Olympus Has Fallen is a terrific action film that smartly takes previous ideas from the genre and improves upon them greatly. You can’t help but think that Gerard Butler is a modified version of Detective Lieutenant John McClane, the iconic Bruce Willis character from the Die Hard series. Fourteen years the junior of Willis (Bruce born in 1955, Butler in 1969), Butler, the “leading seaman” from the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, utilizes his King Leonidas stardom in 2007’s 300 to great effect here, the violence of swords translated into a more contained (if one can call it that) mixture of bombs, terrorism, guns and neo Sci Fi weaponry that is said to guard the White House.
With all the misfires from Hollywood attempting to clone previous great ideas, Olympus Has Fallen succeeds by amping everything up in a compact and thrilling moment-to-moment roller coaster ride that satisfies from start to finish. The quick character development tugs at your emotions while things blow up in every which way; empathy for the good guys a key ingredient as the terrorists use extreme violence against women and anyone else who gets in their way to try to achieve the usual “world domination” theme from almost every 007 flick, altered here for the annihilation of one nation – the U.S. of A.
Director Antoine Fuqua appears to have learned his lesson from the sins of Training Day – sure, Denzel Washington got the Academy Award, Ethan Hawke was nominated for one, and the film is said to be a critical and commercial success; it just doesn’t mean the untempered abuse of violence was palatable to this critic. Here Fuqua has a great cast and no wasted time, it is a modern day 300 with the odds stacked against Butler (again) and the ante much higher. (Musical note: Fuqua’s uncle, Harvey Fuqua, was a musical prodigy who recorded duets with Etta James, was a jack of all trades in the music biz and who co-wrote the last “official” Supremes hit, “Someday We’ll Be Together”, the final American #1 hit of the 1960s (as stated on Wikipedia.)
Gerard Butler looks like Jeremy Renner’s character in The Bourne Legacy and is just as omnipotent. Former Secret Serviceman Dylan McDermott, as the head of the Prime Minister’s Detail, Dave Forbe, is the reincarnation of actor Xander Berkeley’s Secret Service Agent Gibbs from Harrison Ford’s 1997 epic Air Force One. The enemy, Kang Yeonsack is played by Rick Yune who was Zao as, you guessed it, a “North Korean terrorist” in yet another James Bond flick, 2002’s Die Another Day. Here it is the Wrath of Kang, a sociopath on steroids who must’ve watched Star Trek II one too many times as a boy.
Just as the Wachowskis threw everything but the kitchen sink into The Matrix series, Fuqua gives us Morgan Freeman reprising his role as CIA Director Cabot from 2002’s Jack Ryan series Sum of All Fears. Here it is as Speaker-of-the-House turned temporary president in Olympus Has Fallen and Morgan being Morgan does not disappoint. Having played President Tom Beck in 1998’s Deep Impact, as well as Nelson Mandela and the very presidential roles at Wayne Industries in the Dark Knight Trilogy it’s a good thing Freeman is such a pliable actor otherwise he could get typecast.
But that’s the point, throw the familiar into a pot and stir it up. The 80 million dollar budget for 1998’s Deep Impact pared down in today’s market to 70 million – special effects not as expensive these days as they were way back when – results in an entertaining action film that pits Die Hard’s John McLane and Harrison Ford’s President James Marshall against the combo foe from Captain Kirk and 007’s worst nightmare. The fact that Aaron Eckhart is also a holdover from The Dark Knight Rises, the Dark Knight Descends, the Dark Knight Blows Up is also intentional. Eckhart and Butler look like terrific, no-nonsense president / secret service types. Despite the over-the-top patriotism it is the skillful acting and tight directing which makes this highly entertaining movie a real pop culture diamond in the rough.
You’ve seen it all before, Ashley Judd getting about as much facetime as Steven Segal did in the 1996 film Executive Decision, Melissa Leo as Ruth McMillan getting kicked about like a rag doll and the ever indispensable Angela Bassett as cool and in control as she was in Contact as White House Chief of Staff to President Clinton. Here she is the head of the Secret Service in a film that intentionally touches on all the right spaces to echo the familiar while delivering something new and exciting.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.