Film Review – Olympus Has Fallen
At this point, Gerard Butler has carved himself a career that falls into two categories: the romantic comedy or the action spectacle. If he’s not in one, he’s in the other. Scrub, rinse, dry, repeat. This time, we see him, guns blazing, in Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen. The title refers to the phrase used by the Secret Service indicating that enemy forces have overtaken the White House. Unbeknownst to them is the presence of tough man Butler, who uses his tactical knowledge and fighting skills to take down the threat, one man at a time. If this premise (one man stuck in a building against armed terrorists) sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I can already picture the abundant reviews calling this out as a Die Hard rip-off. And you know what—they’re right.
The real question is whether or not it’s a good rip-off. I’d say it falls somewhere in the middle. Gerard Butler doesn’t have half the charisma Bruce Willis does, but he has enough of a screen presence to carry this plot. It is a completely serviceable action thriller, with some nice set pieces and a surprisingly large cast of recognizable faces. Ironically, it’s better than A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), and that’s an “official” entry into that series. But while this film has some nice elements to consider, it does have a generic feel that doesn’t allow it to become something memorable. It so blatantly copies other movies that you can point out each reference as it goes along: start with a Die Hard base, smooth it over with a layer of Air Force One (1997), add a pinch of In the Line of Fire (1993) and POOF! You got yourself an action film.
Butler stars as Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent who was once the head of security for U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). After an accident struck the President’s family under his watch, Banning resigned himself to working at a desk position. But the itch for fieldwork has remained with him, and when a North Korean terrorist group launches an assault on the White House, taking the President and much of his staff (including Melissa Leo as the Secretary of State) as hostages, Banning takes it upon himself to enter the fray.
Strange how times have changed. Ten years ago, I highly doubt this would have been made, so recently after 9/11. The terrorists here are depicted as cold-blooded killers, nearing the level of psychopaths. The depiction of North Koreans may strike a sensitive chord, especially with how real world events are quickly taking shape. They are led by Kang (Rick Yune), a monster of a person who will shoot anyone at point blank range without a hint of remorse. He kills innocents with so little hesitation that he becomes a caricature instead of a man on a mission. We care less about his intention to free North Korea and punish the U.S. than we do his almost robotic-like way of executing his victims.
What works is how Banning navigates his way around the White House, sneaking around enemies and strategically taking them out. He sets up a communications link with the Pentagon, sharing information with Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and Speaker of the House Alan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). This is effective in setting up the stakes. Writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt allow each side to work together and update their moves: the Pentagon tells Banning what’s at risk at a global level, as he notifies them on how he plans to dismantle Kang’s operation. One of the better sequences involves Banning and the Pentagon working together to rescue President Asher’s young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). This showcases two groups working towards a common goal. Only once they start to butt heads—especially when General Edward Clegg (Robert Forster) decides to take matters into his own hands—does the action start to veer off course.
I wonder if those who criticized Django Unchained (2012) for its excessive violence will say anything here. It may not be as bloody, but the amount of violence Fuqua puts in overshadows what Tarantino did in his film—in particular, the amount of close range murder. There were so many I couldn’t count them all on two hands. I don’t mind my share of violence in the action genre, but the repetition numbed the early shock value. There could have been a larger impact if we saw a few people get killed in such a way, rather than a few dozen. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter what happens onscreen, since the night shots were so badly lit that the muddled visuals hindered whatever violence there was to be seen.
The people who walk into Olympus Has Fallen will get what they pay for. It doesn’t set a trend, but closely follows the blueprint laid out by the much better movies that came before it—like painting by numbers. If you like your movies recycled with little originality, then this one is for you.
Final Grade: C+