out of Five
Running time: 120
Ridiculously over-the-top and almost sadistically violent, this is a charmless and occasionally laughably bad thriller that's let down by a trite script and a charmless lead performance from Gerard Butler.
What's it all about?
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Olympus Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler as Secret Service agent Mike Banning, who's taken off Presidential guard duty after a traumatic incident involving the First Lady (Ashley Judd). Transferred to a Washington office job, Banning just happens to be in the right place at the right time when ‘rogue’ North Korean militant Kang (Rick Yune) launches a devastating surprise attack on the White House and takes President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), Defense Secretary McMillan (Melissa Leo) and various staffers hostage in the secure bunker, where he begins torturing them for nuclear codes.
Keen to help out, Mike shoots his way into the White House and begins taking down Kang's assorted goons, Die Hard-style, whilst also attempting to locate Asher's young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen), who Kang intends to use as a bargaining chip. Meanwhile, Asher and McMillan attempt to hold out against Kang's brutal information extraction methods and Acting President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) juggles a hotline to Banning while attempting to negotiate with Kang, flanked by Secret Service director Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and General Clegg (Robert Forster).
To be fair, the initial attack on the White House is genuinely shocking and extremely well staged, though the film never really tops that sequence, action-wise. In addition, the supporting performances are excellent, particularly Melissa Leo as the tough-as-nails Defense Secretary, while Yune makes an effective villain and Freeman is as dependable as ever (Bassett, by contrast, is massively underused).
The film dearly wants to be Die Hard In The White House, but unfortunately Gerard Butler (who also produced) is no Bruce Willis, lacking both the necessary charm and the comic delivery to make the one-liners work (sole exception, to Kang: ‘Let's play a game of fuck off. You go first...’); the unfortunate knock-on effect of this is that it starts to look like Banning is actually really enjoying brutally murdering all the henchmen, particularly as the violence is borderline sadistic throughout.
On top of that, the ridiculously trite script is often unintentionally hilarious, with atrocious dialogue and levels of flag-waving jingoism that even Team America would have rejected as being over the top; this would be fine if you sensed even a fraction of tongue-in-cheek intention on the part of the filmmakers, but that simply isn't the case. The finale, in particular, is flat-out hilarious and not in a good way.
Ultimately, Olympus Has Fallen fails to get the tone right and what should have been a fun, tongue-in-cheek Die Hard knock-off ends up leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. Wait for White House Down (exactly the same plot except with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx) in June instead.