The siege of the White House in “Olympus Has Fallen” is impressive.
A large, heavily armed band of Korean terrorists executes a military-level strike on the White House with air support, machine guns and explosives, as they seize not only the building but President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and key members of his cabinet.
Once the attack is complete, however, the film quickly becomes “Die Hard: The White House.”
Think of the White House as a more iconic Nakatomi Plaza. Gerard Butler’s Secret Service agent Mike Banning is the “Olympus” version of John McClane, a lone law enforcement officer who's trapped inside the building after the siege and becomes determined to rescue the hostages.
If you’ve seen “Die Hard” (and who hasn’t?), then you pretty much know what’s going to happen next. Banning becomes the fly in the ointment, slowly picking off terrorists.
Major pivotal scenes are replayed. Remember John McClane jumping off the roof using a fire hose to escape an explosion? Our man Banning goes off the roof, too, only it’s more of a fall.
Remember the LAPD trying to storm Nakatomi with underwhelming results? Substitute a military strike team in helicopters with an equally poor outcome.
Remember the idiot who ordered the LAPD assault even when McClane told him not to? This time it’s a politician and a general ordering the assault.
Remember the plan to lead the hostages to the roof in a bait-and-switch so the Nakatomi bandits can escape?
You get the feeling that the writers of “Olympus Has Fallen” had the “Die Hard” script sitting on their desks.
The difference is that “Die Hard” makes sense and “Olympus” really doesn’t.
Posing as terrorists to steal $400 million in bearer bonds was fairly logical.
In “Olympus,” the Korean terrorists lock themselves in the White House bunker with their hostages, supposedly with the goal of forcing the United States to remove troops from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, so that North Korea can conquer its neighbor and create a reunited Korea.
This is ridiculous not only to moviegoers, but even to the characters in the film, because the United States would just send its troops back as soon as the hostage standoff was over. And terrorist leader Kang (Rick Yune) didn’t bring in supplies for an extended visit, so it’s clear he didn’t plan to stay until the war in Korea was over.
Next, we learn that Kang’s hostages conveniently include the three people who have the access codes to Cerebus, a failsafe system that allows the U.S. to detonate its own nuclear warheads before they strike, in case one is launched by accident. And even more conveniently, the only place to reset the codes is the White House bunker Kang has seized. Now, we know his plan includes getting the codes so he can control the missiles. He acts like this is being done to assure North Korea’s takeover without threat of nuclear assault by the United States. But that really doesn’t make sense, either, so clearly there has to be yet another plan.
If you're thinking this is all starting to sound a bit contrived, you're right. It's best to watch “Olympus Has Fallen” purely to enjoy the high-intensity action sequences. If you don’t follow the plot too closely (or at all) and just go along for the ride, “Olympus” can be an enjoyable, escapist action flick, much like other “Die Hard” copies such as Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege.”
Butler is a serviceable action star, believable enough in his everyman role. Yune’s Kang is certainly no Hans Gruber, but he’s evil enough. Morgan Freeman is solid, as always, though he’s limited to sitting in the war room giving orders as Speaker of the House Trumbull. Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo and Dylan McDermott all are acceptable in their pivotal but limited roles as well.
And there's some humor, too. There are brief scenes of news reports on the takeover, including scrawling headlines. The terrorists use garbage trucks in their assault, and one headline reads, “Sanitation workers deny any involvement in terrorist attack.”