Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

*. Of course I haven’t read every review of Olympus Has Fallen, but I wonder if there were any that didn’t mention Die Hard.
*. Is this because critics are just lazy, or because Die Hard is so well known and was such a seminal film? It’s worth remembering that the Die Hard imitations, and comparisons, began right away. Before we knew the word, the title morphed into a meme. Under Siege (1992) was Die Hard on a Boat, Passenger 57 was Die Hard on a Plane, and Under Siege 2 (1995) was not, as you might expect, Under Siege on a Train but rather Die Hard on a Train.
*. All of these comparisons were fair. Die Hard wasn’t just shorthand for any old action movie. It was a formula. The problem with its offspring would be that they would often follow that formula so strictly they became almost a running joke, turning the resulting products into “just too much of a pale Die Hard ripoff” (from Richard Roeper’s review of this film).
*. Which brings us to Olympus Has Fallen, or Die Hard in the White House. I don’t want to belabour this point, but among the essential elements to this cinematic bloodline in evidence are: (1) the resourceful hero who becomes the sole man left inside some place that has been taken over by terrorists, (2) the supposed good guy who is actually playing for the other team, (3) the secret phone connection to the outside, and (4) the attempt by the proper authorities to restore order that fails in an epic fashion.
*. Olympus Has Fallen doubles and even triples down on the Die Hard template, to a point where I felt I could almost recite the dialogue on a first viewing. Not to pat myself on the back, but I had Dylan McDermott pegged as the traitor right away, even before his character turned. I naturally assumed there’d be a scene where he’d confront our hero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and reveal himself in  some unconscious way. I even figured that the giveaway would be his mentioning Kang’s name. It’s hard not to stay out in front of this movie.
*. As I said, the risk here is to turn the formula into a joke. I think Peter Bradshaw was on to something when he thought the material ripe for parody, along the lines of Jerry Zucker’s Airplane! When the villainous Kang’s giant head fills the big screen overlooking the assembled leaders of the free world he might as well be Dr. Evil. The way the forces of order are so easily disposed of, both in the initial assault (running out of the White House pistols blazing to be cut down by machine gun fire) and in the failed helicopter assault (flying directly into anti-aircraft batteries) could have been very funny. And yet I think we’re supposed to see all these mooks as fallen heroes.
*. Olympus Has Fallen is not meant as a joke. It wears its heart on its lapel pin. There is an overload of patriotic rah-rah stuff, including a shot-up American flag falling in slow motion after the White House is taken, a Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) reciting the pledge of allegiance as she’s being beaten up (my mouth fell open at this), and a speech at the end where the president (Aaron Eckhart) talks about the sacredness of the American way of life.
*. But, to give Die Hard its credit, the old formula holds up pretty well even under this kind of heavy fire. I actually enjoyed most of Olympus Has Fallen. It’s loud, and silly, and filled with action. Too dark (visually), but Antoine Fuqua hits his marks and doesn’t drop the ball. Rick Yune is a good villain. Gerard Butler is a gruff he-man who reminds me for some reason of a sheepdog. His girlfriend is a nurse. Because all he-men are warriors with girlfriends who are nurses. The roles complement each other.
*. Wesley Morris: “Butler is more than serviceable, even though his American accent is like water in a dirty glass. (All you can taste is the residue of whatever was in it before.)” Good one, Wesley. I wish I’d written that.
*. Is it ever explained if Kang is actually working for the North Korean government or if he’s just freelancing? Does it make a difference? Probably not.
*. I’m afraid the president doesn’t come out of things looking very good. Indeed he seems to cave pretty quickly, ordering his subordinates to give up their codes after only being slapped around a bit. Then his own code is simply hacked so that he doesn’t have to be tortured. Which made me wonder why the terrorists didn’t just do that in the first place. Jamie Foxx acquitted himself somewhat better in White House Down.
*. Well, there would be a sequel (or two, or maybe three), which would allow for some redemption for Aaron Eckhart. Though even with Donald Trump in the real White House they would stick with playing everything straight. You have to wonder when we’re going to get that Airplane!

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