November 2023

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

originalDIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua

CAST: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Rick Yune, Dylan McDermott, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd


Olympus Has Fallen isn’t up to the level of the original Die Hard, but together with Air Force One, it’s one of the better “Die Hard-style” action movies that have come out over the years.  In fact, it’s a better pseudo Die Hard movie than the fourth Die Hard.  Kinetic action sequences and a high violence quotient set this one above the lesser wannabes.  It’s not great filmmaking, but it’s serviceable high-stakes hardcore action that serves up a couple hours of diverting entertainment.

The plot is straightforward.  Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a cliched disgraced former “best of the best” Secret Service agent fallen out of favor after a tragic accident in which he was unable to save the wife (Ashley Judd) of the President (Aaron Eckhart), gets sucked back in, John McClane-style, when an elite force of North Korean paramilitary commandos led by Kang (Rick Yune) storm the White House and take the President and much of his staff hostage.  To the bigwigs (Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster) watching in horror from the Pentagon, Kang demands the withdrawal of US troops from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to clear the path for a Northern invasion and unification of the split Koreas.  Unsurprisingly, however, he also has an even more large-scale and destructive underlying agenda, and equally unsurprisingly, there is a traitor in the President’s midst.  Finding himself the only survivor of a shootout on the White House lawn, Banning ends up hiding inside and being a one-man fly in the ointment.

Olympus Has Fallen is hardly anything original.  It’s equal parts Die Hard and Air Force One, with all the cliched plot staples accounted for.  The one-man ass-kicking hero has cat-and-mouse fights with an army of henchmen in rooms and corridors.  As in Air Force One, there is a treacherous Secret Service agent (Dylan McDermott).  There’s the impatient General (Robert Forster) who mounts a foolhardy mission to retake the building that turns into a fiasco.  There’s the concerned wife (Radha Mitchell) who watches from afar.  Antoine Fuqua indulges in corny shots of the American flag flapping proudly in the breeze as dramatic music swells, and later falling to the ground in slow motion that’s more likely to induce eye-rolling than pathos.

42-Olympus-has-fallenBut while Olympus Has Fallen deals in cliches from beginning to end, it at least sometimes elevates them.  The initial terrorist attack that seizes the White House is well-coordinated.  I’m not sure how plausible it is, but the movie does an effective  job of seeming convincing on its own terms, making the suspension of disbelief lower than it is for some films of this type.  Banning is ex-special forces, so it’s not overly contrived that he happens to have Jason Bourne levels of lethal fighting skills.  The President’s son (Finley Jacobsen) seems all set to be an annoying precocious child sidekick, but in a pleasant surprise, the movie avoids this and keeps his role a minor one.  The villain, Kang, is no Hans Gruber (but who is?), but like Hans and Gary Oldman in Air Force One, he ups the stakes a little by proving that he has no hesitation about executing hostages.  The violence is surprisingly graphic, almost as hardcore as the original Die Hard, and while Gerard Butler doesn’t have the charisma of Bruce Willis, Mike Banning is more brutal than John McClane.  Whether snapping necks or stabbing skulls with deadly efficiency, or using a knife to extract information from a captured henchman, Banning’s lack of pussyfooting around is kind of refreshing in today’s age of oversanitized PG-13 thrillers.  Like Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen is deservedly rated R, and it’s nice to see an action thriller that feels like it has some balls and doesn’t water itself down to get a lower rating.

Gerard Butler’s air of dour grim determination isn’t especially charismatic, but he’s serviceable at opening a one-man can of whoop-ass.  Banning isn’t much for the wisecracks and one-liners, but he brutally dispatches enough bad guys to make up for it.  Aaron Eckhart is effective as the captive President, though his role consists mainly of defiantly growling some “we will not negotiate!”-style lines and getting slapped around a little.  As these kinds of villains go, Rick Yune doesn’t have the panache of Alan Rickman or Gary Oldman, but his Kang is cool-headed, smart, and ruthless, which are nice qualities in a bad guy.  As the secondary villain, Dylan McDermott’s treacherous Secret Service agent is weaselly enough to make us anticipate his comeuppance, arguably more than Kang’s.  Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, and Robert Forster sit around the Pentagon looking serious and concerned and discuss the situation, standard-issue thankless supporting roles for this kind of movie.  In other supporting roles, we have Melissa Leo as a feisty hostage, Cole Hauser in a small role as a Secret Service agent, and Ashley Judd in basically an opening cameo.  Radha Mitchell has the thankless role of Banning’s wife watching from afar, who seems so superfluous that I kept expecting the terrorists to kidnap her to give her some relevance to the story, but it never happened.  Her character could have been left on the cutting room floor without significantly changing anything about the movie.

Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t do anything terribly original or surprising, but it fulfills the expectations of this kind of movie with more of a kinetic kick and more hardcore violence than some lesser entries.  It delivers what it promises, two hours of testosterone-stimulating and adrenaline-pumping action, with a few big special effects, Gerard Butler kicking ass and taking names, and some stuff blowing up.  It’s not as good as the original Die Hard, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Olympus Has Fallen is a worthy runner-up.

* * *