Roland Emmerich is pretty much the only director working in mainstream Hollywood right now why almost purely makes films to which sequels cannot be made. You can’t end the world twice, or have two groups of terrorists attack the White House two weeks apart. Or can you? Emmerich announced a number of weeks ago that Independence Day II will hit cinemas in Summer 2015, probably trying to rush in a good announcement before the imminent release of WHD, in case it didn’t do well at the box office. I have great respect for Emmerich as a director. Not just because of his ‘no sequels’ rule, but because of his fondness for family drama, paternal redemption and his refusal to use poor female characters for purely sexual purposes. Every female in every Emmerich film has an important role to play in the plot, and while they may not be the biggest star on screen, they often steal the spotlight from the male lead. In this film, Maggie Gyllenhaal is Carol Finnerty, high up in the secret service and refusing to give our hero, John Cale, a job, despite him being played by the endlessly handsome Channing Tatum (who always seems to play characters called John). Tatum is superb in White House Down. He fully fills the shoes of the ‘John McClane’ role, jumping across rooms in slo-mo as bullets are fired at his face, whilst also believably performing in the emotional moments with his 11-year old daughter and pulling off one-liners with Jamie Foxx’s president Sawyer. James Sawyer- like Sawyer from Lost (another Lost connection, Lance Reddick plays a military commander). Tatum is an excellent actor, but outside of Steven Soderbergh’s films, he has never been given a chance to show off his skills properly, but Emmerich has obviously been watching him for some time, and has learnt how to best direct him. Joey King (the wheelchair-bound girl from Oz The Great and Powerful) steals every scene she is in, and is probably the best child actor i’ve seen in a cinema in half a decade. Her developing love and respect for her father can be seen in her eyes in every moment between the two, and there comes a moment towards the end of the film where she pretty much saves Washington DC from destruction through a combination of her knowledge of political history and her flag-waving talents.
If only Jamie Foxx were President. His interaction with King towards the beginning is a signpost of how great he and Tatum are going to be as a pair, and the entire second-third of the story is carried by their brilliantly written and acted conversations. Even while he jokes, you can see how pained he is to kill one of the villains, and to have to send one of his closest colleagues and friends to jail when he is revealed as the true terrorist mastermind at the end. Olympus Has Fallen was enjoyable due to the ridiculous prospect of a North Korean fighter jet flying into Washington and shooting things, while WHD is fun based on its characters. Gerard Butler is a decent leading man, but Channing Tatum is just so much better! Everyone who saw Olympus knew that Butler was Scottish, and so found it hard to believe him to be a Great American Hero. Tatum fits this role like a glove, as does King, and in the final scene, even I, a non-American, was in tears and felt like singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ out loud. Screw Emmerich’s Independence Day (which, in true Breaking of 4th-wall style, is referred to by a comedic tour guide during the film), White House Down is the ultimate fourth of July movie. Free screenings for the military over Independence Day weekend may not perk the film’s box office takings, but they will increase positive word of mouth.
This is a far more politically balanced film than Olympus, giving the villains far more time to explain their actions- actions which can somewhat be sympathised with. The fact that they are American also means that, when the heros win, it does not at all feel like a film which says “America is the best! We beat the rest!”, but rather conveys a message of peace and love. President Sawyer is about as clearly a Democrat as a movie President could be, and some of the villains being described as ‘far-right racists’ shows the audience where the filmmakers’ opinions lie.
This is probably the most solidly entertaining piece of cinema of 2013 so far, from beginning to end. It has the tension of Zero Dark Thirty mixed perfectly with the fun of Iron Man, and the cast are all on top form. It’s what all Summer action blockbusters should aspire to be.