Review – Olympus has Fallen (2013)

Director: Antoine Fuqua              

Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster

Olympus has FallenAfter watching Olympus has Fallen the makers of the Die Hard franchise must have been kicking themselves. How did they not think of this first? Olympus has Fallen is ‘Die Hard in the White House,’ but instead of Jon McClane, our one man army is Gerard Butler’s Secret Service agent Mike Banning.

Formerly a part of the Presidential Detail, Banning was stood down after a car accident cost the First Lady her life. Banning just happens to be in the vicinity of the White House, codename Olympus, when a group of North Korean terrorists attack the capital. With terrifying brutality, speed and precision, they take the building and the President as their hostage, but in the frenzy of the assault Banning works his way inside. With the rest of the military unable to enter the building for fear of prompting the terrorists to assassinate the President, Banning finds himself the nation’s only hope. But for him it is about more than just a sense of duty to his country. Banning feels a personal responsibility to protect the President and his son, and this moment provides him the opportunity for redemption not only in their eyes, but in his own.

While North Korea is a pretty safe bet for Hollywood to source its villains from – American films don’t get released in North Korea so there is no danger of alienating a potential audience – the film does emphasise the point that these particular villains are terrorists not acting under the guidance of Pyongyang. It is a peculiar moment of thoughtful diplomacy in a screenplay that is otherwise pretty simple and unthinking. It is a story you just have to go with without asking questions, no matter how far-fetched and improbable things get. The White House, undoubtedly one of the best protected buildings on the face of the Earth, is taken down in 12 minutes by a team of terrorists whose secret appears to be that they brought lots of guns and had some semblance of a plan? Don’t question it. Just go with it, because, much like Die Hard, the movie really starts once everyone is inside and everything before that is just setup.

As should be expected of a blockbuster about a siege on the White House, Olympus has Fallen is pretty gung-ho with its patriotism. You get your fair share of Stars and Stripes, whether in flames and falling to the ground, or fluttering triumphantly in the breeze. The movie’s plot device also allows us two Hollywood Presidents for the price of one. Aaron Eckhart as President Benjamin Asher, is the action hero President typified by Harrison Ford in Air Force One. We are introduced to him early in the film as he enjoys a sparring session in the ring with Banning (this introductory scene is intended to give us insight into the nature of both characters, particularly through Banning’s willingness to put one on the chin of the Commander and Chief). He is tough and brave and in the thick of the action. Morgan Freeman plays Speaker Trumble, who is promoted to Acting President for the duration of the hostage crisis. As you would expect of a Morgan Freeman character, Trumble is wise, thoughtful and measured. So between the two of them we manage to both of Hollywood’s favourite patriotic Presidential depictions.

The similarities to Die Hard mean that Olympus has Fallen will feel incredibly familiar and comfortable for fans of the action thriller genre. Butler has tried a number of different things over the years: he’s been a romantic lead, he’s done comedy, he’s done Shakespeare, and he was even the Phantom of the Opera. But the action thriller appears to be where he is most at home. Butler, Eckhart and Freemen are surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Angela Basset, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott and Ashley Judd, and while director Antoine Fuqua – of Training Day fame – doesn’t break any new ground, he delivers a well-crafted action film that, ironically, trumps A Good Day to Die Hard as the best Die Hard of the year.

Rating – ★★

Review by Duncan McLean

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