“White House Down” (PG-13): A lone hero defeats legions of bad guys to save the president, the White House, the American way, a kid in peril, and his own career. Yup, “White House Down” is stunningly similar to “Olympus Has Fallen” (R, 2013), which only came out in March.
However, this popcorn cruncher rates a less gory PG-13, is even more illogical and, unlike the earlier film, takes itself less seriously. Thus, it’s more fun, offering high schoolers two hours of cheerfully mindless diversion. Some middle schoolers may find the mayhem too heavy.
Channing Tatum plays Cale, a member of the Capitol Police who longs to join the White House detail of the Secret Service. A divorced, somewhat irresponsible guy, he picks up his adolescent daughter Emily (Joey King) to go with him to the White House while he is interviewed by Secret Service agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
That doesn’t go well, so Cale and Emily join a White House tour. Emily even gets to meet the president (Jamie Foxx). He is about to risk his legacy by calling out weapons manufacturers for keeping the Middle East in turmoil. He doesn’t know what perfidy lurks among his own protectors or in his administration.
Then a bomb shatters the Capitol dome. Soon, the White House comes under attack. Bad guys take the tourists hostage. Cale and Emily get separated. He finds the president and they take on the bad guys. Emily uses her phone to document what’s happening. At one point, Cale and the president drive a limo across the White House lawn, taking and returning heavy fire. Seriously.
The PG-13 rating keeps us from seeing heads bashed in or bullets entering bodies, the odd impalement, or, for that matter, the deaths of hundreds of bystanders caused by bombs or artillery. All that happens, but just out of frame or at a distance.
Even so, the film is riddled with high-caliber gun and artillery fire as well as huge explosions. Emily is held hostage with a gun to her head several times. The script includes rare midrange profanity and brief sexual innuendo.
“Man of Steel” (PG-13): This darkly reimagined origin story of Superman could move teen filmgoers looking for a little depth in their summer movies, though it weaves in religious imagery and language in ways that seem overdone for a comic book character.
Director Zack Snyder tells the story circuitously, forcing an audience to pay close attention. It opens on Superman’s home planet of Krypton.
Lara (Ayelet Zurer) gives painful birth to baby Kal-El as their depleted planet starts to disintegrate. Her husband Jor-El (Russell Crowe) launches their son in a space pod toward Earth, in hopes he will grow into someone Earthlings will value. Gen. Zod (Michael Shannon), a longtime rival, kills Jor-El and vows to track little Kal-El and retrieve the Kryptonian “codex” Jor-El sent with him.
Cut to the Midwestern farm where baby Kal-El landed. His adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), urge their boy to keep his emerging powers secret until he knows what they’re for.
The adult Clark/Kal-El (Henry Cavill), rather a lost soul, meets Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) at an Arctic dig where an alien spacecraft has been found. Inside it, Clark/Kal-El learns his history. Gen. Zod and his minions arrive and Jor-El advises his son from the grave. The aerial battles are impossible to follow and the third act runs too long, yet “Man of Steel” has a satisfying weight to it.
The violence becomes hugely destructive, though we see no victims graphically hurt. Collapsing buildings recall 9/11. Clark’s adoptive dad dies during a tornado.
Nine-year-old Clark (Cooper Timberline) freaks out when his X-ray vision kicks in. Thirteen-year-old Clark (Dylan Sprayberry) saves a school bus sinking in a river.
There is occasional crude language, toilet humor and an abridged F-word.