Olympus Has Fallen is pretty much exactly what you think it is: Die Hard inside the White House. While it’s not a classic like the original Die Hard, it hits a lot of the same notes in a way that constantly keep it entertaining and fun. While A Good Day to Die Hard was widely scrutinized by fans and critics alike for taking the series in an over-the-top, plot-lacking, almost slapstick direction, Olympus Has Fallen – while over-the-top in its own ways – keeps things a little more grounded, making this the type of film fans of the Die Hard franchise wouldn’t mind as a sequel.
Olympus Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, a former Presidential guard who was forced out of the Secret Service after an incident that cost the First Lady her life. The story picks up 18 months after that incident, with Mike working a desk job at the Treasury next door to the White House, and hating every minute of it. Though things are about to pick up, as the Prime Minister of South Korea is in town to talk to President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) about the escalating threat from North Korea.
The meeting is cut short, however, as a terrorist group attacks the White House from ground and air, and in just thirteen minutes they not only take the building as their own, but also have the President as a hostage. Of course, this is Die Hard in the White House, and you can’t have Die Hard without John McClane, so enter Mike Banning.
While Banning isn’t as memorable as McClane, he’s still a badass, and it’s still a lot of fun to route for him against the odds. Instead of having Sgt. Al Powell and his Twinkies (which were for his wife…she was pregnant) outside to converse with, Banning has an entire table of people who you just know are going to make some bad decisions as things go on. First up there’s Speaker of the House – and acting President – Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), then there’s Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett), and finally there’s General Edward Clegg (Robert Forster). Okay, there are a dozen or so other people, but these are the main three who interact with Banning, whereas the rest just cheer when something goes right, or look stressed and upset when it doesn’t.
Just as important as having a badass hero to route for, is having a main villain to despise. Olympus Has Fallen does a pretty good job in that department, casting Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious) as Kang, the leader of the terrorist group. While Kang’s voice is sometimes laughable (I swear it sounds like it was poorly dubbed over at times), his demeanor and actions make him someone you can’t wait to see go one on one with Banning, regardless of how he sounds. As for his group, their demands are simple: move American troops out of South Korea or the President will die. Of course, there’s other stuff they’re planning as well, but that’s it as far as demands go.
While it’s filled with plenty of cliché notes and a few pretty bad lines, Olympus Has Fallen is still a lot of fun to be had. Butler really nails the one-man-army role, kicking terrorist ass while delivering a few great one-liners that help counter the cringe worthy ones made by others, and he once again proves that he should be right up there with the top action stars today. Not only is he a cool guy, but he’s a regular type of guy that audiences can relate with. While the film lacks the dramatic punches to help sell Banning as someone who isn’t invulnerable (think the washroom scene in Die Hard, where McClane’s in pain, distracting himself on the phone with Powell while pulling shards of glass out of his feet), it still sets him up nicely as someone who has a human side, and cares for those around him.
The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) and it’s bloody awesome. And I mean that quite literally, as the film earns its R-rating in the States with some brutally fantastic action shots that don’t hold back when it comes to blood splatter, up close executions or stabbings. This is a pure action film through and through, and Fuqua – who is no stranger to the genre – really delivers on that front. The first attack on the White House is made by a single aircraft and it’s incredibly intense and exceptionally violent, with soldiers, law enforcement and civilians all landing in in the line of fire streaming from the enemy plane. This scene helps set the stage for what’s to come, as Fuqua rarely slows the pacing from that point on, which works to the film’s advantage as it keeps things entertaining and always moving forward.
Olympus Has Fallen delivers exactly what one should expect from this type of movie going in. While it’s not without its flaws, they’re not pivotal enough to take away from what people came to see: Gerard Butler vs. a White House full of terrorists. If that’s what you’re paying to see, then you’ll likely enjoy this two-hour action-extravaganza.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Notable Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster