupid characters back at “Mission Control” who mostly fail to accomplish anything useful (and often do just the opposite), including the Speaker of the House (the next in line for the presidency after the Vice-President. And they both feature a US military who seem colossally incompetent, literally walking blindly to their deaths and failing to take any of the obvious opportunities to contribute constructively.
So that’s a rough guide to the similarities – what about the differences? Well, Olympus is a lot more gruesome – there are a lot more people being shot brutally in the head at close range (while the baddies in White House Down are actually interested in taking a few hostages). White House Down has a bit of a “buddy cop” element to it, with Channing Tatum teaming up with Jamie Foxx’s president to sneak around and hide and shoot bad guys, and some diverting interplay between the two. The group of yo-yos back at “Mission Control” are slightly less purposeless in White House Down, mostly due to the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal seems to be playing an actual character. The child in White House Down is more integral to the story, showing some genuine smarts at certain points and getting genuinely terrified at others. White House Down is a little funnier, thanks largely to the presence of goofy supporting character Donnie the tour guide, who has got one semi-awesome moment toward the end. Channing Tatum’s character in White House Down was a bit more likeable and sympathetic than Gerard Butler’s in Olympus. And there is also a real plot twist in the ending of White House Down that I found genuinely unexpected but which actually made a bit more sense of what had gone on up to that point. The resolution to this twist was lame, abrupt and kind of stupid, but I was pleased to have been surprised by anything at all.
So on the whole, I think White House Down eeks out a victory over Olympus Has Fallen. However, this is a very limited view of the race to make a good movie. It’s possible that both of these guys are going to get knocked out of the preliminaries by Sharknado, or The Fast and the Furious. Ultimately, the plot of White House Down is (spoilers) built on the idea that someone would hire an insane band of mercenaries, blow up the capital, kill scores of people, and threaten the world with nuclear destruction all to become President of the United States – when two bullets would have done the job just as easily. No matter how you dress that up, it’s never going to be a “good movie” even if it is far from the worst “White House attacked by hostile forces and US President taken hostage by ruthless maniac” film to come out in 2013.