After a brief excursion into Shakespearean salaciousness with Anonymous, Roland Emmerich is back to doing what he (arguably) does best: blowing iconic landmarks to smithereens. His latest, White House Down, concerns a paramilitary group that takes over the White House, and leaves a wannabe Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) on a quest to save the president (Jamie Foxx). Yes, it all sounds very much like Olympus Has Fallen, and viewers can draw their own conclusions about what these movies mean about government dissatisfaction. For Emmerich, it’s just another day at the office, an office that’s probably lined with maps, dartboards, and other means of arbitrarily deciding what disaster to unleash next. Emmerich is a professional sadist—a hack director who gets his jollies by seeing how many mass quantities of people he can murder.
In 2012, his idea of a nyuk-nyuk gag was seeing two old ladies get swallowed by the earth in their station wagon, while countless thousands screamed out their last breaths. However superficially handsome the new White House Down posters may be, with variations that include a young girl, some picnickers on the lawn of the Capitol, and a crowd of tourists near the Washington Monument, their eerie, all-is-well nature make them more sadistic than anything to herald a previous Emmerich picture. The maestro of indiscriminate slaughter has upped his game: “Let’s not show things being destroyed, let’s tease what’s about to be destroyed, and flaunt the handsome, unsuspecting people whose lives we’re about to not just ruin, but, hopefully, take!”
While it may not be his most carnage-heavy, destruction-laden effort to date (2012 is rather hard to top), White House Down looks to be the peak of Emmerich’s violent affair with 1600 Penn, which began way back in 1996 with Independence Day. That movie’s unforgettable one-sheet didn’t mess around, showing its alien visitors probing the president’s mansion with one very gaseous laser. It wasn’t the only attack to take place in the film, but it was the one that best caught the eye, for the same security-stripping reasons that make Olympus Has Fallen compelling in even its most ridiculous parts. Emmerich also stuck it the White House in 2012, sending a massive, washed-in tanker to roll in and crush the pearly residence, as reflected in one of many posters used to peddle that disastrous disaster flick.
Naturally, part of the discussion that’s arose amid the emergence of these back-to-back White House beatdowns is if it is, at last, no longer “too soon” to fill popular entertainment with the destruction of our landmarks. Indeed, the sting of 9/11, for better or worse, isn’t so sharp when watching Gerard Butler fend off starkly demonized North Koreans, who riddle the White House with bullets before nearly razing it to the ground. But even bloodthirsty Antoine Fuqua operates wioth more sensitivity than Emmerich, who’s never paid much mind to the resonant knife twists that have come along with his imagery. In The Day After Tomorrow, he battered New York with a second ice age without batting an eye, and in 2012, there were countless shots that looked all too much like footage from the most fateful morning of our time. Time may well have healed the wounds first inflicted 12 years ago, but that doesn’t help the passive-agressive harshness of the White House Down campaign, a kind of sick bait-and-switch that’s more off-putting than unnerving. “It will start like any other day,” the tagline reads, and the funny thing is, the poster for United 93, which hit theaters a mere five years after the towers fell, feels somehow less troubling in its new day/blue sky approach, even as Manhattan smokes in the distance.