One plot, two movies. How do they compare?

Anyone who knows me can probably assume where I vote in any contest between White House Down and Olympus has Fallen, 2013's pair of White House Siege movies. I’ve been cheerleading the latter since it came out. It’s an ugly, xenophobic throwback to a type of ‘80s action film that only really exists in our imaginations. Its lead is a lumpy bag of potatoes who can hardly contain his troubling joy for killing. Its president is a heroic caricature who openly gives the bad guys everything they need to succeed. Its villains murder so many hostages that it’s debatable whether the good guys even win at all.

In short, Olympus has Fallen is not a good film, just a fucking crazy one. By almost any measurement that doesn’t include headstabs, curse words, or racism, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down is the better movie.

White House Down features a laundry list of wonderful things found lacking in Olympus has Fallen: likable heroes, bright colors, a variety of villains, a general inclusive charisma. Despite its bloated running time (137 minutes!), most of the film really books, never slowing down until Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx part ways near the third act (after which it does kind of turn into a slog). For the most part, the film is an entertainment machine, made by a guy who knows what he’s doing. We have a bevy of recognizable support players popping up all over the place, a cute kid, a jokey side-character (the tour guide) whose story comes full circle, and a very typical model of Hollywood storytelling.

It’s good! But that’s also part of the problem. White House Down offers pretty much everything a big blockbuster action film needs. It’s fine. It’s regular. On the other hand, here’s this psychotic other film in which the Washington Monument gleefully crushes innocent tourists while high-caliber machine guns mow down tons of people and government officials are executed via pointblank headshots on TV. 

Olympus has Fallen is not a good film. But it’s not a typical Hollywood blockbuster, either. While White House Down keeps its cute kid in play from beginning to end, Olympus has Fallen is like “Fuck this brat” and ditches its kid as soon as it possibly can. White House Down’s siege of the White House walks you gently to the edge of your own disbelief. Olympus has Fallen beats the shit out of you until you’re willing to believe whatever it says.

Amazingly, between these two films, Olympus has Fallen was the one to get a sequel. Something about its nasty anger connected with audiences in a way White House Down did not. Perhaps it was a matter of coming out first. Maybe it had something to do with the very real American anger that gives Donald Trump his popularity today. Either way, in a contest between two similar plots, this represents one of the few times where “going weird with it” ended up being the right play. And while I’m happy to have both movies, I know which one I’d rather rewatch at the end of the day.

psst... it's this one: