“Olympus Has Fallen” Movie Review

     The first of the White House under attack films this year, Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen”, follows the “Die Hard” formula so closely that I wonder why this script wasn’t altered to become what was “A Good Day To Die Hard” earlier this year.  Fuqua’s film is better, but it suffers immensely from a lack of originality as the plot is predictable and the narrative structure has no surprises if you’re familiar with this type of fare.  For many, “Olympus” will serve as escapist entertainment and may even invoke those familiar patriotic emotions people like to pretend they have when convenient.  Since I expect quite a bit more from movies, I typically dismiss these types of action pictures not for what they do well, but for what they sorely lack.

     I am quite relieved Gerard Butler (“300”) is back to his roots after starring in a slew of lame romantic comedies over the past several years.  Butler fills the role of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning quite nicely.  He also finds himself surrounded by a stellar group of veteran actors such as Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and Angela Bassett to name a few.  Along with Fuqua’s (“Training Day”, “Shooter”) presence behind the camera, “Olympus” has a lot going for it.  The action sequences are handled with all of the skill and precision you’d expect from Fuqua and the characters inhabiting these scenes do a fine job.  Leo’s performance as the Secretary of Defense is particularly gritty.  The building blocks are definitely all here, but as always, the film fails miserably in the script department, mostly due to the blatant “Die Hard” rip off.

     Banning (Butler) is the lead agent on President Benjamin Asher’s (Eckhart) protection team.  On a snowy night in Camp David, Asher is en route via convoy to a fund raiser when disaster strikes.  Vehicles within the convoy lose control and the President’s vehicle crashes through the guard railing of a bridge which overlooks a lake far below.  Banning desperately tries to save the President with the car teeters over the edge, as the President is also trying to free the First Lady, Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd).  As the car begins to fall over, Banning has to save the President, and the First Lady falls to her death.  Similar to the circumstances surrounding the Clint Eastwood character in “In The Line Of Fire”, Banning is consumed by guilt and is reassigned per the President because he would serve as a constant reminder for that tragic night.

     Years later in present day, a North Korean terrorist group conducts a full scale attack on the White House.  Banning finds himself as the only one alive inside and the President and his staff are being held hostage in a bunker under the White House.  Surrounding military units are told they can’t make a rescue attempt, or else, and the situation looks grim.  The initial attack by both air and ground against the White House is quite a spectacle to behold.  Fuqua has no problem directing pulse pounding action set pieces and the taking of the White House is the best 15 minutes of the entire film by far.

     As Banning moves throughout the blacked out hallways, killing various terrorist henchmen in every violent and gory manner possible, a meeting of minds at the Pentagon is also going on and they learn Banning is inside.  Banning finds the President’s satellite phone and is able to remain in constant contact with Speaker of the House Trumbull (Freeman), who is now the acting President.  The conclusion is not a nail biter.  The terrorists objective deals with nuclear weapons codes and the destruction of the United States, nothing we haven’t seen before.  Because the film is following an obvious formula, you’re not exactly wiping the sweat off your brow when all ends well.

     The plot similarities include Banning meeting up with a person who he does not suspect to be the enemy (think McClane and Hans Gruber sharing a cigarette in “Die Hard”) during a break between battles.  Also, the Pentagon forces the issue and makes a rescue attempt involving Navy Seals, even though Banning and the terrorists warn them not to.  As was the case in “Die Hard”, the terrorists are well prepared for such an attempt.  The similarities are aplenty and there are many more, but I feel no need to go into them any further.  “Olympus Has Fallen” is a well crafted film, made with the contributions of top flight talent both in front of and behind the camera, yet it always has that “been there, done that” feel as the film continually conjures up images of the “Die Hard” franchise’s better days. GRADE: C