Just in case you hadn’t seen Die Hard.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013):
The Plot: Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a really good Secret Service agent. Probably the best. Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is the President of America. He’s probably not the best, but he’s white and fairly likeable, so he’s definitely up there. Mike Banning is best friends with the President and the First Lady and their young son. Then a tree and gravity and some really cold water kills the First Lady, because not even the Secret Service can protect you from nature. Eighteen months later, Mike Banning has been demoted to a boring desk job at the boring old Treasury. The President is still the President, and he’s about to meet with the South Korean (those are the good Koreans) Prime Minister to discuss taking action against North Korea (those are the bad Koreans). Suddenly, a huge plane comes and starts shooting all of DC with Gatling guns. And then, oh shit, all of the Asians in the crowd outside of the White House turn out to be North Korean spies. It is shocking. For many Americans, it will be some time before they order Chinese food again. The Asians put on ski masks and pull out guns and rocket launchers and easily kill the entire Secret Service, because all of the Secret Service agents are grossly incompetent, except for ex-Secret Service agent Mike Banning, who is now the One Man Who Can Save Us From These Terrorists. Will he foil the evil Kang (Rick Yune) and redeem himself and Save America? Yes. Yes he will.
Olympus Has Fallen is a Big Dumb Action Movie with some questionable CGI and no real politics to speak of. What it lacks in depth and subtlety it makes up for in, uh, being a Big Dumb Action Movie. The plot is utterly predictable, especially if you’ve seen Die Hard or any action movie ever. This is part of the movie’s charm, though. It’s kind of fun to watch it go through action tropes in really obvious ways. You know what’s going to happen, and then it does, and you’re like: “Yeah! Mike Banning knifed that guy in the brain just like he said he would fifteen minutes ago!” It’s important for movies to keep their promises. The world doesn’t need any more broken hearts.
Alright, so I’m clearly not holding this to the same standard as what I like to call “good movies.” Why? Because Olympus Has Fallen isn’t really trying to be a “good movie,” at least not on those terms. It’s trying to be dumb and entertaining, and by golly, it is definitely both of those things. So instead of writing about how this is the cinematic equivalent of a bag of movie theater popcorn, or how it might have been interesting to see a Big Dumb Action Movie with anything other than a Handsome White Male lead, I’m just going to go through a checklist of stuff that you would expect to see in a Big Dumb Action Movie:
The Fights: Are pretty cool. The action is well-filmed, so you can always tell what’s going on. This isn’t surprising, since the movie is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who also did Training Day and Tears of the Sun. He also did Shooter, but that was terrible, so let’s just get back to Olympus Has Fallen, okay? There’re some gunfights and some hand-to-hand stuff, and Gerard Butler stabs a whole bunch of people. Because knives are sneakier than guns.
The Characters: Are not really all that memorable. I don’t think they’re meant to be. Still, the actors all commit and play their respective archetypes well. Gerard Butler’s Gruff Yet Likeable White Male Fighting Guy—GYLWMFG for short, because apparently it’s a Welsh acronym—is convincing, even human. He takes some damage, and GB never overplays Banning’s gruff side or his sentimental Whoops I Didn’t Save the First Lady From Nature side. He’s no John McClane, but from what I hear, neither is John McClane these days.
Aaron Eckhart is basically playing Harvey Dent-lite. More like Harvey PresiDENT. He’s all noble and full of integrity and stuff, but this time instead of making well-written speeches he just keeps telling Koreans to go f*ck themselves. Good luck with the next election, bud. Incidentally, “go f*ck yourself” and variations thereof only work as a one-liner one, maybe two times before it just comes across as lazy and stupid.
Morgan Freeman is also in this. He’s just playing Politician Morgan Freeman. I think they cast him so that people would be like: “oh, hey, it’s Morgan Freeman. Cool.” The movie doesn’t require him to act much or anything.
The Bad Guy: The Bad Guy is separate from the characters, because that’s just how Big Dumb Action Movies work, okay? Now, there are a few important things you need to ask yourself when evaluating the Bad Guy in a Big Dumb Action Movie: Is he a cultured foreigner with a total disregard for human life? Does he at some point hit a woman? Is his plan elaborate yet suuuper evil? Kang has all of these qualities, and then some. In addition to being cultured and foreign—he has a suit and glasses and speaks really good English do all you guys speak good English over there in Asia?—he also has a short, ridiculous name that is easy to remember. Kang. Also, his plan is to make all of America’s nuclear missiles self-destruct, thus blowing up America. That is actually a pretty neat Bad Guy plan, so, props for that.
And there you have it. This is a by-the-numbers action movie. Olympus Has Fallen gives you exactly what you expect, when you expect it. The filmmakers clearly modeled it on better action movies, like Die Hard, but also on the kind of meh action movies from the 90s that came out in the wake of Die Hard. Fifteen years ago, this might have starred Steven Segal. Wow, we really dodged a bullet there. We sure did, Disembodied Voice. We sure did.