Terrorists have taken over many things in the movies- skyscrapers, airliners, cruise ships, even whole countries. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun, Shooter) adds the White House to that list in his latest action-thriller Olympus Has Fallen. It’s a solid effort, with some brutal violence and some nifty special effects (a collapsing Washington Monument stands out, after it’s clipped by a crashing airplane) and a terrific cast including Gerard Butler (300, Law Abiding Citizen), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Morgan Freeman (Oblivion, Deep Impact), and Rick Yune (Die Another Day) as the main villain. Basically, the movie plays out as Die Hard in the White House (which is how it was undoubtedly pitched to studio executives), though it’s not quite as jokey, though Butler’s character of Mike Banning does fire off a quip or two.
The plot plays out with no real twists. Mike Banning is a Secret Service agent assigned to the President of the United States, Benjamin Asher (Eckhart). On a snowy evening and while en route to a fundraising party, an incident occurs that leaves Mike shaken. Disgraced, he leaves Secret Service and goes to work in the Treasury Department. While greeting a delegation from South Korea, the White House comes under swift attack by a group of terrorists, and Banning manages to get inside while aiding other Secret Service agents in trying to fend off the attackers. He becomes the President’s best hope for survival after the President is taken hostage. From there the Die Hard formula is more or less followed, including an exploding helicopter on the White House roof. It’s played out with a more serious tone, as Fuqua’s films generally are, though there is a corny scene of a hostage reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as the bad guys drag her away and the villain’s endgame is straight out of any number of James Bond flicks. It all ends predictably and yet satisfyingly with a mounting body count, and Gerard getting bloodier by the minute.
Despite the familiarity, it’s well shot. The action scenes are expertly staged, and Yune makes for a capable villain. Gerard is solid in the Willis-type role, and Eckhart makes for a capable President. The supporting cast also does a fine job, with Freeman as the Speaker of the House, Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) as a general wanting to call the shots to take the White House back, Melissa Leo (Oblivion) as the Secretary of Defense who is taken hostage along with the President, and Angela Bassett (Supernova, Green Lantern) as Lynn Jacobs, Director of the Secret Service and a friend to Banning. The cast all play their parts with a serious tone, and manage never to slip into caricature, even though their roles are nothing new to action movie fans. Despite the somber tone, the movie still entertains, and Banning is likeable enough to root for as the hero.
In the end, Olympus Has Fallen is yet another solid outing by director Antoine Fuqua, though it’s not his best work. It’s familiarity is one of the film’s strengths, even though we’ve seen this before. The script by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt keeps us engaged throughout, and the movie rarely slows down, so there’s never a dull moment. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll most likely enjoy what you see here.
Olympus Has Fallen is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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