Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Weekday Review: White House Down

John McClane and President Barack Obama
in: Die Hard 4.
Hey, did you know that there was a new Die Hard movie?  It's pretty good. It's definitely a throwback to the original in a lot of ways; there's a single location that gets explored throughout the movie to give it a real sense of place, there's a lone badass-but-not-superhuman action hero dealing with a broken marriage and a strained relationship with his kid, and a crew of highly specialized bad guys (and a bunch of grunts) whose actual goal is slowly revealed throughout the movie. There aren't any cars being launched into helicopters, no one ever cruises through a city while hanging onto the wing of an F-16, and the action--while fun and exciting--never really strays all that far from reality (save for our hero's remarkable Constitution score).

I mean, it's not officially a Die Hard movie, but it's the closest we're going to get to a sequel. I mean, it's not like they're still making those.  I wouldn't complain if they did, of course, but they'd probably just turn them into stupid, mindless action flicks with none of the charm or uniqueness that made the original such a classic, and that would be terrible.

No, the movie's actually called White House Down. It stars Channing Tatum as John McClane. Er, John Cale. John's recently returned from Afghanistan after enlisting to flee his failing marriage, and is working as a bodyguard for the Speaker of the House in Washington, D.C. He wants to join the actual Secret Service, mainly because he thinks it might score points with his 11-year-old daughter and future PoliSci major, Emily, who has a few issues with her dad thanks to him running off to the other side of the world for eight years. The two of them are touring the White House when a team of Totally Not Blackwater mercenaries, white supremacist sociopaths, and treacherous, Arab-hating Secret Service agents launch a coup against President Barack Notobama, played by Jaime Foxx.

Yup, it's a Die Hard movie.
The rest of the film is, as I've alluded, Die Hard. John Cale creeps around the White House, up and down elevator shafts and through every window the place has, taking out the bad guys one or two at a time and slowly building up a respectable arsenal. There's a hacker set up in the heart of the complex, with a big ol' timer counting down to the completion of some objective.  The leader of the coup exchanges threats and demands with John's helpful friend on the outside who is constantly shackled by imposing authority figures (Maggie Gyllenhaal). One of the hostages with a personal connection to him (Emily, played by Joey King) eventually has that connection exposed by incautious reporters, and she's used as bait to draw him out. Eventually, our bloody and battered hero manages to whittle down the bad guys' ranks, he takes out the Big Bad in some suitably hilarious and awesome way, and then he's reunited with his family after finally earning their love and respect.

There's copying Die Hard's template, and then there's copying Die Hard. I'm not sure where the line is, but this movie is hovering right over it.

There are differences, of course, mainly in the addition of a secondary heroic lead in the form of Django himself, Jaime Foxx. His character--President Sawyer--is probably the main reason you might have heard of this film.  He is, with absolutely zero subtlety or attempt at concealment, President Barack Obama. Literally casting the President--any President, really, save perhaps for Teddy Roosevelt--as the hero of an action flick is undoubtedly going to draw controversy, but when it's this already extremely controversial President, well, there's a bit of discomfort.

I'm going to need to talk politics just for a bit, in the interest of full disclosure. I've voted for President Obama twice, and I have never regretted it. I do not agree with him on every issue, nor do I think he hasn't made any serious missteps. However, I think many of his detractors severely underestimate the scope of the challenges and opposition he has faced every moment since coming to office--hell, since winning the election. I also think he's a good person; a politician, to be sure, guided by pragmatism and political reality before all else, but a basically decent human being. So, yes, the high concept of "President Obama with a rocket launcher takes on Blackwater, the KKK, and Dick Cheney" is pretty much all I needed to hear to be sold on this movie.

Pictured: the movie this should have been.
That said, President Sawyer's role isn't actually as superheroic as one might have been lead to expect. He's not a fighter; the two scenes of him doing action-y stuff in the trailer are pretty much it. That isn't to say that he's weak or useless; he's smart, reasonably athletic, and keeps a cool head in a crisis. Mostly, he's John Cale's sidekick, but he still has plenty of chances to show his own, quieter brand of courage.

It's also worth noting that one of the Bad Guys is an ex-NSA hacker turned anti-authoritarian anarchist. Given one of the big stories in the news the last few weeks, this is honestly kinda spooky. They even look alike. I don't know if discussing the similarities to Edward Snowden are a very good idea, especially considering that my own views are apparently deeply unpopular, though, so perhaps I should just let this paragraph end.

And, well, that's really all I've got to say. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, even if it wasn't quite the President Django vs. the World movie I was hoping for, and even if it was extremely derivative of Die Hard. I mean, there are far worse films to rip off, and I'm glad to see that someone's trying to bring the series back to life.

God, just imagine if they tried to keep making new ones with Bruce Willis. They'd probably give all the movies really stupid pun titles, too. Thank goodness Hollywood just let that dead horse lie.

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