Olympus Has Fallen (2013) – A Review

Olympus Has Fallen Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen

If anyone had any doubt that 1988’s Die Hard hasn’t been the most influential action film in the last twenty-five years, you only need to look at the assembly line of knock off movies it has inspired.

It created a blueprint for action films to follow. A single location. An army of bad guys. Hostages. And a lone hero trying to save them. The single location might change from film to film, but the rest pretty much stays the same.

Even after all these years that Die Hard-blueprint is still being used in not one, but TWO big-budget films from this past year. AND both of them have their lone heroes in the midst of a terrorist takeover in the White House. It was bound to happen at some point I suppose.

Olympus Has Fallen has the more intriguing title compared to White House Down. It’s just a little bit more serious and cooler sounding. It’s essentially the same story though.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the top secret service agent protecting President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and the first family. He’s much beloved, respected and gets along with the President’s son Conner (Finley Jacobsen).

Then one snowy night on the way home from Camp David there’s a car accident. Banning manages to save the President, but First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashely Judd) is killed. Banning feels responsible, the President doesn’t want to be reminded of the tragedy, so Banning leaves for a less stellar job at the Treasury Department.

Bassett and Freeman strategize

Fast forward eighteen months, South Korean diplomats are visiting the White House when guerrilla forces from North Korea led by terrorist Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune) attack and kill every agent and soldier within sight and seize the President’s pad. All hope is lost and the Prez looks like he’s in major trouble. Except Banning manages to sneak inside and becomes a rogue element in the bad guys plan.

From there the action cliché boxes are ticked off – a threatening villain, a seemingly perfect plan unspooling, hostages being executed, communicating through walkie-talkies, a roomful of the ‘people in charge’ debating and lecturing the hero, the thankless role of the concerned wife, the ticking clock, a bad guy acting like an ally, saving the kid. It’s all familiar stuff and here it’s all extremely forgettable.

The one thing that distinguishes these Die Hard-type of movies from each other is the location. Let’s see how the location is utilized and exploited to give us some uniquely staged action scenes. Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t do much with that. The action could be unfolding in some random mansion and I would never have known the difference.

The most exciting sequence is the initial takeover of the White House. Director Antoine Fuqua makes the sequence unfold with an aerial attack followed by a ground assault. It’s exciting, violent stuff and fairly well-staged.

It’s the only point where the film gets to destroy some DC landmarks (that’s a standard thing to do in movies today – you got to lay some recognizable structures to ruins) and it gets to have some fun with wide aerial views of the chaos unfolding in the nations capital.

“I’m going to save you kid, cuz I’m a good guy.”

Other than that one portion of the film there’s not much else here. The story is inconsequential. All you really need to know are the bad guys are bad and the stakes are pretty high. No more needs to be said.

All the actors just go through the motions. Butler is adequate in the action role. I’ve never been too crazy about the guy, but he’s certainly better in this type of role than those insipid romantic comedies he was making for awhile.

Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Basset, Robert Forster, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, yeah they’re in the movie, they play the uninspired standard roles you would expect to see and do nothing special in it at all.

I had hoped this might have been an entertaining dumb Saturday night popcorn flick. Nothing extraordinary, but effective for what it was designed to be. Instead it’s a very tired actioner that offers nothing original and what’s here is stuff we’ve seen countless times before that’s been done much, much better.

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5 Responses

  1. I agree 100%: what is really significant is that this was much better than A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, which I'm sure you will agree practically trashed the character, if not the franchise. If Willis does make a sixth film, he should just call it OLD HABITS DIE HARD.

    As for OHF, I enjoyed it for what it was: a DIE HARD clone, although this time there was an overly-patriotic stance…something tells me this is better than WHITE HOUSE DOWN, which I haven't seen yet, but oh well. How many times did you think of DIE ANOTHER DAY while watching Yune as the villain? My favorite bit: Dylan McDermott's character noting how the Government is owned (Wall Street) and begins guessing at the price tag for the presidency.

    • I guess if pressed I prefer OHF over White House Down. At least OHF tried to be a more serious story and pulled it off better than WHD's over-the-top cheesy take on the same premise. I would agree I liked BOTH of them better than A Good Day To Die Hard too! Man what an embarrassment to the franchise that movie is…..

  2. John Jamele says:

    I watched this film on a transatlantic flight, and had to desperately try to suppress my laughter so as not to disturb my fellow travelers. What really cracked me up was the thirty minutes or so in which the White House was captured by terrorists- I lost count, but it seemed like thirty or more secret service agents ran out of the WH in groups of two or three at a time, struck poses in the open, and got shot by the well-protected terrorists. At one point, I wondered if the entire film was going to be people running out of the WH to provide targets for the terrorists to pick off. The first "chase" scene in the last Die Hard movie wasn't as tedious.

  3. spaceodds says:

    Saw this recently on blu-ray, and the only positive thing about this film is the fact that its, like others have mentioned, not as bad as A Good Day To Die Hard, which for me is a tragedy. Olympus Has Fallen is yet another Die Hard knock off, and after twenty odd years Speed still remains the best Die Hard knock off yet. The fact that Olympus Has Fallen is better then the last two films of the great original series is worrisome since the film is very forgettable and if made a decade ago, it was a films that should've gone straight to DVD.

    Olympus Has Fallen pretty much plays by the numbers, its very unimaginative, and has the worst CGI I have probably seen this year, and yet I was pretty much expecting this film to be all those things, why? Because its produced by Millennium Films, the penny pinching mini studio that have created such films as Rambo, The Expendables franchise and the atrocious Conan remake. Millennium have pretty much become the Cannon Films of our generation, and Olympus Has Fallen further proves this with its shoddy CGI and 80s throwback mentality. However unlike Cannon Films, which were responsible for keeping Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson busy throughout the 1980s, Millennium actually has had some box office hits, and Olympus Has Fallen is another further in their cap.

  4. Capt Nemo says:

    If Die Hard movies were wines, Die Hard would definitely be the Champagne of the bunch. The Under Seige movies would be the red wine with the superior vintage. Air Force One the white wine.

    Sounds like this movie is the wine that comes with the screwable cap.

    It is true that Die Hard provided a blue print for others to follow. But as of late, they have finally found a new take on the old idea. Basically, they invert the formula.

    In a normal Die Hard movie, terrorists sneek-in, they hold hostages, they lock down the building, and they fight of the intial storm of good guys. But the one good guy they missed slowly, but surely, undermines their efforts.

    Now they have "The Raid" type movies. Instead of terrorists sneaking in, they have them already in control of the building. The good guys are the ones to sneak in and try to take of the building. But they ultimately fail and there original entrance is blocked so they need to fight their way out of the building.

    "Dredd" with the first film to knock off this idea. I expect others to come. Maybe the next movie will have American special forces caught in a North Korean palace but suddenly find themselves locked in.

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