A film review by Craig J. Koban March 27, 2013


2013, R, 120 mins.

Banning: Gerard Butler / President: Aaron Eckhart / Trumbull: Morgan Freeman / Forbes: Dylan McDermott / Jacobs: Angela Bassett / McMillan:  Melissa Leo

Directed by Antoine Fuqua / Written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is one of the best DIE HARD films that does not have the words die hard in its title that I’ve ever seen.  

To say that the film has a fleeting resemblance to the classic 1988 action thriller that has spawned countless inferior imitators would be a gross understatement.  Yet, the job of the film critic is to tell you (a) what the film is trying to do and (b) whether or not it succeeds at that.  OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is most certainly a DIE HARD clone, but it’s a copycat that’s done with a slick and consummate hand.  Arguably, it’s more of a wickedly enjoyable John McClane adventure than, say, the recent A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, which says a lot considering the notion that it did actually contain the character of McClane.  Go figure. 

The term “Olympus” actually refers to a Secret Service code for the White House.  Before the most famous residence in the world does indeed fall, we are introduced to an intrepid Secret Service agent named Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) that has been the loyal guard and confidant of President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) for years.  Tragedy strikes early in the film that causes the death of the First Lady (Ashley Judd, in a surprisingly brief role), which causes Banning to remove himself from active duty out of grief.  Some time passes and he finds himself working in a somewhat lowly position of security man for the Treasury Department, but he secretly wishes to get back to the job he loves the most.   

Banning gets his wish, albeit inadvertently and not under his ideal circumstances.  It appears that war is imminent between North and South Korea and a delegation from the South to visit the president at the White House goes south really fast when an enemy plane manages to break through U.S. airspace (don’t ask) and starts laying down a maelstrom of bullets on the capital and eventually on White House grounds.  This is followed by a sneak attack on the ground outside the White House, during which many civilians, military personnel, and secret service agents are killed.  One of the diplomats inside, Kang (played with an hostile and penetrating stare by Rick Yune) reveals himself to be a sadistic terrorist that wants to steal secret American nuclear launch codes to enact a fiendish plan.  He and his co-conspirators manage to take the President, Secretary of Defense (a fiery and tough as nails Melissa Leo) and others to a well fortified and sealed underground bunker far beneath the White House.  If Kang does not have his demands met, he will slay the President and every other hostage. 



Well, in quintessentially McClane-like fashion, Banning manages to fight his way solo into the White House and slowly, but surely, manages to heavily arm himself, take stock of the situation, and communicate on the outside with the head of the Secret Service (Angela Bassett) and the speaker of the house and now acting president (Morgan Freeman).  Banning's plan is straightforward, albeit difficult: he needs to find the president’s son – who hid himself in the White House during the attack – and get him to safety and follow that up with saving the President’s life.  Much like what transpired at Nakatomi Plaza all those years ago, Banning engages in mini-shock-and-awe campaigns against Kang’s men, reducing their numbers one-by-one until he can more safely get to the compound and make his final strike against Kang.  Reliably, though, the terrorist mastermind has ample tricks up his sleeve. 

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN scores no points for originality.  That has been established.  Also, you can easily attack the credulity of Kang’s plan and the relatively easy manner that he and his cohorts manage to infiltrate Washington and the White House.  Clearly, the president’s home is the most heavily armed and protected in the free world, which will leave many in the audience scratching their collective heads as to the pin-point-precision and ease that Kang is able to infiltrate it.  Beyond that, the film does engage in some lame visual motifs throughout as well: seeing the Washington Monument crumble after the attack – which is sensationally rendered and frighteningly thrilling – has some obvious and unnecessary echoes of the World Trade Center towers falling on 9/11.  There are also perhaps a few too many slow-motion shots of tattered and bullet riddled American flags fallen to the ground for the film’s own good.   

Yet, despite this, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN works sensationally well as an old school, blunt force, and propulsive action film where the real delight is seeing Banning – who, by the way, is a former U.S. Army Ranger – engaging in his shadowy and clandestine mission to eradicate Kang’s men in the most satisfyingly lethal manner possible.  Butler has been really slumming as of late participating in one mindlessly dull and lame-brained romcom and drama after another since making a splash as the six-pack adorned King Leonidas in 300, so witnessing the performer return to full no-nonsense ass-kick mode – which he should have been doing all along - is a real delectable pleasure.  Butler is a believable presence as the all-American, wisecracking, and battered and bruised hero that gives out as much punishment as he receives.  Sadly, he provides precisely what Bruce Willis didn’t in the last DIE HARD entry. 

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN also marks a fine return to form for director Antoine Fuqua, who made a name for himself years earlier with TRAINING DAY and has followed that film up with a series of disposably forgettable films like KING ARTHUR, BROOKLYN’S FINEST, and SHOOTER.  Here, Fuqua understands the limitless absurdity of the film’s premise and just allows for the action and intrigue to do most of the talking.  He frames the opening terrorist attack on Washington with a pulse-pounding and unrelenting aggression (even when the CGI work is a bit spotty at times) and manages to generate moments of taut suspense showing the seemingly unstoppable Banning mow his way through Kang’s minions.  For a two-hour film, the pacing here is pretty breakneck with its epically staged shoot-outs, fistfights, and sequences of all-out hard-R rated carnage.  Even when the film wallows in overused late 80’s/early 90’s action film clichés – like a climatic big digital clock that will countdown to everyone’s doom – you’re willing to ignore them because of how enthralled and immersed you are within the film’s exhilarating mayhem. 

I should not have liked this film as much as I did.  OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is purely outrageous on an authenticity level.  However, it’s also an outrageously and surprisingly entertaining white knuckled, teeth-clenched, and blood spattered ode to classic action genre efforts.  What the film does has been done countless times before, but not with as much polish, relish, and merciless forward momentum as what’s on display here.  As a blatant DIE HARD-ian facsimile, the film works sensationally well and, oddly enough, should serve as a benchmark for the further cinematic adventures of Mr. McClane.  I’m not going to apologize for liking OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN as much as I did for what it achieves; who said all art has to be contemplative and thoughtfully rendered? 

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