Cocktails and Movies Review: “Olympus Has Fallen” – Die Hard, D.C.

Cocktails and Movies welcomes Gerard Butler back into the Action Hero’s Club!

cocktails and movies Olympus-Has-Fallen-As of late, Hollywood has tried and succeeded (to a limited degree) to make action movies that A.) tackle relevant geopolitical matters with a fictionally entertaining lens, and B.) attempt to recapture the magic that the “Die Hard” franchise held onto for so many years. Many have tried their hand at both, and a few have succeeded at one or the other on their own. It was starting to look pretty grim, as hardly anyone could tap into the awesome energy of the balance between levity and serious danger that Die Hard had captured back in the 80’s.  (Even later entries of the DH franchise have tried and failed to keep the series from falling prey to diminishing returns.)

Well, I’m here today to tell you that it’s possible to make both of those films, and it’s possible to make one film that encapsulates both. That film is “Olympus Has Fallen,” the film that redeems Gerard Butler for his last few stall out pictures and puts him back in roughly the shape he was in after 300.  The man that was king of ancient Greece has risen from the ashes of “Phantom of the Opera,” “Chasing Mavericks,” and “Playing For Keeps,” all at once. Ironically enough, it’s the fall of Olympus that helps our fallen king to rise once more.

Yippee Ki Yay, Mr. President!

We open with President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, in full Harvey Dent mode) sparring with Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) in the boxing ring. Right from their first frame, we realize how good of a friendship these two have. If this were a Lethal Weapon clone, they’d be working together and one of them would be a different ethnicity. (Which looks like White House Down’s MO, based on the trailer for its release later this Summer.) But being a Die Hard clone, it’s almost as if Mike fills in for McClane, and Ben fills in for Holly. (I’ll explain later.) We learn that The President, his wife (a cameo by Ashley Judd), and his son are heading from Camp David to a re-election fundraiser, on a particularly snowy night. After a mishap with a tree trunk, the President’s limo teeters off the edge of a bridge (long enough for The President to be saved) before falling and crashing on the ice. The First Lady is lost in the accident, and Eckhart is given one of the most awkward “NOOO!” moments of recent history.

We cut to months later, and Banning is reassigned to the Treasury. He’s tired of his desk job, and he and his wife (gorgeous Radha Mitchell) are having minor problems because he likes to keep up with his old job, and he’s itching to get back into the action. Luckily for him, but unluckily for Washington D.C., the North Korean delegation that’s in town has a rather sinister hidden agenda… the infiltration and undermining of the United States government. What follows is probably the most unsettling sustained bout of domestic terrorism that looks more like a proper militaristic invasion. It’s especially unsettling, because civilians are targeted on purpose during the insurgent’s campaign. It isn’t without purpose though, because by time Banning starts to play cowboy, you’re ready for the action.

D.C. With A Vengance

At this point, the rest of the film jumps back and fourth between the President and his captors squaring off over a top secret weapons system, and Banning’s communications with Acting President/Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), Secret Service Director Jacobs (Angela Bassett), and General Clegg (Robert Forster). These three top figures are the ones that Banning keeps in contact with throughout, and occasionally butts heads with when it comes to handling the situation. If you haven’t picked up on it by now, Banning will eventually take control of the situation, tell his superiors “I Told You So” at least once, and overall save the day.

The differences between “Olympus Has Fallen” and “Die Hard” are not massive, but they’re substantial enough to separate the two films. Banning’s McClane is fighting against Kang (Rick Yuen), the North Korean equivalent to Hans Gruber, in order to secure the safety of President Asher, the bromantic equivalent to Holly Genarro. If you need any further proof that Mike’s relationship with the President is more developed than his relationship with his own wife, just look at how Banning acts as a second father to Asher’s son, Connor. Nothing’s wrong with that, but it shows how much of a priority character development is in the film.

A Solid Yay for Olympus

While it’s an awesome action flick, “Olympus Has Fallen” does have its less-than-Die-Hard moments, mostly in some of the dialogue choices made in the film’s more serious moments. Also, between this and “The Campaign,” it seems as if Dylan McDermott’s presence in a film these days immediately screams “Bad Guy Alert”. I don’t know when this shift started, perhaps during his stint on American Horror Story, but he has some of the more cringeworthy moments of the film as he tries to menace Eckhart and company. (Just muscle through the “How much does a Presidency cost these days?” exchange. You’ll be rewarded. Promise.) His character could have easily been conflated into another one of the North Korean heavies, as he isn’t properly set up enough to be an effective villain.

“Olympus Has Fallen” basically is the new and improved version of “Die Hard.” What it lacks in deeper definition through its characters, it makes up for with solid, top flight action, non-manipulative patriotic emotion, and a threat that concerns without hitting too close to home. Its only drawback is that while it tries to be “Die Hard,” it still isn’t as charming, witty, or even action packed as the first McClane picture. That said, it’s a perfectly good movie that’s worth a view, if only to remind ourselves of how throwback Action film and deconstructions of real life political issues actually can co-exist in a blend of Past and Present. While it has a lot to learn, “Olympus Has Fallen” could be a great first installment in a new action series. Given the room to breathe and develop, it could even surpass Die Hard’s reputation. Look out John McClane, Mike Banning’s ready to Die Hard in D.C.

Cocktails and Movies Rating: 2 Cocktails and a shot of American Jack Daniels, just enough to get the action going, but not so much as to impair it.