There will be obvious comparisons made between White House Down and the identically plotted March release Olympus Has Fallen. Both films are essentially Die Hard in the White House. There are only so many ideas in Hollywood, so this type of thing has happened before. 2006 saw the release of two Truman Capote biopics within months of each other. In 1998, a team of astronauts were sent on a space mission to destroy a meteor on a collision course with Earth, in both Armageddon and Deep Impact. However, of this year’s two ‘White House taken by terrorists’ movies, the scenario is better executed in White House Down, which almost comes off as Olympus Has Fallen’s superior sequel. It’s bigger, louder, dumber, and of the many Die Hard knock-offs, it’s one of the better ones.
What’s refreshing about the film is it feels like a throwback to the summer blockbuster’s of the 90’s, before the superheroes and robots took over. The movie has a very similar vibe to Air Force One, The Rock, The Sum of All Fears, and all of the other Jack Ryan movies that used to be the big action summer spectacles before everything went CGI. It also shares similarities with Independence Day, sans aliens, especially in that movie’s iconic destruction of the White House, and director Roland Emmerich gets self-referential in that regard. Emmerich was behind 1996’s alien invasion blockbuster, and early in the movie a White House tour guide mentions, “this is the building they blew up in Independence Day.” Michael Bay did a similar thing in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in which a college student displays a poster of Bay’s Bad Boys 2 in his dorm room. A shout out to yourself is perhaps a bit egocentric, but for those who get the reference, it’s a fun ‘easter egg’. (For those who don’t get that reference, an ‘easter egg’ is an intentional inside joke or hidden message featured in a film).
Personal political opinions aside, the film could be accused of pushing a left-wing agenda in the implementation of a not so subtle conspiracy theory that the government and big business are scheming to keep wars going in order to rake in huge profits through the sale of ammunition. Unlike the North Korean enemy in Olympus Has Fallen, the bad guys in this film are homegrown. They’re made up of a team of scorned ex-military members, white supremacists, and right-wing sociopaths. I know that the film takes place at the White House, but it’d be nice if they kept political conjecture out of a preposterous action movie.
The movie itself is formulaic and riddled with action movie cliches, but you’ll be having too much fun to really care. The basic plot is that secret service reject John Cale (Channing Tatum) takes his politically obsessed eleven-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) on a tour of the White House. When a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders take over the Presidential Palace, Cale must spring into action to save both his daughter as well as President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). The setup to this is a little long, and the movie is a bit bloated in general, but it’s filled with enough ‘bang for your buck’ action sequences that it still thoroughly entertains throughout.
As President Sawyer, Jamie Foxx is an obvious Obama stand-in, down to the detail of him being an ex-smoker. He also rocks a cherished pair of Nike Jordans which he exemplifies while kicking a terrorist multiple times in the face declaring, “Get your hands off my Jordans!” The movie has more comic relief than you might expect, with Tatum and Foxx bantering back and forth, and a tour guide who is more upset over the priceless White House artifacts being destroyed than he is about the hostage situation. Tatum is a crackerjack action hero and the filmmakers smartly use his character’s precocious daughter as the victim, getting the audience invested in him to save the day. The film also has a solid supporting cast including James Woods, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose roles are best left undiscussed to avoid spoilers.
Sure, you’ve seen this all before, but when it’s executed this well it hardly matters. Emmerich is the ultimate professional when it comes to big-budget action extravaganzas and the craftsmanship of the film is quite impressive. The action sequences are worth the price of admission alone, a highlight being a car chase around the front lawn of the White House that’s one of the funnier vehicular pursuits in a long time. It’s not everyday you see the President of the United States brandishing a bazooka out of a car window. Throughout the film there’s a game of cat-and-mouse as Tatum and Foxx try to navigate their way through the White House undetected, a plot tactic very reminiscent of Die Hard. Then there’s the over-the-top final 30 minutes that pulls out all of the action movie stops to ensure you leave satisfied.
Big dumb action movies don’t get much bigger and dumber than this and I mean that as a compliment. The movie knows its audience and goes out of its way to deliver on their expectations. If you’re a 15-year-old boy, you’ll probably think this is one of the greatest movies ever made. For the rest of you, remember to remove your thinking caps before entering the theater and you’ll have a grand old time watching the White House go down.