Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhardt, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Rick Yune, Melissa Leo
To any folks who saw A Good Day To Die Hard, and found it to be severely lacking as a Die Hard film, might I invite you all to look to Olympus Has Fallen. In the film, Gerard Butler plays Michael Banning, a former Secret Service agent who once led the security detail for the President, played by Aaron Eckhardt. When a downed tree on a snowy road leaves the presidential limousine teetering off the side of a bridge, Banning only has a few moments to save the President, but is unable to save the First Lady before the limousine plunges into an icy river. 18 Months later, Banning has since been removed from the Secret Service and has settled into a desk job at the Treasury Department, when a visit from the President of Korea leads to an all out terrorist attack on the Nation’s Capital. Without backup and limited resources, Banning must storm the White House itself to save the President.
One of Antoine Fuqua’s greatest strengths as a director is that he knows how to get right to the point. Olympus Has Fallen is an action movie, first and foremost, and there’s only going to be so much time devoted to introducing the major players before it’s time to get to the meat of the film. And best believe, the action in Olympus Has Fallen is meaty! A few spotty visual effects aside, the opening action sequence for the film is astonishing. Once the North Korean gunship flies into frame, it’s bold, audacious, and exceptionally brutal. The number of innocent bystanders that are mowed down by rapid gunfire is staggering. But to see how it evolves into a strategic ground assault on the White House lawn, it’s one of the most visceral displays of violence I’ve seen in a film in recent memory. It’s truly exhausting, and you get a lot of emotion out of everything going on. Once the action moves inside the White House, we get more than our fair share of shootouts and hand-to-hand fights that are gritty, bloody, and ultimately quite effective. There are lulls in the action, but they are few and far between. Then there’s the Hydra! I won’t spoil it for you, but all I’ll say is that it makes for a profoundly outlandish scene of carnage.
In terms of story, Olympus Has Fallen is equal parts Die Hard and 24 (we’re even reminded of the time at multiple points throughout the film), with Rick Yune as a North Korean terrorist leader named Kang, who infiltrates the South Korean government to gain entry into the White House. Once inside, several Secret Service agents are killed, as well as the Vice President, making the Speaker of the House, played by Morgan Freeman, the acting Commander-in-Chief as the whole ordeal plays out. You do get the sense that Morgan Freeman is thinking to himself, “Didn’t I have to go through something this disastrous once already?!”. The terrorists range from disposal henchmen, to tech wizards, to the cold, methodical sociopath of a leader, and they’re all appropriately ruthless. It’s your standard terrorist/hostage plot, and it certainly doesn’t stretch to break new ground. Nor should it. It knows its place in all this, and that’s to set up one outlandishly unfathomable action scene after another. Once Banning is in play, his mission is split into two parts; the first being to locate the President’s son, realizing that the terrorists could use him for leverage if they get to him first, and then move on to rescuing the President himself. Doing this helps to break the tension just a little bit, as it eventually gets difficult to watch some of the things going on in the underground bunker where the President and his cabinet are being held. One scene of the Secretary of Defense, played by Melissa Leo in another one of her incognito performances, being beaten for information, was especially gut-wrenching.
While the entire cast for the film includes a slew of heavy-hitters like Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, and Aaron Eckhardt, Olympus Has Fallen belongs to Gerard Butler, and I couldn’t be happier for the man. His career in America has been something of a slow burn with films like Dracula 2000 and Reign of Fire, but he definitely became a hot commodity with his role in 300. So it was surprising to see him starring in one atrocious romantic comedy after another. Playing For Keeps may have been his worst yet. So to see him return to action with a vengeance in Olympus Has Fallen, I couldn’t help but rejoice! Michael Banning is a serious bad-ass with the right training and “take no shit” attitude to get the job done! A few wisecracks aside, he’s not there to talk the villain’s ear off. He’s as clear and direct as you’d want your action hero to be. He’s slightly softened by his buddy relationship with the President’s son, but only just enough to make him human and relatable. The only thing I’ll knock Butler for, and it’s minor, he still struggles to suppress his native Scottish accent! But it’s so amusing to watch him try to do an American accent, because it’s so obviously not in his repertoire as an actor! As a villain, Rick Yune does so much to make Kang a despicable character with very little material. The scene in which he ruthlessly beats Melissa Leo certainly helps to sell you on just how evil he is. Beyond that, he doesn’t do much in the way of emoting, and that just makes him that much more frightening. You just can’t get a good read on him.
While the story may not be all that intricate and some of the visual effects leave much to be desired, Olympus Has Fallen still succeeds in being an effective and satisfying action thriller from start to finish. It’s a chaotic, bombastic ballet of violence that leaves nothing to the imagination. After wasting his talents on poorly-written rom-coms and sappy surfer dramas, Gerard Butler makes an electrifying return to the action genre as Michael Banning, and I almost feel like filmmakers could build a franchise around the character if they played their cards right. I’d certainly like to see him kill the mess outta more terrorists!