Remember those big 1980s rah-rah action movies? You know, like when the Soviets invaded Colorado in Red Dawn? What about Rambo refighting and winning the Vietnam War for us in First Blood Part II? Well, those were just friendly dust-ups compared to the monumental Olympus Has Fallen. Die Hard in the White House (like literally it has almost all the same story) comes out this Friday and trust me when I say this movie is going to blow…away a lot of anti-American bad guys.
Embracing its throwback silliness, Olympus Has Fallen begins with Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) playing Apollo Creed to the president’s Rocky Balboa in a friendly boxing match. Sure, Mike is technically a high-level member of the elite United States Secret Service and charged with the safety of the Commander-in-Chief. But really, he is more like a live-in uncle. He bros around with President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) in the gym and mentors young Connor Asher (Finley Jacobsen) about not playing video game shooters, lest he spoils this film’s plot for himself. It is a good thing he is so involved too, because First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd) is not going to make it out of the opening prologue. It seems all wives and fiancés of Aaron Eckhart politicians are not long for this world. President Asher takes it better than Harvey Dent did, at least.
Eighteen months after a tragic accident costs Mike his job and peace of mind, more tragedy gets him off his security desk. Despite living with perfectly bland girlfriend, Leah (Radha Mitchell), Mike still goes by the White House everyday. This passion is a good thing because when South Korea’s prime minister comes to visit, all Hell breaks loose as Asian tourists literally start putting down their cameras and pulling out ASSAULT RIFLES. I wonder how Chief Justice Roberts feels about the D.C. gun prohibition now? Of course, an assault on the White House’s front door would be ridiculous…if not for the aerial skills of some suicidal North Koreans who open fire not only on the White House, but also upon every last square inch of the National Mall. Truly, we have come a long way from 9/11 when the sight of an airplane mowing down families and monuments is again considered a light entertainment. Still, they had to get some of that Roland Emmerich sight-seeing annihilation in there (incidentally, Emmerich has his own Die Hard in the White House movie coming out this summer with Channing Tatum).
Ultimately, turning D.C. into a warzone is merely a diversion for the South Korean security agent (Rick Yune) to reveal himself as a master North Korean terrorist. With the help of obvious Secret Service turncoats and other conspiratorial forces, he has trapped himself in the bunker under the White House with Asher, the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) and a basically nameless vice president. He will hold them hostage while extracting the codes to our nuclear weapons unless…Gerard Butler stops them.
Olympus Has Fallen is such a bloody absurd premise that it is never quite clear if it is meant to be a self-aware comedy or not. Butler gets plenty of intentional tough guy groaners when barking at his superiors on the phone, including Angela Bassett in a thankless role and Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House/acting POTUS, or when smashing a terrorist’s head open with the Lincoln Bust in the Oval Office. Even so, I am not sure if we are supposed to take it seriously or not. At times, it is hard to believe this movie is directed by Antoine Fuqua. Once the amazingly promising talent behind Training Day (2001), Fuqua made a series of forgettable action flicks about tough guys on a mission like Tears of the Sun (2003) and King Arthur (2004). Yet, I never got the sense before that he viewed his screenplay as pitifully as we do. Written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, Olympus Has Fallen is about as shameless a copy of the Die Hard formula as one can imagine. There are literally exact scenes from the 1988 classic lifted into this, such as Mike getting lippy with Yune’s head terrorist via walkie talkie, the hero sharing a smoke with a duplicitous enemy and the superiors stupidly ignoring his advice when they send armed forces into a situation of which they have no understanding.
The incredibly star studded cast does well with the B-material. Gerard Butler brings all the snarling charisma of King Leonidas, along with an unconvincing American accent, to the role of Mike Banning. Eckhart likewise resurrects his persona from the first half of The Dark Knight (2008) to give Asher an air of All-American nobility. Unfortunately, their roles are not really drawn beyond those broad parameters because they are not the stars of the movie. That part really belongs to the action for which Fuqua does bring his A-game. The scene of the Korean baddies storming the White House’s South Lawn is bound to be a Spike TV guilty pleasure for years to come. The level of fiery spectacle and violence is only eclipsed by how easily Mike survives it all. It probably helps that he is the only one who’s mastered the covering mechanics of the gameplay while the rest of the Secret Service stands around waiting to be slaughtered like the oblivious NPCs from Nintendo 64 days. Speaking of dated gaming influences, the action on the lawn is so kinetic and intense that it is a shame the aerial fighting and monument destroying visuals are composed by such badly rendered CGI.
One great set piece aside, the rest of the movie plays out how you might expect. There are some Third Act twists, but nothing that will really surprise an audience. Mike needs to save Connor, the strangely docile president and the country from Yune’s true nefarious scheming. Sadly, there is not much here to quicken the pulse or raise a heartbeat despite all the carnage Fuqua throws at the screen. Maybe North Koreans just aren’t as scary as the Soviets seemed? Whatever the reasons, Olympus Has Fallen will likely work for those extremely disappointed with A Good Day to Die Hard, because this is at least a better follow-up to the previous McClane adventures than that train wreck. Then again, that is not saying a whole lot. Best to cut spending of your budget and give this movie the veto.
Den of Geek Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars