Armageddon and Deep Impact, A Bugs Life and Antz, Twister and er, Tornado - every now and again two movies come along doing the same thing at the same time, and invariably only one film wins. This year, it seems blowing up The White House (or at least taking major chunks out of it) is the "soup de jour". Antoine Fuqua's "Olympus Has Fallen" was first out the blocks at the beginning of the summer, and to neatly bookend the blockbuster season, now we have Roland Emmerich's "White House Down".
Channing Tatum stars as John Cane, a capitol cop who wants to be a secret service agent, and who happens to be in the right place at the right time when neo-Nazi style terrorists storm The White House, taking Jamie's Foxx's President hostage. While it sounds similar in plot to "Olympus", that's pretty much where the two films diverge. Like most of Emmerich's disaster-based previous (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), he likes to do things with a bit of humour, and spends as much time building up the characters and their relationships as he does blowing things (and them) up.
Tatum in particular is well served, with a bevy of snappy one liners that Bruce Willis in a former life would have been proud of. The similarities don't end there - the dirty white vest, the painful rescues - even the name (John Cane/John McClane) has to be a less than subtle wink. And I for one would not be against him taking this mantle - Willis has hardly shown in recent efforts that he's interested in the types of role that made him famous any more (who can blame him given he's pushing 60).
The supporting cast is well rounded, with Jason Clarke and Kevin Rankin playing the main two big bads (initially at least - no spoilers!) with venom. What struck me most about the villains was they actually seemed to care when one of them was killed - you didn't get the usual dismissive "well he was an idiot" style response which was interesting for a popcorn flick. In a movie that has a fair few twists, the characters who join the bad guy roster fitted in nicely, though one at the end stuck out like a sore thumb - watch and see.
For all the good casting, Jamie Foxx as the President, and Maggie Gyllenhaal didn't work for different reasons. Foxx seemed torn between being his all out charismatic self, and trying to be a serious Presidential figure. He achieved neither and came across more as a guy who had accidentally ended up President, and you can't help but wonder if the role was originally meant for someone a bit more serious. Gyllenhaal is just wasted in her role as second in command of the secret service. She's hidden away in the Pentagon for much of the movie as the "voice on the end of the line" while Tatum is trying to save the day.
So which film wins the battle of The White House? This one, hands down. It's exactly what you've come to expect an Emmerich summer blockbuster to be - fun, silly and explosive. I didn't dislike "Olympus Has Fallen", but it wasn't nearly as enjoyable because it tried to be too gritty and serious - another Eckhart movie "Battle: Los Angeles" suffered the same fate. We want to laugh and high 5 each other as we see stuff get blown up, not ponder how this relates to real world politics.
By Marc Burrage. Follow Marc on Twitter.