Its big and its loud and its dumb, and yes, its Die Hard 6 in all but name. Frustratingly so, because that Die Hard reference isn’t just an indication of the genre, its an indication of the actual plot and its twists and turns- it mirrors the Die Hard template so completely you’d be forgiven that the seizing of the White House is actually a ruse and that there’s a bank situated next door, or that the White House basement itself has a safe full of priceless jewels. Its one of those movies that does everything by the book- its characters, its plot, its action sequences. There’s no surprises at all. There’s no harm in it- this film is simply what it is. It’s Die Hard In The Whitehouse, minus Bruce Willis, of course. You can imagine the pitch to the studio and the film lives up to it. Its a dumb action romp with, well, lots of action. But it is incredibly, incredibly lazy.
There’s a section where a helicopter full of hostages/terrorists leaves the White House lawn and two security guys are watching- one of them vents his frustration, obviously to mirror the audience’s feeling and heighten the tension, the other responds, “Its ok, there’s a tracker on the helicopter!”. Of course in a real situation both would be calm and both would be aware of the tracking device, but in the movie its all about the dialogue explaining stuff to the audience. This film isn’t attempting to mirror reality at all. Watching it we are in a parallel universe, a movie universe in which characters verbalise their internal reasoning, their feelings and motivations, and in which everyone is such an idiot that everyone else has to explain everything to them because that’s the way things are explained to the audience too- the dialogue explains everything that we see, so much so that at times its like its a commentary track. Its lazy but its how these movies work. Across town where the acting President (played of course by statesmanlike Morgan Freeman) has his emergency briefing room with dozens of aides and military staff, the screen is full of goggle-eyed actors wincing and groaning and shaking their heads at everything they see and hear during the movie, heightening tension and yes, aides with dialogue that explain everything stage by stage to Freeman and the audience, and of course if anything goes ‘right’ they are whooping and applauding- its another way of the movie telegraphing everything to the audience. Its very lazy and condescending but its all straight out of Scriptwriters 101.
And of course its that parallel universe where the President is noble and good and heroic. He’s the man who does the Right Thing. He’s in no way a conniving political creature trying to survive in a sea of corruption and vested interests. And this is America the International arm of Justice and Good, not the America that interferes and undermines democratically elected governments to further its own political machinations. And all the Bad Guys are foreigners, and even the one treacherous Bad American realises he’s done wrong and does right at his very last. Man, imagine Oliver Stone making this movie! Now that would be interesting!
For all that, this isn’t a bad movie, just a depressingly familiar one. Its strange that its true worth isn’t as entertainment but rather for how it betrays how so many films are made these days. It really is a lesson in how plots are strung out, character arcs set-up, how dialogue and voice-overs can replace good storytelling by ‘fixing’ bad storytelling. How actor’s reaction shots can inform how the audience should be feeling or thinking. Its all manipulation. For all that, its just an action movie. And it could have been much worse.
The film also has one last lesson: success bears repeating, so this film having proven popular enough to warrant a sequel is getting one set this time across the pond in our own dear old London. Brittania Has Fallen doesn’t have quite the ring to it so I do wonder what kind of title the spin-meisters have set for it (actually, I just looked, and it has the sadly unimaginative title London Has Fallen). As for the plot, well, I guess we all can hazard an idea but I’m certain it will be… rather familiar.