Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Olympus Has Fallen vs. White House Down

Get out your rocket launchers and White House, we're doing a head-to-head review of Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down!

Last year, there were two assault-on-the-White-House action movies, and I waited until both came out so I could watch them back-to-back and see which one earns the title of 2013’s quintessential Attack-on-the-White-House action extravaganza. Join me as I go through both, category by category, in this very scientific head-to-head battle!

In Olympus Has Fallen, after the tragic death of the first lady, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is in a slump, but yearns to get back into the secret service. When Korean terrorists take President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) hostage in the deep recesses of the White House, Banning is the only one that can stop them. In White House Down, Cale (Channing Tatum) desperately wants to get on secret service detail, but his unreliable past keeps him from getting the job. When he takes his daughter Emily (Joey King) on a White House tour, terrorists kidnap the tourists and try to kidnap president Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), but Cale is on the job to protect him. Can they save the White House and Cale's daughter? Let's begin:

Round 1: Best President
If there was an actual presidential election between Aaron Eckhart and Jaime Foxx, I'd have a hard time deciding who to vote for. Harvey Dent vs. Django! Of course, White House Down gets automatic points for having a black president. When I first saw previews for Olympus Has Fallen, I thought how weird is it that there's a movie with a white president? What is this, the 1800's? It felt so out of place. But really, what it comes down to is how each is used.

Asher shows a lot of promise. He even has a few scenes in the beginning in which he's boxing with Banning, leading me to hope he gets to take out some bad guys himself. Plus, there's an incident in the opening where you think there will be conflict between Banning and Asher, but nope. They barely have any scenes together, and all Eckhart gets to do is be kidnapped for most of the movie. Compare that to Jamie Foxx as Sawyer who: A) has a fun personality and gets a bunch of laughs (especially when he wants to 'do the thing') B) actually gets to do action, even though his president is not action equipped, and C) has GREAT chemistry with Cale where their relationship has an arc.

Round 2: Best Action Hero
Both of our heroes start their respective movies down and out before the shit hits the White House, but it's interesting that in WHD they got to the same point without having to kill off the first lady. So that’s a point off for Women in Refrigerators. But let's get to the real focus of our action heroes: the action. Both Butler and Channing have some good action scenes, but Tatum seems to be channeling Die Hard average-guy-trying-his-best-not-to-get-killed Bruce Willis, while Butler is channeling Die Hard 4 crotchety-old-man-unstoppable-killing-machine Bruce Willis. In this way, Tatum is the more fun of the two.

Sure, Butler gets a few good action scenes, and you definitely enjoy watching him, but Tatum genuinely seems to be having fun in his role. There are action scenes I can still remember and laugh at. One of my favorites is early on, when a terrorist catches Cale on the floor of the girl's bathroom and Tatum starts whining about how he's just a tourist before he shoots the terrorist between his legs. I can't believe I'm living in a world where I'm picking Channing Tatum over Gerard Butler, but he is really quite hilarious. I like a few of Butler's lines best, but Tatum gets to have fun, and, like WHD's President Sawyer, deliver a ton of jokes.

Round 3: Best Marriage Problems
Is there a movie starring Gerard Butler (other than 300) in which his character doesn't have marriage problems? Butler's Banning is still married to his wife, but it seems like their marriage is rocky. But then she's barely in the movie and nothing gets resolved! I guess it's just assumed that Banning's problem is that he doesn't have his job but it seems like it's more of a communications problem, man! You gotta talk to her!

Cale is separated from his wife, but they still fight over Cale missing from his daughter's life. Their problems are left similarly unresolved, but at least Emily's mother has the sense to run to the White House, I guess? Mostly I'm just glad that neither of these have a dumb romantic subplot.

Round 4: Best Bad Guys
OHF casts Korean Terrorists in the role of “the bad guys,” and while I'm sure Russians everywhere are celebrating, "FINALLY, WE AREN'T THE BAD GUYS!" it's still feels rather gross that it's "Oh no the crazy Koreans are invading our soil!" instead. It's even more gross that I saw no Asian-Americans battling the Korean terrorists in the assault. Maybe there were a couple mixed in amongst the literal thousand guards that were killed, but I didn't catch them. It's not really explained why exactly the evil Korean terrorists want North and South Korea at war and America blown up, other than "America is BAD!" There's one traitor on the Secret Service team (which I suppose is meant to explain how the terrorists got so much intel and fancy American weapons, but you'd figure a simple Secret Service agent wouldn’t have that much pull) and it's really obvious who that traitor is right from the start. But you never learn exactly why he's a traitor! And while the terrorists are organized in a very made-for-killing way, they're not all that interesting.
WHD, on the other hand, has a much more complicated group of bad guys that includes traitors, hackers and mercenaries. Not only are they less gross and more interesting, they are way more FUN. My favorite is Jimmi Simpson playing the outlandish hacker, Tyler. Simpson is always a blast, but here especially he gets a bunch of scenes where he overacts with hacker-speak and it is just delightful. And all the bad guys have personalities and complicated reasons for what they're doing! Fancy that.

Round 5: Action
Explosions! Gunfights! Hand to hand combat! Helicopters flying out of control and crashing! Planes crashing! Both movies have a lot of these. And if I were judging on sheer amount, I would give it to OHF because they killed a million guys AND destroyed the Washington Monument AND blew up half the White House. But I'm a bigger fan of quality than quantity. Sure, OHF technically had more, but remembering it is all one generic blur of Gerard Butler killin' dudes, whereas WHD had memorable and fun set-pieces. WHD feels longer because there are ups and downs and crazy things happening and it's all a lot of fun! And I also love that Tatum isn't the only one who had some action scenes. Foxx had a few good hits and even Nicholas Wright, who played a hilarious "Donnie the Guide," got a good knock in. OHF felt like it was missing a few action scenes at the end while WHD was completely satisfying.

Round 6: Using the American Flag as Symbolism 
Olympus Has Fallen: FLAG GAME TOO STRONG
White House Down: Flag game juuuuuust right.

Round 7: Best Child'ens
Both movies have a kid to protect – the president's son in OHF and Cale's daughter in WHD – but only WHD makes any use of it. OHF again starts out promising by establishing some rapport between the president's son Conner (Finley Jacobsen) and Banning, but the kid really has no character, and they rescue him halfway through. On the other hand, I love how book smart and common-sense smart Emily is. She sneaks around, knows when to turn her phone off so terrorists don't hear it when someone accidentally calls, and even records them like a junior reporter. More than that, she has a relationship with Cale and is a major part of the story! I'm kind of annoyed she's used as a damsel in distress, but I'm just happy they use her at all and she's a compelling character.
Round 8: Best Score
Meh? Meh on both.

Round 9: Best One-Liner
OHF: "Let's you and me play a game of 'Fuck off.' You go first."
WHD: Too many to count and I don't really want to ruin any of them. The main takeaway is that I actually found myself laughing like a hyena at some of them. "How- how do you lose a rocket launcher!?" is the least funny of them.

Round 10: Best Cast
OHF has Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman, and while having God on your side is a pretty big deal, it doesn't compare to the amount of great actors having fun in the supporting cast. James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jimmi Simpson, and even Fringe's Lance Reddick!


Olympus Has Fallen has some fun action scenes, but there's nothing so amazing that warrants going out and seeing it. It's enjoyable but forgettable. What you have left is some grossness with the villains and a lot of unresolved problems. OHF is a movie that asks a lot of questions without answering any of them. White House Down blows it out of the water by being truly engrossing and fun to watch. This is a movie I would recommend people go out and see, because it is that entertaining. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, the action is inventive, the dialogue is witty, and the bad guys have good reasons for doing bad things. If you enjoyed 21 Jump Street, or Die Hard, you'll get a kick out of this. 

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