“The most protected building on Earth has fallen.”
Die Hard has become it’s very own subgenre of action films since it was first released in 1988. It was a simple enough story that combined the “one against many” type of story with the “siege tale”. It was a perfect combination that has since been copied, imitated, but truly never duplicated to the highest level of success the original film had upon release. There’s been a few films that added their own unique take on this action film template. There was “Die Hard on a boat” with the underappreciated Under Siege. Then we have Air Force One which was “Die Hard on a plane”. The latest action film to try and put a new spin on the Willias-McTiernan classic is Antoine Fuqua’s latest film, Olympus Has Fallen.
The film pretty much takes what worked with the three films before it that’s been mentioned above and combines them to make a film. We have a lone, highly skilled operative in the form of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning in the role that made Bruce Willis famous and, for a time, resuscitated Steven Seagal’s career. Then we have the Presidential angle but instead of Air Force One it’s the White House this time around. The plot of the film is simple enough that even a person not well-versed in film could follow it. A group of dedicated and highly-trained North Korean terrorists do a surprise attack on the White House as the President of the United States and his South Korean counterpart try to find a way to defuse a situation that’s been growing in the DMZ between the two Koreas. It’s now up to Agent Banning, on his own, to try and stop whatever plans the terrorists have brewing with the President as hostage while also dealing with an inept group of higher-ups trying to deal with it far from the action.
Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t break new ground with the way it’s story unfolds and it’s characters develop. The film was pretty much beat-for-beat and scene for scene lifted from the three other films mentioned above. The characters may be different and the circumstances they find themselves in somewhat different, but the screenwriters played everything safe except the action sequences part of the film. It’s these action scenes which brings Olympus Has Fallen to a new level of violent artistry that the previously mentioned films never reached.
To say that this film was violent would be an understatement. Where other films of this type a certain cartoonish tone to it’s violence this time around Fuqua goes for a much more serious and, at times, disturbingly difficult to watch level of violence to make the film stand out from the rest of it’s kind. The assault on the White House itself and the surrounding area has less a look of a fun action film and more of a war film. People die in droves and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Secret Service, police, terrorists or innocent civilians. All were fair game in this film.
Even the action once we get to Banning playing the Willis role looked more brutal than what Willis and even Seagal ever got to do. Gerard Butler may not have had the charisma and wit of Willis in the same role, but he convincingly played his role as more Jack Bauer than Officer McClane. Butler as Banning was all business and efficiency while Willis as McClane was more the witty, smartass who just keeps finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Olympus Has Fallen won’t be hailed as one of the best films of 2013. It won’t even be talked about as one of the top action films this year, but despite the story being a derivative of every Die Hard and it’s clones before it the film does succeed in being a very enjoyable piece of popcorn flick. It was full of tension and big action setpieces (though the CG effects looked very cheap at times) that Fuqua has gradually become known for. The characters in the film were just a step above being one-dimensional and the story itself becomes less eye-rolling and more worrisome considering the real tensions coming out of the Korean Peninsula at this very moment.
One thing I’m sure of is that of the two “Die Hard-in-the-White-House” films this year (there’s the bigger-budgeted White House Down later this summer from Roland Emmerich) I have a feeling that Olympus Has Fallen might be the more fun. It’s probably going to be the more violent of the two and that’s an assumption I’m willing to make without even seeing how Emmerich’s film turns out.