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White House Down

2013-06-27 16:53
 
You wait years for a White House invasion movie and then two come at once (White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen) but you may be surprised which one comes up tops.
White House Down
 
What it's about:

During a tour of the White House with his young daughter, John Cale, an ex-marine who having just recently been  rejected for his dream job of joining the Secret Service, suddenly finds himself as the only man who can save the president from a group of terrorists who have violently overtaken the building.

What we thought:

So... I can't help but feel that we've just done this. White House infiltration. Nuclear launch codes. Betrayal from within. A disgraced/wannabe Secret Service man who finds himself the only thing that stands between the president of the United States of America and bloodthirsty baddies who want to, basically, blow up the world.

This is Olympus Has Fallen, isn't it? You would think so, but no, (quite a bit) less than half a year since Butler and co, tore into cinemas with their Die-Hard-in-the-White-House actioner, audiences get to go through much the same thing again, only this time with Channing Tatum in the lead and Roland Emmerich at the helm.   

Well, here's a little twist for you: Not only is White House Down markedly superior to Olympus Has Fallen, it is, by several million miles, the best big budget blockbuster Roland Emmerich has made since Independence Day.

Now, I grant you, that's not exactly saying much as Emmerich has pretty definitely proven himself to be the worst 'Summer Movies' director this side of Michael Bay and, frankly, it doesn't take that much to beat the mercilessly stupid Olympus at its own game but credit where credit is due. White House Down is hopelessly derivative, endlessly ridiculous and its wham-bam action set pieces are entirely undeterred by weak characterisation and a total lack of intelligence or nuance, but there's no getting past it: White House Down does what it sets out to do - and with a fair amount of aplomb at that.

The script by the inconsistent James Vanderbilt (Zodiac and Amazing Spider-Man on one side, Darkness Falls on the other) has some pretty shoddy dialogue and all the subtlety of a jackhammer but the film is actually fairly well structured as it spends its opening chapter introducing the characters and their (admittedly often spurious) motivations and then spends the rest of the film ratcheting up the tension all the way through, as more and more goes wrong for our very likable protagonist  - and the people he's trying to protect - until it reaches its suitably mad climax. It also has a bunch of twists along the way, albeit one or two too many, and though they're not exactly that brilliantly conceived at least they keep the story somewhat interesting.          

The film is very action heavy and relentlessly paced so kudos have to go to Emmerich for actually holding it together all the way through to the bitter end. Films that revel in destruction and endless action scenes are often a headache to sit through (see Transformers 3 or Red Dawn for two recent interminable examples of this) but Emmerich keeps the action enjoyable and puts enough thought into the set pieces to keep the entire film more exciting than excruciating.

The two places that White House Down really crushes the competition though is in its characters and its relative intelligence. Don't get me wrong, White House Down is pretty damn ridiculous and its characters have no real depth whatsoever but, in these areas above all others, it looks like Pan's Labyrinth in comparison to the brain-pulverising daftness of Olympus Has Fallen.

On the character front, admittedly, the good guys in both films are mostly interchangeable and both very likable, if somewhat bland, leading men are given great support by an a-list cast but the villains in White House Down are simply way more fun than their Olympus counterparts.

Most importantly though, it does seem like some actual thought went into the villains' Evil Scheme and at least this time around the script at least attempts to explain why the White House security is so unbelievably shoddy.

My biggest gripe with Olympus Has Fallen was that it felt so poorly thought out as to pull me straight out of the action every time a new plot twist or revelation came to the fore. Say what you want about White House Down but at least it looks like it took more than five minutes to write.    

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