Director: Antoine Fuqua
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 6/10
Let the siege of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue begin! This year features no less then three films that involve the take over of the White House by terrorist forces. In June, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down follows a Secret Service agent who must save the President of the United States. In next week’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, COBRA takes control of the White House and it’s up to the Joes to save the President of the United States. However, first out of the gate is Antonine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen wherein a former Secret Service agent is tasked with saving the President of the United States. Similar to the years of volcanoes and asteroids, the first film sets the tone for the rest that follows. Will the former be better than the latter or will be the other way around? Olympus Has Fallen is off to a somewhat shaky but decent start.
This is a Die Hard/Air Force One/24 mash up that takes place in the White House. You have your lone hero, a President held hostage and a race against the clock. It’s fairly formulaic and unoriginal but in the hands of Fuqua it surprisingly does work in a way. This film feels more like a Die Hard film than A Good Day to Die Hard could ever hope to be. It doesn’t hide from its roots and you may snicker at the blatant Die Hard/Air Force One moments that come up from time to time. One example is when our hero has a run in with one of the villains that plays very much like the first meeting of McClane and Gruber. Fuqua is able to keep a decent pace that despite having many action scenes that seem to end before they start the film is never dull. The highlight of the film is the siege of the White House. It is a symphony of blood-shed and explosions that continues to escalate from one event to the next.
While cut from the same cloth as Die Hard the film plays like a film version of 24 less the ticking clock. On screen text appears noting the time and also appears to name the key players like the Vice President or the Secretary of State. All that was missing was Jack Bauer. As written it did seem like they were trying to make Banning the Secret Service equivalent of John McClane. The one-liners were probably thrown in to add some levity to the proceedings but they were ultimately forgettable.
When dealing with a formulaic action film it does help to have a cast to at least elevate the material. Fortunately Fuqua has gathered an all-star cast that does just that. Gerard Butler is solid as Banning, a one-man wrecking machine who really is a badass. Aaron Eckert is fine as the President yet reminiscent of Ford’s President Marshall. Rick Yune fairs better here as the villain then he did in the Bond film Die Another Day. Throw in Melissa Leo, Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster, Angela Bassett and you have a pretty convincing set of characters. Melissa Leo is a stand out. Unfortunately, one actor’s appearance early in the film pretty much telegraphed his involvement later on and it turns out was the weakest part of the film. The characters, despite their familiarity, are engaging thanks in part to the actors. If you couldn’t buy the actors in their roles this probably could have been as bad as that McClane film in Russia.
Overall, despite its flaws the film still works. Action fans will eat it up and the less discerning of audiences will likely enjoy it. You clearly want to check your brain at the door otherwise you may find yourself picking up on plot holes of which there are quite a few. If it weren’t such a cookie-cutter product this probably would have been a much better film but when you can out Die Hard the latest Die Hard well that’s saying something.