‘Die Hard in the White House’ was how Olympus Has Fallen was described by most people upon its cinematic release. Just add a dash of Under Siege and The Rock, and that is pretty much spot on. Gerard Butler is the John McClane-rip-off leading a cast of familiar faces that includes Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, so expect plenty of big-action thrills but very little logic. Throw in some implausible plot points and an endless supply of deaths and you have the most brainless film of the year – and who doesn’t love brainless now and again?
Butler is Mike Banning, head of the secret service to US president Benjamin Asher (Eckhart), as well as being a friend of the family. On their way to a fundraiser during a snowstorm, the limo with the First Lady (Judd) careers off a bridge killing her, despite Banning’s best efforts. The President blames Banning and 18 months later he’s doing a boring desk job, longing to get back into the action.
Luckily for him a North Korean cargo fighter plane manages to somehow evade notice and enter US airspace. Unluckily for everyone else in front of the White House, the plane randomly and brutally shoots down those within the vicinity, with additional terrorists disguised as bin men killing at will at ground level. When the White House is eventually taken over – codenamed “Olympus Has Fallen” – and the President is subsequently captured by the assailants led by Kang (Rick Yune), demanding codes to some nuclear weapons, it is up to Banning to save the day – and all on his own.
It’s safe to say this won’t win any realism awards, but as it was mildly successful it has already won the battle with its rival White House Down, a similar blockbuster released this year which flopped in the States. And with its tongue firmly in its cheek, you can see why young adults and nostalgic grown men took to this bloody, humorous and ridiculously patriotic actioner. If the remake of Red Dawn exploited Hollywood’s latest nation hell bent on destroying the good ol’ US of A, this goes one step further in raising the xenophobia – albeit in an indirect way (the terrorists are conveniently not actually affiliated to the North Korean government).
But for all these fun elements, it still feels like an insult to your intelligence at times (how did a huge unidentified plane get so close to the US without being immediately shot down?) and in certain scenes the special effects are dire for this day and age. There are also some dreadful minor roles for a number of recognisable actors; Dylan McDermott (look at him – he’s evil!), Cole Hauser (dependably expendable like in A Good Day to Die Hard), Robert Forster (disapproving, gung-ho military man) and Angela Bassett (Banning’s director/cheerleader) to name but a few. You could really add Freeman to that list too as despite his high billing he barely has anything to do as Speaker of the House (a bit of a step down considering he was the President in Deep Impact).
As for our main hero, apart from the fact that he turns out to be a psychotic killer by mercilessly dispatching bad guys while taking pleasure from it, he’s likeable thanks Butler’s charisma. Coming out with lines like “Let’s play a game of go f*** yourself, you go first”, how can you not be charmed? Although this is somewhat counter-balanced by the laughably macho President, Eckhart taking his part a little too seriously.
Olympus Has Fallen is entertainment at its simplest by being exactly what you would expect from reading the synopsis: cheesy dialogue, unbelievable action sequences and fist-pumping whooping. As it is unashamedly aimed at action-lovers with a taste for blood, this is what Die Hard 5 should have been. And for anyone who has seen A Good Day to Die Hard, they will know that is a compliment.
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