This weekend I should have been welcoming two new people into our radio show, Filmofil, but I’m sick so I have to spend the weekend lying in bed, breathing. I still managed to watch a movie last night, and thank god it was White House Down and not Olympus Has Fallen.
The films share the same premise, and like most pairings that do, one has to “win” (though I think Deep Impact won the critics, not the box office). In this case it’s all about the feel of the films, and the characters. In Olympus Has Fallen the relationships felt forced. After a little generic banter with the president’s son, we were suppose to care about the characters, and believe that they cared about each other. Eckhart is a fine actor, but his president is just not human at all. Even when he’s being noble, it feels like he’s still playing politics.
This is where White House Down shows off. Emmerich knows how to find that exact balance of action, character banter and awesomeness, with just a touch of heart. Sure, it’s ridiculous and cheesy, but at least you feel like you’re in on the joke. Right off the bat, we know who the hero is, who he cares about, and why the president is the best ever (though perhaps the Obama comparisons weren’t such a good idea after all). I’m not a huge fan of the films Channing Tatum has done so far, but he is a good actor, and his bumbling attempts at fatherhood endear him instantly. Unlike Olympus Has Fallen, this character is fighting for his own blood first, his country second. He just happens to be a good enough guy to save the president as well.
You can’t have a good hero without a good villain, and oh boy, did we get a good one. A white-haired James Woods, looking more like his best role (Hades in Hercules of course) than ever before. Let’s face it, while both films have unlikely premises, the idea that an inside man could take the White House is a lot easier to swallow than that a bunch of North Koreas could fly straight over Washington D.C. for several minutes without being shot down.
The best part of the bad guys was how they managed to not be faceless goons. With that hilarious comment in Iron Man 3, I really hope this is a trend. As James Woods munches on some of his retirement cake, he offers some to his head goon. “Want some cake?” he asks. “No, of course I don’t want some cake,” the guy snaps, then mellows with a dry “I’m diabetic.” It’s these little things, all put together, that create the right mood, and why Olympus Has Fallen ended up being very dry, boring and not the good kind of “gritty”.
White House Down is just what you want it to be: action-packed, occasionally funny and with a big ol’ victory grin at the end. It can sometimes grate with its constant “military industrial complex is the most evil thing ever” schtick, but you forgive it that. This is a fantasy world, with badass presidents and car chases on the White House lawn. Not to be taken seriously.
Dice roll: 4