The new Gerard Butler starrer Olympus Has Fallen is such a faithful retread of the Die Hard formula that you keep waiting for Bruce Willis to show up in a white vest and yell: “Yippee ki yay copycats!”
Training Day director Antoine Fuqua clearly recognizes what made John McTiernan’s 1988 original one of the most enduring actioners of all time, and he isn’t shy of adapting that blueprint into a modern-day thriller. So yes there’s a band of terrorists on the loose, an expansive building under siege, and a fearless hero with an inside knowledge of the place who must save the day. Except that Fuqua raises the stakes by choosing no ordinary location, but the supposedly impregnable White House to stage his drama at.
In a nicely done prologue whose point is more or less given away in the film’s trailer, we learn why the US President (Aaron Eckhart) banishes his most trusted Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Inevitably, it’s Banning who comes to the nation’s rescue when, months later, the President and some of his top officials are taken hostage in an underground bunker in the White House by a terrorist gang led by a diabolical North Korean mastermind (Rick Yune).
The violent attacks on Washington are effectively staged, and there’s tension in those scenes where Banning moves around surreptitiously within the building as he tries to foil the terrorists’ plans. Meanwhile, a cutesy subplot about Banning’s bond with the President’s kid feels largely gratuitous.
Butler, playing the good guy saviour in this film, isn’t as funny and charming as Bruce Willis in Die Hard (although he does get to mouth a few cheeky one-liners), but he’s entirely credible as an angry, one-man killing machine. Fuqua, however, surrounds him with fine actors in limiting roles: Angela Bassett as the head of the Secret Service, Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House, and an unusually hammy Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense.
However preposterous the plot, and predictable its twists may be, the film seldom loses steam because of its brisk pace and the visceral action that’s sometimes so gruesome you have to turn away.
As action movies go, Olympus Has Fallen makes for a pretty entertaining watch; it beats recent installments of the Die Hard franchise hands down. I’m going with three out of five. Delivers plenty bang for your buck.