Here are a few stray thoughts I had while sitting and watching Olympus Has Fallen, an also-ran action movie about the White House under (literal) attack.
(1.) Oh, man, this is pretty much the Die Hard formula, where terrorists attack a particular location and it’s all up to one man hiding in the vents/walls/etc. to stop them! Remember the 90s, when everyone was doing their own Die Hard-on-a-whatever? Especially given the late-90s success of Die Hard on the president’s airplane, how did they not get to Die Hard in the White House until this year, when there are two such movies coming out in the space of six months? (More on that in a moment.) On one hand, it’s kind of refreshing to see someone actually employ the Die Hard formula, because A Good Day to Die Hard inexplicably did not do this at all. But I could almost hear the passes some people will give this movie in my head as I was watching it: the Die Hard sequel may have let you down, but at least this one gets it right! But it really doesn’t! The movie cuts around so much outside of the White House, in an apparent attempt to give the story more scope, that it loses that one-man-against-all-odds tension. Also, that one man is Gerard Butler, and he sucks. I mean, it’s possible someone could someday use him in a way that wouldn’t suck, but he is super unappealing and coarse, and not coarse in that charming Bruce Willis way. He just seems like kind of a pill. He is not much fun to watch onscreen. So yeah, this movie uses the Die Hard formula better than A Good Day to Die Hard but I’m not so certain it’s actually a better movie.
(2.) In this movie, the North Koreans invade the White House during a visit from the prime minister of South Korea, who the president (Aaron Eckhart) insists on bringing along to his secure bunker. At this point, I got super-psyched for a movie I was pretty sure would never actually happen: an action buddy comedy movie about the prime minister of South Korea and the president of the United States fighting off terrorists! That’s just one of a dozen ways Olympus Has Fallen could have been modified to break its punishing adherence to formula, executed in the most solemn, pseudopatriotic manner possible (slow-mo American flags; military drums; subtitling everyone’s cabinet title like they’re real).
(3.) As it happens, the Roland Emmerich take on this same premise (terrorists take down the White House) is apparently some manner of buddy comedy, although not with the prime minister of South Korea, just your standard black/white combo of Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum. But it’s very strange that the square version of this story with plenty of disaster-movie overtones (the Washington Monument falls and squishes people for no real reason) comes from supposed purveyor of grit Antoine Fuqua, rather than Emmerich. As teenagers, my friends and I always pictured the dopey comedy in Roland Emmerich movies coming straight from his then-collaborator Dean Devlin; now I’ll just imagine Devlin doing script punch-ups on White House Down, the Secret Service-versus-terrorists action movie that will have to work pretty hard to be worse than Olympus Has Fallen.