Olympus Has Fallen

olympus has fallenReleased: 2013
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman

Uneven and hokey but great fun


It’s a relatively common event for films to come out in pairs – when one studio has an idea for a blockbuster movie you can bet a rival studio is having the same idea at the same time. Asteroid disaster movies Armageddon and Deep Impact were both released in 1998, volcano films Volcano and Dante’s Peak were both 1997 releases and this year sees two films which chronicle the terrorist invasion of the White House and one man attempting to save the day. Gerard Butler’s Olympus Has Fallen is the first of the duo out of the gates with the Roland Emmerich directed White House Down trailing its competitor by five months.

Butler stars as Mike Banning, former senior Secret Service agent who has left the Presidential detail following a car crash which killed First Lady. 18 months after the accident the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense (sic) and South Korean Prime Minister are taken hostage by North Korean terrorists. The devastating attack on the White House wipes out the entire Secret Service detail and only Banning is left to fight the heavily armed and determined mob.

White House Down has been characterised as “Die Hard in the White House” and it’s easy to see the similarities. Both films feature a lone hero against the odds in a tightly confined space with limited outside contact. It does White House Down a great service though to make such explicit comparisons. White House Down isn’t a bad film, in fact I really quite enjoyed it but it’s no Die Hard. In fairness though, what is?

Gerard Butler is a decent hero, he’s not the best actor in the world but he has a certain charisma that works well here. He’s certainly got the presence required to carry an action film on his own. The American accent did slip several times back into Glaswegian, particularly when the dialogue turned sweary. Being a sweary Glaswegian myself I liked that. Aaron Eckhart as President Benjamin Asher was suitably strong and defiant in the face of danger. There was a definite hint of Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore from Independence Day. Rick Yune also impresses as the villainous Kang.

While the acting is fine the script isn’t particularly good. The plot is fairly predictable and twists (if they can be called that) are signposted well in advance. Some of the dialogue is fairly risible but some of it has flashes of humour which neatly breaks the tension. Butler delivers his lines with real relish, growling and swearing his way through the hostage situation.

The initial takeover of the White House is heart-pounding and action scenes are directed with real panache by Antoine Fuqua. I was delighted to see that the distributors and producers didn’t sanitise the violence in order to secure a 12A rating. There’s blood flying everywhere and bone-crunching fight scenes. It’s good to see an action film that doesn’t play it safe for the sake of a more audience friendly certification. There’s also some nice symbolism, particularly the slow-motion falling flag. Some of the CGI however isn’t great and at one point it was blatantly obvious we were looking at a scale model of the White House.

White House Down is uneven, predictable and utter hokum. It’s also good fun and delivers a great couple of hours at the cinema. I’m hoping for more of the same in September from the next part of this year’s White House double bill.

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