The first of two ‘White House-taken-over-by-terrorists’ flicks this year, Olympus Has Fallen, looks, sounds, and feels exactly like an action-picture relic from 1995, right down to the obvious dialogue and dated special effects. It borrows heavily from genre staples like Die Hard and Air Force One, without ever providing a winning homage to either.
Olympus, from Training Day director Antoine Fuqua (who has spent the last 12 years of his career reminding us he made that movie), is heavy on loud banging, but devoid of any and all smarts. Had this movie been made 20 years ago with Sylvester Stallone in the lead role, it might be one of my classic go-to actioners, or at least a passable two hours of commercial-broken cable TV programming. But instead, we are brought to a silly 2013 setting in which North Korean invaders savagely attack the most secure building in the world—and do so rather easily by cinema standards. At least the film is unintentionally timely.
Aaron Eckhart plays the U.S. President whose staff majority and himself are locked away in the lower bunker of the White House with a group of baddies who want to start some good old nuclear war. Cue the always reliable Morgan Freeman as the new ‘Acting President’ in negotiation with the terrorists, and Gerard ‘This is Sparta!’ Butler as the one ex-special forces Secret Service agent, Mike Banning, who escapes Korean detection and runs amok killing off henchman in the blown-up and barricaded war zone of the Executive Mansion.
I’m actually shocked this idea hadn’t made it to the big screen before now. Soon Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) will bring his brand of Armageddon-ography to the proceedings with Channing Tatum protecting Jamie Foxx. But for we now we get Fuqua’s efforts which rely heavily on insanely stupid plotting under the guise of enormous and unnecessarily gratuitous action salted with some awkward patriotic propaganda. I wanted to like his movie, but his ‘Die Hard-in-the-White-House’ extravaganza doesn’t hold a candle to the action classics of yore. Butler is serviceable but not great. Freeman is always a plus in any movie. But the rest of the cast is wasted, especially Melissa Leo (who is beaten to a pulp and dragged away saying the Pledge of Allegiance—an awkward scene) and Ashley Judd as the first lady who is only given the most uninspired dialogue in her precious screen time.
Not to mention every single scene in the film has been done with far more skill and assurance in cinema past. Fuqua’s movie carbon copies some great Die Hard, Speed, Air Force One, etc. moments and can’t up the ante. It can only dumb it down incredibly, ultimately becoming one of the year’s dopiest films as it marches decades past its expiration date. I say skip Olympus and wait to see what Emmerich brings to the table.