Olympus Has Fallen is the ultimate jingoistic American action movie. It’s a big, dumb, xenophobic propaganda picture scraped together from the bits and pieces of every Die Hard-wannabe, from Under Siege to Sudden Death. The first of this year’s White House movies, Antoine Fuqua’s ridiculously violent and utterly formulaic explosion-fest wears its “Die Hard in a White House” tag as a badge of honor, and then some. While it qualifies as passable entertainment and is a much better Die Hard movie than last month’s A Good Day to Die Hard, that’s damning with faint praise.
Opening with a shot of the American flag ripped straight out of Saving Private Ryan, Fuqua’s movie swiftly runs through the exposition, introducing us to square-jawed President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his BFFL, equally square-jawed Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerald Butler). After a mission goes terribly wrong (when doesn’t it!), Banning leaves the Secret Service in disgrace and is forced to work a desk job at, wait for it… the Treasury Department. Eighteen months go by but Mike’s chance at proving his manhood finally falls into his lap. An army of North Korean terrorists invades the White House, mowing down the entire secret service, blowing up the Washington Memorial, and incinerating fat tourists on the White House lawn. Since Banning is the only guy who survives (natch!), it’s up to him to impale the Asian terrorists, crunch their bones, and save the POTUS, one quip at a time.
Speaking of quips, they aren’t half bad – as long as they’re being delivered by Butler. Butler, who’s spent a good half of the last decade starring in rom-com dreck is a natural at playing these merciless action hero types (300, Law Abiding Citizen) and has a lot of fun playing the ruthless Banning. Despite this, he doesn’t register much outside the meathead stuff since screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt don’t give his character any dimensionality, or originality for that matter.
And that issue is the biggest one plaguing Olympus Has Fallen – a lack of anything original. There’s not a single moment in this film that doesn’t feel like it was lifted from previously produced hostage/action movie. There’s the washed up hero who gets a second shot at redemption and saves the day. There’s the scene where the hero calls his wife to tell her how much he loves her. There’s a cute kid who needs rescuing. We have the disposable executive staff members waiting to be killed by the terrorists as negotiating pawns. There’s also the treacherous staff member who betrays the hero. Finally, there’s the requisite dimly-lit Crisis Room sequence where a bunch of big name character actors (and extras) hover around an over-lit table looking concerned, smoking cigarettes and fighting with each other. The number of cliches on display in this movie almost qualify it as a parody.
Fuqua is a competent filmmaker who has proven in the past that he has the chops to make some strong material (Training Day) but with Olympus Has Fallen, it feels as if he’s going through the motions, putting in time for the paycheck. There’s no creativity to the way he shoots interior locations – and for a film set mostly in the confines of the White House, this is a monumental failure. There’s no sense of location or place in this film. Every scene seems to have been shot in the same room – from a different angle. That reason is perhaps why Rothenberger and Benedikt insist on dropping in time and location stamps every 10 minutes in the movie. Additionally, every action scene is shot in close-up and is rapidly cut, leaving the viewer with a sense of disorientation when trying to figure out what’s happening.
Olympus Has Fallen is far from an abomination on the level of last month’s fifth Die Hard movie. In fact, if push comes to shove, I’d even admit that it qualifies as harmless brainless fun. What’s unforgivable though is its shameless derivative nature, its overt seriousness, and naturally, its blatant ripping off of Die Hard and all its clones from Air Force One to Speed to Passenger 57.