In the sci-fi, summer popcorn thriller Independence Day, when aliens invaded and blew up the White House, audiences were both laughing and cheering at the spectacle. I was never quite sure why, but the reaction was amusing, all the same. That was in 1996. Since that time the world has changed.
In the new thriller Olympus Has Fallen, terrorists invade the White House and much of the most protected house in the world is blown apart. This time the audience was no longer cheering. Whether they come from outta space or they’re terrorists from overseas, watching alien forces destroying sacred American landmarks and killing lots of innocent bystanders in the process no longer seems funny. Even in a popcorn thriller like this, there’s something unsettling about seeing the White House under attack and being blown apart.
Of course, I can’t imagine that director Antoine Fuqua expects anyone to take Olympus seriously – the attack and the invasion by foreign sources is hardly a blueprint on how to do it in the real world – but the whole, violent operation remains a somewhat uncomfortable exercise in big screen entertainment. Terrorists attacking and succeeding in destroying much of what is important to us is no longer a simple, adventurous fantasy. Having said that, Olympus Has Fallen still succeeds in its popcorn thrills and spills, which, in the end, is all it’s really going for, after all.
After a lengthy Camp David preamble at Christmas involving an unfortunate car wreck on an icy bridge and the death of the First Lady, we jump to eighteen months later. President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) now a widower, is about to meet the South Korean Prime Minister for peace talks when the White House – codename: Olympus– comes under attack from both above and on the ground. The President and his entourage, including the South Korean delegation, are forced to hide in the bunker, but the terrorists appear to have thought of everything. They not only have control of the house but the bunker as well, including the President, the Vice President and several others prominent members of the government.
But, fear not. Like many thrillers of this kind – Die Hard, Under Siege, take your pick – there is always that one lone wolf who just happens to be nearby and likes to do things his own way. In Olympus it’s Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) a former Special Forces operator, now a secret service agent with a desk job who eighteen months earlier was with the President and the First Lady on that icy bridge.
As much of the action takes place throughout the night in the halls and tunnels of the White House, many of the scenes are darkly lit and occasionally difficult to make out. When executed properly, the shadows and dark corners can often add a sense of apprehension to the tense situations, but Olympus has a few too many dark scenes. If viewed in a theatre with sub-standard projection this may result in lengthy periods of not being able to see a thing.
With the exception of his voice work in How to Train Your Dragon, much of Gerard Butler’s recent work has proved to be less than thrilling – a kind way of saying that the last couple of years have been dire – but in Olympus Has Fallen the Scottish actor, minus the accent, is playing the kind of role that works best for him; a likable but tough, action hero with the ability to deliver a few good zingers where needed. As Banning, Butler finds just the right note to make his unlikely character fun to watch, even if it’s really just another variation of John MaClane of the secret service.
Which brings us to what Olympus Has Fallen really is. With it’s tough and overly violent action, an unredeemable bad guy, a likable hero and well executed stunts, this is the film that A Good Day To Die Hard should have been but wasn’t.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 100 minutes Overall Rating; 7 (out of 10)