Directed by: Antoine Fuqua / Babak Najafi. I’m doing this unusual format—both films at once rather than individually—because the only reason I would waste breath on these putrefying turds of cultural bar-lowering, stereotype-fuelling, and borderline hate-speech, is because I had to review the sequel for a real publication, and due to my near-compulsive, near-self-flagellative tendency to do “research” for a film assignment, I chose to see the first film before I saw the second, and now that I’ve wasted 4 hours of my life on this garbage franchise instead of two, I don’t want to waste any more of my life on it than is absolutely necessary. To me, these films are the depressing fruit of the Age of Trump, showing you what happens when you eviscerate public education and spam the undereducated working class with Fox News ultra-conservatism, teaching middle-class white Americans that they are simultaneously the most persecuted and vulnerable country on the planet, and that they are the most mighty, invincible, god-like nation of gods ever to walk the Earth. In the first film, the idea that a few dozen North Korean guerillas could launch that kind of assault on the White House, that the entire US Air Force consists of a couple of jets that a single bomber, manned by eerie, mute, North Koreans with sunglasses can easily destroy, is completely absurd to anyone older than 5 years old. The entire premise of the film is based upon something so absurd, that I had to actually reach the conclusion that the majority of Americans are so divorced from reality that they don’t know that their military is the most bloated, technologically advanced, beefcake, invasive and paranoid military powerhouse the planet has ever produced. There is simply no credible way for any rational adult to buy that aggressive military behemoth as a poor, defenceless, underdog. I guess this just goes back to the strange awakening I had in my 20’s when I realized that all of the weird, warped, jokey, juvenile, chauvinistic, über-patriotic American exceptionalism that I’d been picking up my whole life from American TV and movies was actually something that Americans believed. Even intelligent, critical, grown-ups who “know” it’s not really true, they must believe at some small level that there’s something inherently superior about USA that makes them, when they’re drunk in a karaoke bar singing Springsteen, break out into an impromptu round of “U S A! U S A!”
So maybe it’s that kind of shit that explains how these films do so well, and not that the entire nation are knuckle-dragging, salivating Islamophobes and white supremacists. It’s just that this nonsense is battered into their heads from cradle to grave, and it’s really hard to square the puffed-up, flag-waving fantasy with the cold facts of reality. Modern life and complex geo-politics can’t be accurately crammed into a dumb 2-hour good-guy-vs-bad-guy narrative, but if it could, then according to every criteria of dumb good-guy-vs-bad-guy movie I’ve learned from a lifetime of Hollywood movies, the United States would definitely be the bad guy. They’re basically SPECTRE at this point, with the NSA eavesdropping on everything everyone’s saying, and the FBI ordering Apple to open up everyone’s iPhone to them like Batman in The Dark Knight. But to the rest of us, living outside of the circus and looking in, all of this is pretty straightforward, it’s uncontroversial facts. So to see this movie, which starts from an absurd premise and plunges headfirst into offensive bigotry and fear-mongering against the people in the world who are actually vulnerable, is, to put it lightly, completely fucked. And I’m sure the producers and the studio deliberately tried to avoid this kind of criticism by putting a few black actors in supporting roles (and Angela Bassett does a great job of course, and god knows we all love to see Morgan Freeman in the Oval Office), and by getting two people of colour to direct the films. But to me, this just shows how ingrained this brand of white-supremacist, islamophobic American nationalism is, that even in the hands of an African American and an Iranian-Swede, these films can still be so explicitly hostile to people of colour in general, and in the second film, to Muslims in particular. In the year 2016, in a world where the people most vulnerable to violence are themselves people of colour, frequently are themselves Muslim, and/or frequently in the LGBTQ community, to see yet another film where middle-aged, blue-eyed, musclebound, heterosexual white guys like Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart are on the defensive against the senseless violence of the larger “ethnic” world, heroically meeting it with sensible American white-guy violence, another film that pits “us” against “them”, and one that paints a picture of paranoid racist suspicion on anyone who looks vaguely Asian (in the first film) or vaguely “Middle Eastern” (second film) so explicitly and distastefully as these do, is at a generous best, unoriginal, and at worst, I believe is actively causing harm in the world by strengthening the worst prejudices and suspicions in the minds of white Americans, whose opinions in a lot of ways shape the lives of the rest of the world. This film brings out the worst in us, and in an age of endless dumb action movies, I think we can do better. I’ll take Michael Bay robots over this shit any day. But again, I’m preaching to the choir, and the huge audiences that fully and unironically embraced these racist turd movies, if they are ever acquainted with a dissenting opinion like this, can easily brush it off as weak-kneed liberal propaganda. The world will continue to turn, bad movies will continue to be made, and people will continue to fool themselves that they are the “good guys” because every movie they see assures them that they are, no matter how much violence is enacted in their name.