Olympus Has Fallen

by Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

EXPECTATIONS: Here comes yet another in Hollywood's long line of cinematic slapfights. Did you know there are two movies coming out this year about the White House under attack? Isn't that an oddly specific premise for two different studios to produce at the same time? Volcanoes, I get. Ants, asteroids, Mars; I get those too. But terrorists attacking the US by taking over the White House? Come the fuck on. At any rate, Olympus Has Fallen looks fun enough to pull 2013 out of its ridiculous slump, so I'm hoping for the best here.

REALITY: It's been said a hundred times: With the right cast and crew, even the worst screenplay can become a decent movie. Enthusiasm and energy count for a lot in this game, and Olympus Has Fallen is no exception. First-time writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt lazily copy/paste the script for Die Hard into Microsoft Word and replace 'skyscraper' with 'White House', leaving director Antoine Fuqua, Gerard Butler, and everyone else to do all the heavy lifting. The result works more often than it doesn't, but it just can't escape being a thoroughly shameless Die Hard clone. Olympus Has Fallen steals entire scenes from John McTiernan's magnum opus, changes the names and then moves on.

The intense looks on their faces are there to remind you that they aren't cuddling for fun. This is serious cuddle time.

After saving the president's life in a car crash that leaves the First Lady (Ashley Judd) dead, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) resigns and takes a desk job in Washington DC. Eighteen months later, President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) hosts a summit with the Prime Minister of South Korea. The meeting is interrupted when North Korean terrorists (led by a quietly disturbing Rick Yune) storm the White House and take Asher and his staff hostage. Banning sneaks in undetected, gears up, and sets about rescuing the President by any means necessary.

One of the central conflicts in Die Hard is John McClane's strained relationship with his wife. As the film opens, they've been apart for ages, and McClane spends the bulk of the story fighting terrorists in an attempt to win her back (and save her life, but first thing's first). Olympus Has Fallen rewrites the role of Holly Gennaro as the President of the United States. This film opens by establishing the gulf between the two after Banning fails to rescue the President's wife. But this time, Banning isn't trying to win back the President's trust. No, he's fighting terrorists in order to win back America (and save the President's life, but first thing's first).

Speaking of which, the prologue in which the First Lady dies seemingly has no bearing on the relationship between Banning and Asher. The head of the Secret Service (Angela Bassett) casually mentions that the President still resents Banning for letting his wife die, but beyond this one throwaway line, we're never shown any evidence of this. Asher seems to have no problem with Banning saving his life; in fact, he eggs Banning on as he stabs terrorists in the face. This prologue really only exists to explain why our hero isn't already in the White House. Or maybe the writers have something against Ashley Judd.

Remember this deleted scene from The Dark Knight?The film also recycles the scene in which John McClane meets Hans Gruber posing as one of the good guys, as well as McClane's iconic "Yippie-Ki-Yay, motherfucker" over the radio. In this instance, the writers try to come up with a version of that line that sounds like something an ex-military person would say, and it comes across as neither clever nor awesome. Banning is a character who doesn't know the meaning of the word 'fun', and his terrible one-liners reflect it. Why even bother with one-liners, then, if you're just going to suck at it?

I gave director Antoine Fuqua hell for making his last film a boring mess, but this time he steps it up and delivers some incredibly dynamic action sequences. The first-act raid on the White House is cold and calculated, like watching a bunch of experts play a round of Counterstrike. And yet while the action in the film is certainly spectacular, the sense of spectacle is decidedly muted. This is an exciting film, certainly, but situating the plot as a precursor to all-out war keeps things from becoming fun. When an airplane crashes into the Washington Monument, the audience doesn't "ooh" and "aah." They lean to the person sitting next to them and say, "You know, this could actually happen..." Sure it could, uncle Bob.

A third-act twist that introduces nuclear weapons and a giant red countdown clock dials up the cartoonishness, but by this time it's just too late. The movie commits so hard to the "White House Die Hard" premise that when we finally start buying Gerard Butler as our hero, there's nothing left to blow up. The movie then decides to become an episode of 24 by trying to explode the planet.

The violence in this film is gruesome and chilling; at times, it seems to go too far over the top. Dozens of people, military and civilian alike, are unceremoniously shot in the head, and the torture scenes are barbaric. Olympus Has Fallen does more than enough to earn its R rating, but forcing us to take our action so seriously leaves us with kind of a hollow experience. Especially coming on the heels of a Die Hard film that actually understood what it meant to rip off Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen plays on one of our favorite power fantasies by reminding us just how terrifying the global political climate is. If that sounds like your idea of a fun evening, then this one's definitely for you.

The Die Hard Script5/10
Morgan FreemanIs In This Movie Too, By the Way (+5)

MINORITY REPORT: Isn't it a bit drastic to continue the pro-guns argument by presenting what would happen if terrorists took over the White House with a gun-friendly President in power? Does this film end with Aaron Eckhart looking directly into the camera and saying "Now, imagine what would happen if I were Obama?" - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison

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