Everything dies harder at the White House. And, no, not just pieces of legislation, but the brick-and-mortar infrastructure in Olympus Has Fallen – which basically follows the playbook of Die Hard in the White House. The first of two movies this year in which the iconic abode of the U.S. president and his family is decimated by terrorists (Roland Emmerich’s White House Down is scheduled to arrive in June), Olympus Has Fallen kicks things off at a fever pitch. After an opening prologue which explains how Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) came to be relieved of his duties guarding the president’s family, the rest of the movie becomes the saga of how this lone man redeems his career by becoming the last – and only – defense against this fictional incursion into the White House.
The invasion occurs with an ease and rapidity that’s more breathtaking than any of the skirmishes that occur once the terrorists have entered the domicile. C-130s buzz the restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., while White House tourists turn into instant frontline infantry who make the capture of the White House seem like a cakewalk. For good measure, the Washington Monument is also struck, causing its implosion, loss of life, and flashbacks to 9/11. Once inside, the invaders fortify themselves with the president (Eckhart) and others within the impregnable bunker while unleashing their plan.
Timeliness is also on the side of this film, as the last couple weeks of saber-rattling and rocket launches by North Korea has made that country an evermore topical villain – though to be accurate, the terrorists are a renegade group of Koreans. Although it’s sure to have a different impact for viewers outside the U.S., the wholesale destruction of the White House ought to be imagery that will play particularly well in some foreign territories and add to the film’s international box office. Dresden after the firebombing of World War II looked more intact than does this White House once the dust settles.
After some misguided acting choices, Gerard Butler appears to have taken more control of his career by also serving as one of the producers on this action vehicle. Despite an American accent that goes dodgy on a couple of occasions, he performs capably as the film’s tarnished hero in a role that can’t help but echo Clint Eastwood’s disgraced Secret Service agent in In the Line of Fire. Melissa Leo has some standout scenes as the secretary of defense, who gets pretty well beaten up for defying her captors, but others, such as Angela Bassett and Morgan Freeman (the acting president), have little to do but bite their lips and look tense from the confines of their command posts. With little character shading and wall-to-wall action, Olympus Has Fallen fittingly closes by wrapping itself in the American flag.