As mentioned before, this has been something of a rough year for the movies, both critically and commercially, especially the action genre, the most successful venture of which was the depressingly bad A Good Day to Die Hard. That said, with March movie season underway, many hope this trend will turn around soon, and through Oz the Great and Powerful, for whatever faults the movie may have, has injected some life to the previously stillborn box office, another hit or two will be needed to truly turn things around. One such film looking to help do it is today’s film for review, which is also the first of two movies this year about terrorist attacks on the White House, Olympus Has Fallen.Directed by Anton Fuqua and starring Gerald Butler, both of whom, have been looking to get out of a slump they’d been stuck in for the last few years, the movie also stars the likes of Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune and Angela Bassett, and advertised itself as Die Hard in the White House – something that had be chomping at the bit, as, at the very least, I’m sure it couldn’t be any worse than Die Hard in Moscow proved to be. Intrigued by the trailers, and a long-time fan of much of the cast, it didn’t take much convincing for me to buy a ticket.
So, do we have a flag-waving, fist-pumping action thriller, or is this Die Hard-in-the-White House just as disappointing as the last few people to occupy it? Hail to the Chief and pass the ammunition my dear readers, now join me as I review Olympus Has Fallen.
The movie opens with Secret Service agent Mike Banning, head of the President’s security detail, forced to make an impossible choice on a snowy night, when he only manages to save the President from his limo, leaving two agents and the First Lady to plunge to their deaths as a consequence. Eighteen months later, dealing with both depression and a desk job at the Treasury, Banning is forced into action yet again after the events of a day that has brought DC to its knees – a deep-cover assault team from North Korea has taken the President hostage, after a bloody assault on the White House, with the aim of forcing a withdrawal of US forces from the 38th Parallel. Of course, Banning isn’t going to let them do so without a fight, as he wages a one-man war to take back the White House.
The selling point of Die Hard in the White House is an apt one – if you’ve ever seen the original Die Hard or any of its sequels, clones and rip-offs, many of the tropes and clichés immortalized by the film pop up here – however, it either does so with such sincerity or from a new angle that the familiar ground tread is still enthralling, and at times, it actually flips the cliches on thier heads. First-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt are not going to win any awards for originality, but I’d be lying if their script provides some cheer and chuckle worthy moments that elevate the film above being a mere Die Hard clone – plus, making North Korea a threat is no small achievement, to say nothing of making the more absurd elements of the plot more believable. Topped off with a brisk pace, and intense from the initial assault to the final showdown, the result is a crowd-pleaser, clichés aside.
Of course, this is further helped by a well-cast and developed group of characters that the film actually dedicates the first twenty or thirty minutes of the film to fleshing them out and humanizing them, providing some personal stakes to the following hour of non-stop action. Of course, the best of the bunch is headliner Gerald Butler, whom as ex-Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, channels his best John McClane, and proves better at it than Bruce Willis at recapturing that same smart mouth one-man army that spawned a subgenre, with a touch for interrogation and brutality that would make Jack Bauer pause. With snark, a smile and plenty of guts and gutso, Butler reminds us why, until he wasted the last few years doing romantic comedies, many thought him to be the next big action star, and here he proves he still may be.
The rest of the cast delivers just as much, and one of the movies strengths is the supporting cast does magnificently making their characters memorable, no matter how cliché some may be. Aaron Eckhart, as President Benjamin Asher, rises from the pack of movie Presidents by grace of the film taking the time to make him more relatable and human, as well as some choice lines and Eckhart’s own force of presence. Morgan Freeman is his ever charismatic self as Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull, who struggles between his loyalties to the President and the duties of being the acting-President, and Angela Bassett carries herself well as Lynne Jacobs, head of the secret service – one wishes she’d brought this to her take on Amanda Waller. Best of the rest however, is Rick Yune, as the sadistic North Korean terrorist Kang, who makes a fine villain, proving delightfully slimy and hate-worthy throughout the film, in the fine Gruber tradition. Between this and Man with the Iron Fists, I may finally be able to forgive him for Die Another Day.
Along with the stellar cast, it benefits greatly from having Antoine Fuqua at the helm, as the film benefits from his best directorial effort since Training Day, pushing the R-rating to its limit, as well as approaching the cinematography with a master’s touch best seen through the set pieces, with DC and a White House stand-in so detailed you can’t help but wince as the battle sees the Executive Mansion turned into a warzone. And what a warzone it is – the film features old school action which, continuing on the recent trend set by movies like the Expendables movies and Dredd, is grounded in realism and tactics and pack a punch thanks to the amount of carnage and gore. The result is a brutal cinematic spectacle with quite a few memorable moments.
Overall, I’m surprised at just how good Olympus Has Fallen proved to be – it was a better Die Hard movie than last month’s Die Hard movie, a better Red Dawn jingoistic romp than last November’s Red Dawn remake, and along with a heavy injection of 24 along the way, thanks to strong direction, a sharp script, and a cast that just sells the hell out of the film, it manages to be as entertaining as it is derivative. While it is undeniably cliché, it’s still the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in 2013.
While I will admit, it’s not the most original film, and one you certainly need to not think about too much, thanks to a skilled director, a smarter than average script, a fun concept and a very invested cast all selling the hell out of the concept, it’s an adrenaline-laced, bombastic and brutal action film that will please any and all who see it. It’s easily the best action film of 2013 so far, and one that should leave the folks behind the similar White House Down very worried – this will be one tough act to follow. Regardless, if you’re itching for action, or are looking for a thriller worthy of Presidential proportions, Olympus Has Fallen is well worth the price of admission.