“Olympus Has Fallen” – Wait, This Isn’t Die Hard?

Originally published for The Alternative Chronicle

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The Die Hard film series is (or used to be) about one tough, no-nonsense, wisecrackin’ guy fighting against a group of terrorists. Last month, the fifth installment of that franchise was thrust upon us. It was pretty bad. The new film, Olympus Has Fallen, could easily have been another Die Hard movie. It too features a tough, no-nonsense, wisecrackin’ guy fighting against a group of terrorists but this time, it’s at The White House but this would have made a way better sequel than that A Good Day to Die Hard nonsense.

Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning: a former Presidential Guard who has been pushed into a desk job after The President’s wife is killed in an accident. He wants desperately to get back into action. He won’t have to wait long. During a meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister, The White House is taken over and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself a hostage of a Korean terrorist group led by Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune). In the chaos of the siege, Mike manages to get into The White House and soon becomes the only man on the inside who can take down the bad guys.

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If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from Olympus Has Fallen, it’s that The White House is actually pretty damn easy to take over. Dozens upon dozens of Secret Service agents are gunned down until their bodies are literally piled in heaps on The White House steps. There are quite a few casualties on the terrorists’ side as well but it actually takes a full fifteen minutes for any outside help to arrive and by then, the terrorists already have their feet propped up in the oval office. This isn’t the only improbable event in the film but they’re all fairly easy to look over. And of course, being a film about an American fighting non-American’s in one of America’s most sacred American landmarks, there’s a fair amount of jingoism at play but not enough to really become nauseating.

These are minor, easily forgiven quibbles though. The film as a whole is wildly entertaining and moves at a brisk enough pace that its minor flaws can be forgotten quickly or missed entirely. It’s wonderful to finally see Gerard Butler playing the kick-ass action hero again after his disastrous foray into romantic comedies. He handles the action and one-liners with confidence and looks right at home in the role. It also helps that he’s surrounded by a good cast that includes Morgan FreemanAngela Bassett, and Melissa Leo. Eckhart doesn’t do much beyond play Aaron Eckhart as President but Rick Yune, while perhaps not as memorable as a Hans Gruber, is a sinister enough villain to root against.

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While the script isn’t anything to sing about, Antoine Fuqua directs it well enough. Much like the original Die Hard, the action is fierce, violent and bloody with splattering headshots and snapping necks a-plenty. They shake things up from being purely a gun fest by throwing in fist fights and stealthy take-downs as well. There are more than a few moments of great intensity that keeps it all feeling dangerous. One scene in particular, where the villains beat a woman half to death, is especially harrowing. Fuqua also has enough sense to never get too over-the-top with the action so there’s no jet plane surfing or motorcycle parachuting here. However, the fight scenes sometimes fall back on the quick editing, shaky camera, and dim lighting that we’ve unfortunately become accustomed to. On the other hand, I do have to give respect to the film for not relying on the “annoying child and/or innocent wife in danger” trope when they very easily could have.

So if, like me, you were let down by John McClane‘s recent cinematic venture, I’d highly recommend Olympus Has Fallen as a suitable substitute. Even if you did like AGDTDH (what a ridiculous, hard to say acronym), or if you’re just a fan of action movies, you’ll find a lot to like here. Those who demand realism need not apply.

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