Maybe it's because a few weeks ago, after leaving the theater of the latest incarnation in the Die Hard franchise, the taste was so horrible and putrid in my mouth. Maybe it's because lately my interest in films has been minimal due to the useless dregs getting released into cinemas. Or maybe its because--considering the pretty unoriginal plot--Olympus Has Fallen has an extremely talented class of actors. Whatever the reason, I was pleasantly surprised by Olympus Has Fallen. Sure, it follows the script cliche of "Die Hard in a ____" (e.g. Speed: Die Hard on a boat...Passenger 57: Die Hard on a plane)--in this case, Die Hard in the White House. But it has just enough slickness, just enough entertainment, and a realistic (and sometimes extreme) sense of brutality that sets it apart from similar, more forgettable action films.
"Olympus" is clearly the Secret Service code name for the White House, if you couldn't ascertain that from the title. In the film, the home's main tenant is President Asher, the young leader of the free world played by Aaron Eckhart. The charismatic actor portrays the President as an honorable man who has lost one thing in his life that he loved above all else. Tying into that story of loss, we have Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, in the lead role), a secret service agent who used to be assigned to the President but was demoted to a desk job after an incident went terribly wrong. Banning is a gruff man with a full set of one-liners from the book of Bruce Willis, and they come in plenty handy when the White House is overrun by North Korean terrorists hellbent on initiating a secret government protocol called "Cerberus". Banning, after he turns these bad guys' brains into mush, says things like, "Lets play a game of 'Go Fuck Yourself'. You go first!"
One thing that sets Olympus Has Fallen apart (it's not particularly the script, if you could tell), is the way the North Korean stereotypes take over the White House: it's an exciting and tension-filled sequence involving air and ground assault with pretty shocking violence and enough firepower to empty out the bullet aisle of Cabela's. One could argue whether the over-the-top use of guns and gun-killing is something to praise in this day and age, but it surely fits in this fantasy of ultra American Jingoism. During the takeover, President Asher and his group of top advisers get taken hostage in the underground vault that houses all of the important technology one needs to rule the country. Through the chaos of the attack, Banning makes his way inside the White House, a place he knows extremely well due to his past job.
Olympus Has Fallen was directed by Antoine Fuqua, and it is surely a solid technological achievement: every explosion of destruction, every Washington D.C. landmark that is shattered and broken, and every knife cutting into flesh feels and sounds real. Some of the CGI in the first third of the film may be a tad obvious, but it doesn't detract from the pretty-darn-exciting entertainment on display. In fact, Olympus is a better Die Hard movie than February's A Good Day to Die Hard. Far better. If you switched out Gerard Butler and inserted Bruce Willis and then changed a little of the script so it would relate to the first two Die Hard films, it could have easily passed as an acceptable entry into that franchise. Instead, it's just a sorta stellar stand-alone action film that will be mostly forgotten at the end of the year. (B)