Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster
After 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
Director: John Moore
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Rasha Bukvic, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
In the 1980s Hollywood was overtaken by blockbuster fever, and a major beneficiary of the studios’ quest for the perfect high concept franchise was the action movie. The 1980s saw action cinema at the peak of its prominence. Films like The Terminator, Predator and the Rambo trilogy had made Schwarzenegger and Stallone among the biggest stars on the planet. But arguably the best movie to come out of the 1980s action cinema was John McTiernan’s Die Hard. Released in 1988 it propelled Bruce Willis into mega-stardom and really raised the bar in terms of quality for action movies. It introduced a blue-print which would be followed by big and loud Hollywood action movie from then on, the one-man army. We were introduced to John McClane, an engaging and charismatic hero, a modern American cowboy who was never short of a witty wise-crack (it is interesting to see the way that McClane’s trademark “yippee-ki-yay motherfucker” starts out with a context, coming out of villain Hans Gruber’s suggestion that he is just playing cowboy, and as the series goes on it is reduced to a simple catchphrase). That hero was then placed in story with a simple but effective premise. He just happened to be in the building that was taken over by terrorists. That building then becomes a labyrinth in which a game of cat-and-mouse can take place. The original Die Hard is a legitimately great movie.
While the sequels released over the 25 years since have steadily declined in quality, the character of John McClane remains, and it is the audience’s goodwill towards this character which keeps them coming back, each time hoping against hope that this one will be better than the previous slightly underwhelming sequel. Unfortunately, this is where A Good Day to Die Hard really drops the ball. In Skip Woods’ screenplay, John McClane is practically reduced to a supporting character in his own movie. The film sees McClane travel to Moscow in order to bring home his estranged son, Jack, who he discovers has been arrested. However, it turns out that his son is actually a CIA agent on a covert mission to rescue a prisoner named Komorov who knows some rather damning information about a Russian politician. After Jack breaks Komorov out, McClane joins his less charismatic son on his mission, and spends most of the remaining screentime following his son around. As a result, the one-man-army which had been the central structure of the previous four Die Hard films is not in place here.
So rarely has a good sequel ever been built around the introduction of a child for our hero. It was worked fine in Live Free or Die Hard (known in some countries as Die Hard 4.0), where the introduced child was his daughter, who mainly served as a motivation for our hero. She was the thing he needed to rescue. But introducing a child to serve as the next generation of hero only ever seems to frustrate audiences, yet lazy writers continue to go back to that well.
Of course, the other staple of the Die Hard series is explosive action, and that is still very much present. John Moore makes sure he gives his audience the requisite amount of carnage, with a major car chase, some quite impressive sequences with a helicopter, and lots and lots of guns. Some of the action sequences do employ digitally generated shots, which can be slightly jarring, not because they are poorly executed, simply that they are stylistically inconsistent with the aesthetic of the other films in the series.
I so badly wanted this movie to be good, or at least good enough, but while it had its moments and there is plenty for the fan of large-scale, explosive action, only the most blindly devoted Die Hard fan will be really satisfied with this one.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean