Be honest. Your first thought when you saw the trailer for Olympus Has Fallen was oh, this is just Die Hard at the White House, right? If only it was a straight up rip-off, this could have been a thrilling start to a new franchise instead of the seriously flawed action film we get in its place.
And fair or not, I expected a lot more from a film boasting a cast of Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight Rises), Angela Bassett (Green Lantern), Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and Robert Forster (Jackie Brown).
Butler plays Mike Banning, head of the Secret Service detail for President Asher (Eckhart). An on-the-job tragedy leads to Banning being reassigned to a desk job and keeping up on White House happenings from his former boss Lynn Jacobs (Bassett). He finds himself dramatically forced back into action when a group of North Korean terrorists (led by Rick Yune, Die Another Day) storm the White House, kidnap Asher and his top aides, leaving Speaker of the House Trumbull (Freeman) as the acting president.
The film has a dream cast with Oscar winners Freeman, Forster and Leo and Oscar nominee Bassett, but they’re all in paper-thin supporting roles and deserve better. Eckhart at least has a bit more to work with and delivers his dependably solid performance.
Director Antoine Fuqua has made his reputation for making smart, action-packed films around dynamic characters (Training Day, Tears of the Sun and Brooklyn’s Finest) and under his guidance, the action scenes are stark, brutal and unflinching in portraying the consequences of violent actions. When the invaders mercilessly kill White House staffers, it’s as unsettling as it is morbidly satisfying to watch Banning stab, shoot and otherwise incapacitate them. And the smashing of the Washington Monument seems intended solely to pluck at 9-11 memories raising the question of if we’re supposed to find that entertaining?
Debuting screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt have the 80′s action hero against the odds format down pat. They know how to make Banning come across like the man, but they can’t figure out a way to do that without consistently making every other character look like a moron such as the Secret Service agents who think they’re bullet proof, the general who ignores Banning’s sensible advice or the bad guys dropping their brains whenever Banning comes around. While Fuqua wants to make Olympus a serious action film, the screenwriters are happily content to make an insultingly stupid summer blockbuster. It’s the kind of script that would make Michael Bay proud.
Trevor Morris’ score is a little too rah rah, go USA! and unnecessary. It’s not like the audience needs to be prompted to root against the bad guys in this setting.
Despite these issues, the film finds some fun when it sticks to the basics — letting Banning take out any obstacle in his way to rescuing Asher and letting Butler channel his inner-John McClane.
This is a perfect showcase for Butler, who has tried for years to show his versatility in some dismal romantic comedies and dramas. But as he proves here, action films are his niche and there’s nothing wrong in being typecast as a kick-tail action hero.
Dumb as it may be at times, I still liked Olympus Has Fallen well enough, but I’m pretty sure I would have loved it with a smarter script.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Check out my other reviews, including “Spring Breakers” here.