I’m a big fan of the 90’s. The music, the pop culture, the plaid; I like it all. One of my favourite things about that decade was the proliferation of films that could best be described as “Die Hard in _____”. For a while it seems like every action movie would fall into the template set by the 1988 classic. Speed, Under Siege, Sudden Death, Air Force One, and more films made it the new paradigm for the action genre. Then The Matrix came out and everything got all slow-mo and filled with martial arts. But the Die Hard model was still there, standing as a giant in its field, and this week saw the release of a film that copies this model almost shamelessly. And it was so much fun.
Olympus Has Fallen follows John McClane Mike Banning, a shamed secret service agent who has to defend the President, the country, and even the world when terrorists launch a devastating attack on the White House. The film’s prologue sets up the characters perfectly. The first scene finds Banning, played by Gerard Butler, boxing with Aaron Eckhart. Despite it being a practice match, neither one holds their punches. Another agent appears, and reveals that Eckhart’s character is President Ben Asher, immediately after he took a punch to the face. Asher is called away to prepare for a fancy fundraising dinner. The First Lady appears, played by Ashley Judd, who casually touts the President’s accomplishments like ending America’s dependency on foreign oil, while helping him put on a suit. Agent Banning entertains the President’s son, while at the same time displaying encyclopedic knowledge of the White House. In the first 10 minutes, it sets up Agent Banning as big hearted and a master of his profession, while President Asher is a brilliant leader, perfect family man, and a wicked hardass as well. It shows us the perfect President, and the perfect Presidential family, and then tears it apart when a freak accident forces Banning to make a horrifying decision.
At this point the film jumps ahead by eighteen months, and finds Banning working a terrible desk job at the Treasury Department after being banished from the President’s personal security detail. If only there was some way that Banning could redeem himself – like a SURPISE ASSAULT ON THE WHITE HOUSE BY TERRORITS WHO TAKE THE PRESIDENT HOSTAGE! And there you have all the plot you need to know. The actual White House assault sequence is prolonged and staggering. It is unrelenting, bloody, and visceral, and establishes Banning as a nearly super human action hero. It’s kinda awesome.
Now at this point I should probably mention the flaws of Olympus Has Fallen in an attempt to make this a balanced review. But the problem is that I don’t care about any of the film’s flaws. I don’t care about the clumsy exposition. I don’t care about fight scenes and special effects that defy physics. I don’t care about dramatic foreshadowing that goes nowhere. I don’t care about a giant plot hole or two. I don’t care about strange reversals of character motivation. I don’t care about incredibly jingoist and on-the-nose visuals. I don’t care about stiff and awkward dialogue. I don’t care about the quasi-Brooklyn accent Gerard Butler uses in an attempt to hide the Scottish while he delivers said dialogue. There’s a scene in this movie where a guy dodges an exploding helicopter, crashes through the roof, then a floor, then lands in the Lincoln Bedroom and says a one-liner. I really don’t care about clumsy exposition after seeing that.
Everyone involved in Olympus Has Fallen seems to know exactly what kind of movie they’re making. The action is big. The dialogue is quippy. The filmmakers know precisely when to shift the tone from somber and serious to fun and semi-self aware. All the actors are intense 100% of the time. Gerald Butler makes us believe he is the all-American hero. Aaron Eckhart can walk on water. Morgan Freeman especially radiates a sense of power and control that was really impressive considering that all his scenes take place in the same room. And Rick Yune perfectly plays the villainous Kang in the classic Hans Gruber mold of a slick and charming bad guy who commits horrible acts of violence, all while wearing a three piece suit.
I had a blast watching this movie. In an interesting twist, a rival film with a similar plot called White House Down is being released later this summer. If this is the first sign of the “Die Hard in a _____” genre of action film being revived, they should all take a cue from this film. Olympus Has Fallen is good old fashion fun. Go check it out, and then remember that walking across broken glass barefoot looks really badass on film.
Film Grade: B+