This year, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen came out a few months prior to Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, and usually that wouldn’t be too much of a problem. However, because the White House getting taken over by bad guys plots to both are so very similar, they came out way too close together. In Olympus Has Fallen, Gerard Butler and his terrible American Accent play the ex-secret service agent attempting to rescue President Aaron Eckhart from North Korean terrorists who have help on the inside. He’s lead through the mess by Angela Basset and Morgan Freeman as the head of the secret service, and the Speaker of the House respectively.
In White House Down, Channing Tatum plays a security team member for the Speaker of the House who wants badly to be a secret service agent, not just to impress his daughter and his vampire ex-wife (she was in one of the Twilight movies – she’s not a vampire in this movie…that would have made it way more interesting) but mainly for that reason. Jaime Foxx plays the president in perhaps the least believable casting move ever who is struggling with removing troops from the Middle East.
On the very day that Tatum is at the White House with his daughter for the interview, terrorists take over the White House. This is the same day that the head of the Secret Service (James Woods) is retiring. Here’s a difference from the other movie – in this one, they are domestic terrorists, but they still have help on the inside.
All hell breaks loose, and Tatum is left to defend the President and rescue his daughter as the terrorists begin wiping everyone out and making their demands. Our two heroes maneuver through the White House, looking to get the President out, as the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) and Secret Service representative (Maggie Gyllenhall) debate with the head of the military (Lance Reddick) about whether or not to give the terrorists what they want, and telling Tatum what to do. Spoiler Alert – Tatum ends up saving the day, and getting his job as a Secret Service Agent.
- Channing Tatum is a credible action star, but due to his natural charm and humor, really functions better in an action comedy, than a straight action movie. Yes, there are funny moments in this movie, but they feel completely out of place. It doesn’t quite fit the tone. He’s great, and will have a great career; I’m just not sure this movie fits him.
- Jamie Foxx is good at many things, but I just cannot believe him as the President. This may be one of those cases where I did not see the character, I only saw the actor. Sometimes an actor’s real life personality is so big that it overwhelms whatever ‘character’ they are trying to play. Do you remember Tom Cruise’s character’s name in any of his last few movies? And don’t say Jack Reacher, that’s cheating.
- Why Maggie Gyllenhall is in this movie is a mystery to me. She’s plays Agent Finnerty, who has some backstory with Tatum’s character, although that never is very clear. They were in college together, but I can’t tell if it was more than that. I thought she stuck to those indie dramas that were unwatchable, but that the Academy loves. Of course, she was in the Dark Knight, briefly. She seems very one-note, and again – I’m not sure I buy her as the 2nd in command of the Secret Service. Or maybe she was the third in command, but she ends up in command by the end.
- Joey King plays the daughter, Emily – she’s actually pretty good in this. She’s having a pretty big year with this, The Conjuring, and her turn in Oz, the Great and Powerful as the China Girl.
- James Woods plays the retiring head of the secret service. He’s actually very good and very believable in this. He is, of course, untrustworthy just because he’s James Woods. I’m not sure he could ever convincingly play a good guy. He’s just too devious. Also – I keep expecting him to find some candy, and say, “Ooo! Piece of candy!”
- Richard Jenkins plays the Speaker of the House who has to start making decisions. He’s good, and believable, but he’s even better in Cabin in the Woods. Go rent that.
- Lance Reddick continues his creepy-authoritative character roles with this turn as General Caulfield. He’s exceptionally no nonsense.
- Rachelle LaFeve (that’s her name) plays the ex-wife. She has almost nothing to do but get really judgmental and frown-y about Tatum missing his daughter’s dance performance. I suppose it doesn’t matter, she’ll just be replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard in the sequel.
- Nicolas Wright has a great couple of moments as Donnie the Guide. He is leading the tour group around the White House when everything goes down, and then gets to function alternately as comedy relief and hero for the rest of the flick.
- Jake Weber continues to play Americans (he’s british) in his role as Agent Hope.
This movie does function more as a buddy-action movie as Tatum and Foxx are paired up for much of it, whereas Olympus has Fallen was Butler mostly on his own. Because the White House is a well-known building, and it only has so many rooms/floors – there are several action sequences between the two movies that are virtually the same. The initial firefights and troops moving up the lawns are similar, and of course, the obligatory helicopter trying to take out the terrorists on the roof and being shot down while the hero fights a villain on the roof and falls through a glass ceiling. Seriously – that sequence was almost exactly the same in both movies.
Both movies end with a timer countdown to the villain pushing “the button” that will launch nukes and surely start World War 3.
All in all, I enjoyed it, but it did wear a little thin here and there. 6 out of 10. Instead of the usual gained/lost points breakdown, let’s do a quick comparison to see which of these two movies is better:
- Gerard Butler was the secret service agent in charge of protecting the president but had to step down after the horrible car accident that killed the first lady, because looking at him reminded the president too much of that event. Tatum is an Iraq veteran, who ‘doesn’t respect authority’ and really really wants to be a secret service agent. Point to Olympus has Fallen.
- Aaron Eckhart is a steely version of the president, who as the terrorists begin torturing his staff members to get pieces of a code keeps saying, “give it to them, they’ll never get my piece!” Jamie Foxx is a more laid-back peace-loving president who is anti-gun, but does successfully shoot a terrorist after putting on his glasses, and kicks another in the head after telling him to “get his hands off his Jordans”. Point to Olympus has Fallen.
- Angela Basset is the tough-as-nails head of the secret service who has no time for nonsense, and is thrilled that Butler is the only one left in the White House, because, “he’s one of our best”. Maggie Gyllenhall is meek, and lame, and calls the wife of the leader of the terrorists to talk him down. Not taking the time to think through the reasons he’s doing this, and realize that of course the wife will agree with him. Point to Olympus has fallen.
- Both movies have dramatic slow-motion shots of the flag from the top of the White House drifting to the ground, after the house has “Fallen” or goes “Down”. We’ll call this one a draw.
- Butler and the President’s son have to use the extensive tunnel network to get the son out of the White House. The villains in White House Down apparently saw Olympus Has Fallen, and booby trap the tunnel entrances with bombs, causing Tatum and Foxx to have to use the Presidential limo in an insane chase sequence on the front lawn to try to plow through the main gate. Point to White House Down.
- The terrorists in White House Down are creepy ex-military types; that have been pulled from the Homeland Security most-wanted list. The terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen are led by the beautiful Rick Yune. Hmm...point to Olympus Has Fallen.
- Both movies could be described as “Die Hard in the White House”, but only White House Down took it to the next step by having Jimmi Simpson play their hacker/tech guy. Incidentally, he’s in a tight race for the title of new Creepiest Dude on the Planet with Paul Dano – Crispin Glover is passing the title on. Point to White House Down.
- The terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen figure out where Butler’s wife is, and threaten her, but nothing comes of that. The terrorists in White House Down seem to constantly be after Tatum’s daughter, who is bravely releasing footage of them to the internet to help those on the outside identify them. Point to White House Down.
- Olympus has Fallen is by Antoine Fuqua, who gave us the impressive King Arthur, Training Day, Shooter, and Tears of the Sun. White House Down is by disaster-maestro Roland Emmerich, who gave us The Patriot (the American revolution movie starring two Australians), the super-terrible Godzilla reboot, 2012, the Day After Tomorrow, and already destroyed the White House in those and Independence Day. Where is President Bill Pullman when we need him? Point to Olympus Has Fallen (I love Emmerich’s movies when he is teamed with Dean Devlin – ID4, Stargate, Universal Soldier).
- The terrorists are well organized to be sure, but really seem to take over the White House pretty easily, wiping through all the secret service very quickly. You mean to tell me we don’t have a team at that place that knows how to handle this situation? Both movies lose a point on this.
- Olympus Has Fallen has Morgan Freeman. Point to Olympus Has Fallen.
Totals = Olympus has Fallen gets 4, White House Down gets 2.
Bonus Video 1: King Arthur Trailer
Bonus Video 2: Jamie Foxx on In Living Color - Wanda = hilarious.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews