You know what’s the saddest thing about Olympus Has Fallen when all is said and done? When you walk out of the theatre your first thought generally is “that would’ve been a much better Die Hard sequel than A Good Day To Die Hard turned out to be” not “what a fun, if insanely flawed, action film.” At its heart Olympus Has Fallen would’ve been a return to form for Bruce Willis but winds up as a Die Hard rip-off in the hands of Gerard Butler.
Butler is Michael Banning, a Secret Service agent riding a desk at the Treasury after an accident while on the President’s detail. He acted as best as he could, as we see in the film’s opening act, but the President (Aaron Eckhardt ) doesn’t want him around because it reminds him of the death of his wife (Ashley Judd) in that accident. But he’s pressed into action when a North Korean terrorist (Rick Yune) with a plan that catches everyone off-guard. By the time he’s done it’s only Banning that’s left in the White House, the proverbial fly in the ointment to the master plan of the terrorist.
And this film is exactly what was missing from A Good Day To Die Hard; it’s a gutsy thriller about a badass action hero closer to John McClane than anything Bruce Willis has portrayed recently. Banning is a no frills borderline sociopath stuck in the White House trying to foil the plans of a bad man. And he does it with gusto; this is one of the more violent action films you’ll see this year from a major studio.
It’s what makes it so refreshing on the face. Banning isn’t just a guy stuck behind enemy lines, so to speak. He’s ex-special forces and a member of the Secret Service and as such his abilities are more defined and savage. There’s a brutality to his methods that’s uncommon in the genre from a major studio as of recent; Banning just doesn’t shoot a guy and that’s that. He makes sure they’re dead and there’s seemingly no qualm from anyone involved in the production with showing it. This isn’t a film that aimed for a PG-13 and went just over the line to an R; this is a hard R bordering an NC-17 on the violence alone.
Butler makes for a pretty solid action hero, too. This isn’t a brilliant performance, and marginally a good one, but it’s serviceable for the genre. Banning has to be a tough guy, and snarl on occasion, but there’s never a moment where he has the big iconic line. Bruce Willis had his “Yippie Kayee” moment. Arnold had “I’ll be back.” Butler gets a fairly profane one to use but it doesn’t have nearly the effect of other, more famous ones. It’s a minor nitpick but the major problem is that we have seen this before and seen it better.
The problem is that this film is just Die Hard in the White House, nothing more. We’ve seen this film and seen it done any number of times before. Under Siege and Air Force One took similar plots and made similar films to Olympus Has Fallen. There isn’t anything we haven’t seen, or won’t expect to happen, in this film. It goes off like clockwork and you can predict nearly everything that happens as it happens.
That’s the crux of the situation about this film; if this was a Die Hard film, properly, we could call it an attempt to come back to the roots of the franchise and be happy with the result. Unfortunately it’s someone else making a Die Hard film, nothing more. It’s serviceable but not brilliant, marginally good at best.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt
Notable Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell