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Review: Olympus Has Fallen

By  · Published on March 22nd, 2013

What if I told you that the new Gerard Butler film is like ‘Die Hard in the White House’ in more than just a generic ‘Die Hard in/on/at a…’ kind of way? Or that it features the highest, bloodiest, most ridiculous onscreen body count in an action film since Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo? Or that it’s the most purely entertaining film of Butler’s career? Or that the damn thing is a ton of fun?

It’s all true… but none of it means there aren’t some incredibly unfortunate elements in Olympus Has Fallen too.

Mike Banning (Butler) is head of the president’s (Aaron Eckhart) secret service protection detail, but an accident resulting in lost lives sees him reassigned to a desk job down the street at the U.S. Treasury building. When dozens of well-armed and highly organized North Korean terrorists attack the White House 18 months later the formerly disgraced agent becomes the president’s, and America’s, greatest hope. (Good thing they don’t know he’s actually Scottish.)

The well-coordinated attack begins with a military-style jumbo jet strafing the streets of Washington, D.C. before zeroing in on the White House itself, and it’s followed by a creative ground assault that breaches the gate, the grounds and the front door Mumbai-style before taking control of the entire building. From there Banning is in a race to save as many lives as possible and prevent an even greater nationwide catastrophe.

Antoine Fuqua’s latest is as hardcore an action film as Hollywood has delivered in some time with the focus being almost exclusively on gunplay and fisticuffs for most of its run time. The script by first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt essentially divides the action into two parts with the first act moving quickly to and through the ground assault and the final two-thirds focused on Banning’s patriotic efforts to clean up the White House. They’re not above pulling the occasional heart string, but it’s so infrequent that they should probably be applauded… at least until we hear one too many examples of saccharine and idiotic speeches and realize the story is thinner than a single page of the script. Their affection for Die Hard is clear though up to and including a scene that had me doing my best Clarence Gilyard Jr. impression with “the QB is toast!”

The opening attack is an undeniably entertaining mix of the bombastic and the bloody as miniguns tear through the populace while the remainder of the film is a more intimate affair that sees Butler truly shine. The guy hasn’t always had the best luck picking projects (or the necessary acting skill to make them work), but he excels here with the physically demanding action scenes and brawls. The fights are brutal with impacts that shake the theater walls. Fists fly, knives slice and bullets penetrate craniums. I’m no statistician, but there’s probably more head shots in this movie than there are in all other movies ever made combined.

The film is getting a bit of a bad rap for it’s ultra pro-American stance, but in addition to being an empty criticism it’s also only true on the most superficial levels. Sure we get some slow motion shots of the American flag (roughly 1/10th of what you find in a Michael Bay movie) and jingoistic rah-rah-Americuh speeches, but we also see D.C. cops and Secret Service agents behaving and subsequently dying like complete and utter morons. The acting president also makes a doozy of a call that throws our supposed strength and integrity right out the window.

More than enough works here to make this the first must-see action film of the year, but the special effects work is truly unforgivable. It’s unclear if it’s due to budgetary restraints or the rush to beat a certain Roland Emmerich film to theaters, but the CGI, matte work and models stand out in their utter inadequacy. Luckily they’re mostly featured in the opening thirty minutes, but their cheap feel still manages to lessen the movie.

Olympus Has Fallen is more than a little preposterous in plot, but that should be reassuring to folks worried about real world terrorists inspired by movies. (Fools.) What it does get right is the sheer adrenaline rush of watching kinetic cinema crafted by a serious and talented filmmaker unafraid of showing onscreen carnage in his quest to entertain and create a new action hero. John McClane is dead… long live Mike Banning.

The Upside: Incredibly fun and violent action; script wisely limits the heartfelt; subplot involving the president’s son is handled beautifully and given the exact amount of time it deserves; small unheralded script touches like Banning deleting files in oval office

The Downside: Ridiculously bad CG and too-obvious matte paintings/model work in opening third; script is thin and features some wretched dialogue; embarrassingly poor grasp on the actual layout around the White House; Radha Mitchell is wasted as Banning’s wife

On the Side: Roland Emmerich’s White House Down opens June 28th and is about a Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) tasked with saving the life of the U.S. President (Jamie Foxx) after the White House is overtaken by a paramilitary group…

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.