There’s something about the narrative that hits a sweet spot in the zeitgeist. It’s the sense of America hit from without by barbarians. It’s feeling of America as Rome, battered and tested, but America finding deep within the courage and strength that made her great in the first place.
With lots and lots of explosions.
As the film opens, Mike Banning, a loyal and tough Secret Service agent, slaves away at a desk after a dark moment in his heroic but tragic career makes him a cause of sorrow to the President.
From his desk at the Treasury Department, Banning has a front row seat to watch the unexpected and highly coordinated attack of North Korean terrorists on the White House. Still crabby about that whole Korean War thing, they want to pay America back and force change, in that order.
Not while Mike Banning is on watch.
When the considerable smoke settles, he finds himself the only loyal American left alive and armed inside the White House. He must rescue the President’s son, save the President, and save the world from descent into war.
And make it home in time for dinner.
That’s pretty much the movie, but the makers don’t stint on the big booms.
The assault on the White House, which takes place in coordinated layers of attack, is a compilation of our deepest terrorist fears. From an airspace incursion that starts the event, to the apparent tourists who are packing heat under their visors and fannypacks, to the coordinated use of innocuous garbage trucks to seal the deal, the attack underscores how vulnerable freedom can be. Why, anyone could be a terrorist hacker with years of study of key government security systems.
TSA don’t catch that, now, do they, with all their tricky little pat-downs and superscanners?
I live in the DMV (That’s our super-fly nickname for the DC Metropolitan area. District, Maryland, Virginia. Get it?) and it’s always fun to see your town devastated in creative ways. While most of the action is centered on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Washington Monument, ordinary neighborhoods and the National Mall get in on the destructive action.
And when I say destructive, I mean that with a capital D.
If I had a pickle for every time a person went to meet his Maker in this film, I’d have a bulging full barrel.
Even counting the methods of dispatching souls to the hereafter quickly becomes impossible. Many are shot, mowed down by automatic weapons, or killed in explosions.
But that’s just warming up.
Let’s just say downtown DC is a bad place to be that day, what with all the flaming airplanes, the debris from a crumbling Washington Monument, the cars crushed by nefarious large vehicles, and helicopters spinning out of control.
You’d think with the arsenal of weapons used by both the Secret Service brigade and the invading terrorists, combatants would always be able to find something that fires a bullet, but quite frequently, they resort to hand-to-hand combat, knife fights, and even knocking each other over the head with busts of Abraham Lincoln.
All of this mayhem, plus constant salty language, earns the movie an R rating. There is no sexuality. The violence isn’t as gory as it could be, but there’s a fair amount of red mist and body shots.
But, as in one of my favorite cult movies, Red Dawn (the original, not the remake), there is the attitude that this is America, dammit. And even the most miffed, highest trained, extremely ruthless terrorist underestimates America.
It’s in those “America, dammit” moments that the movie is the most fun: When a cabinet member is dragged to her apparent death defiantly screaming the Pledge of Allegiance; When the President of the United States spits an expletive into the face of his torturer; When the Navy SEALs converge to take back their national house.
The movie isn’t perfect. There are quite a few little details that grate on anyone who knows DC. The process of succession making Speaker of the House Morgan Freeman temporarily President isn’t exactly protocol. Someone calls the White House the seat of American power when everyone who took high school civics should know that’s Congress. And a disgruntled American cites “Wall Street” as the source of his loathing of his own country. Seriously? Wall Street?
Most irksome was that after declaring that America does not negotiate with terrorists, it does just that. Morgan Freeman doesn’t make a very good President here, in my opinion. He caves at every opportunity. Don’t elect him if he ever runs.
But, luckily, it’s not Morgan Freeman’s story but Mike Banning’s. Gerard Butler, who has made a steady stream of truly bad movies recently, finds a role that suits him well. There’s not a lot of depth, just running, fighting, falling down, getting up, and fighting some more.
And America, dammit.
Some critics will surely hate the flag waving and simplicity that the movie projects. It lacks nuance. It’s too black and white. We never sense the depth of the bad guy’s suffering soul. Too rah-rah, patriotic, basic good versus evil.
They’re right. And that’s why you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.