Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
In late March 2013, “Olympus Has Fallen” hit theaters. All the heat of a summer blockbuster, two months early. The plot isn’t too complicated. It spells everything out for you in agonizing detail. It panders. It’s just unintelligent, low-brow, thoughtless eye candy about a North Korean plot to take over America. How? They storm the White House, taking the President (Aaron Eckhart) and other top officials hostage. They keep them in the underground bunker while the helpless acting President (Secretary of State Morgan Freeman) looks on in horror and talks to the only American man inside the White House who has any control: a former Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) who happened to be working in the area and thought he could be of use. As the suave Mr. Butler kills North Koreans and makes his way toward the President’s bunker, he begins to face increasingly determined opposition.
There are a couple of things that “Olympus Has Fallen” has going for it. First, its R-rating helps a little. It allows the takeover to turn into a blood bath, a dizzying array of shoot-outs and fistfights that lead to gruesome deaths. Unfortunately, the battles seem a little Tarantino-esque in their excessive and inconsistent blood splatter. Oh well. It’s difficult to recreate a large-scale attack on Washington D.C., and especially the White House. The digital restoration of D.C. monuments isn’t a total failure, but at times the CGI that necessarily plasters the screen does seem a little out of place. Not enough to ruin the escapist thrills, though.
I believe in Harvey Dent. I’m just not sure if I believe in Aaron Eckhart. When his character has everything to lose, his performance seems forced and melodramatic. STOP SHOUTING ALREADY! The now-commonplace Morgan Freeman takes another filler role. Other than Olympus, the most obvious thing that has fallen is Freeman’s career. Ouch. Thank goodness for B-list action superstar Gerard Butler, who does what he does best – say terrible one-liners and kick butt. He does what we want him to do.
Misguided social commentary is a thorn in the side of so many political action movies. Thankfully, “Olympus Has Fallen” only spends a couple minutes on it. North Korea and South Korea and American interference and blah, blah, blah…who cares? The plot is going to suck. It’s an action movie. Just give us the guns and the suspense and we’ll forget the rest anyway. Well, “Olympus Has Fallen” does that. Just not very well.
White House Down (2013)
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Here we go again. Now it’s June 2013. Another disaster epic involving the White House is in theaters. So how does this one differ from the last? Which one appears from the ashes the victor? “White House Down” can claim the master of disaster, Roland Emmerich, as its director. It also has more of a blockbuster feel, with bigger and better CGI air attacks, more consistent acting, and some clever comedy. But as the second of the two, did it do enough to set itself apart?
This time, we have Cale (Channing Tatum), a man who doesn’t have what it takes to be on the President’s Secret Service team. In order to still appear like a hero to his teenage daughter Emily (Joey King), who is obsessed with the President (Jamie Foxx), Cale gets them both tickets for an official White House tour. Bad timing. A group of radical racists and veterans fed up with the black President’s new bill to end conflict in the Middle East decides to take it out on the administration by killing anyone they can find with any power. Thankfully, Cale is able to find the President and attempt to lead him through the enemy-filled White House to safety. USA Today reviewer Claudia Puig understandably likened it to “Die Hard” in that way. Anyway, Cale is separated from his daughter, which leaves his heroic actions in limbo. Can he save the President without getting his daughter killed? What are the real motives behind the attack?
Screenwriter James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spiderman 2”) gives us a good dose of political humor, including a reference to director Emmerich’s epic “Independence Day.” Nice. There’s the Shyamalan plot twist at the end that doesn’t really matter. Thankfully, they keep the motivations of the right-wing extremists to a minimum, not clouding exciting action with meaningless commentary. “White House Down” lets the guns do the talking, I’m happy to report.
But when the actors need to talk, I like what I see and hear. Jamie Foxx isn’t necessarily Presidential, but he’s better than Aaron Eckhart. He is able to stay alternately funny and somber when he needs to, without letting his A-list personality get in the way of his sort-of-genuine performance. Tatum is a great choice for Cale, a character who uses a mix of humor and butt-kicking to win the hearts of audiences. As the head of the Secret Service, Maggie Gyllenhaal reaches a “Dark Knight” level of seriousness. Take that as you will. Plus, there’s a crotchety Richard Jenkins (“Step Brothers”) as Secretary of State and Jimmi Simpson preceding his role as a hacker in “House of Cards” with his role as a hacker here.
Even though it came second, “White House Downs” bests the efforts of the lackluster action epic “Olympus Has Fallen” by keeping the action loud, relevant, and realistic. Roland Emmerich has done it again!