By now, action audiences know the Die Hard drill. Terrorists invade a recognizable facility. Law-enforcement agents are neutered by a series of lethal threats, prompting a lone-wolf soldier who happens to be caught behind enemy lines to take it upon himself to wipe out an army of foreign antagonists, rescue the hostages and save the day.
Yet, the formula that worked so well for John McTiernan’s 1988 classic Die Hard hasn’t necessarily worked for the countless other films that have tried to follow in its massive footsteps. Even official Die Hard sequels fail to live up to the high bar set by the original (see John Moore’s A Good Day to Die Hard for an example of such recent failures). Actually, don’t. It’s beyond terrible.
And yet, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen
– which doesn’t pretend to be anything other than Die Hard in the White House
– succeeds where so many Die Hard
copycats have tumbled. Why? Because it’s able to adhere to the initial blueprint where subsequent sequels have felt the crippling need to ramp up the carnage and increase the action to levels no director could sustain. Fuqua seems to understand that bigger isn’t always better, and so by basically mirroring the original Die Hard
ends up giving us the closest thing we’ve seen to a winning Die Hard
sequel in decades.
When A Good Day to Die Hard
was released, we spent a lot of time on Movies.com analyzing
what made the original Die Hard
so effective… and what went wrong with some of the sequels. Bruce Willis’ beloved hero didn’t need a partner. He didn’t need to team up with a family member. And he certainly didn’t need to expand the action to include an entire city or the whole Eastern seaboard.
The list of complaints with regards to the sequels grew pretty long as columnists and readers explained what they thought went wrong with the Die Hard franchise – particularly after With a Vengeance, considered by most to be the last good Die Hard sequel.
Fuqua avoids all of those traps with Olympus Has Fallen and does what so many directors – from Renny Harlin to Moore and Len Wiseman – should have done in the first place. He goes back to McTiernan’s original Die Hard template and does his best to duplicate it.
Gerard Butler’s rugged hero Mike Banning has a lot in common with Willis’ blue-collar cop. Both men are highly skilled and durable (without being invincible). Instead of being estranged from his wife (Radha Mitchell), Banning’s haunted by one tragic evening he endured guarding the president of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) and the first lady (Ashley Judd)… a mistake that cost the lady her life.
But when the chips are on the line, Banning is the only hope Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett) have got at rescuing the president and preventing a hostile takeover by Korean forces.
Here’s what Olympus gets right, at least when it comes down to replicating the cherished Die Hard formula. It largely limits its action to one location, forcing Banning to maneuver the halls and secret chambers of the White House as he dispatches waves of well-armed terrorists. It casts Rick Yune as Kang, a formidable foreign terrorist with a master plan that has dire implications for our country. And it delivers edge-of-your-seat action that’s darker and far more violent than the original Die Hard but should appeal to the Call of Duty crowd.
But even the Die Hard purists will have fun pointing at all of the direct connections Fuqua puts into his Die Hard clone. Here’s where things get a little spoilery, so stop reading and come back after you’ve checked out Olympus, so as not to reveal anything too important.
There’s a humorous and obvious nod to the Bill Clay scene in Die Hard, where Dylan McDermott pretends to be an ally of Butler’s in order to get a drop on our hero. There’s a military official played by the curmudgeonly Robert Forster, who disapproves of Banning’s methods and questions his every move. Forster’s basically playing the disgruntled L.A. cops and clueless FBI agents camped outside the Nakatomi Plaza who wanted to stop McClane as badly as they wanted to capture the terrorists. And finally, there’s a heartfelt scene near the end of Olympus where Banning takes a break from killing terrorists to call his wife and profess his love. He isn’t pulling glass shards out of his feet in the scene, but it’s close enough that you get Fuqua’s point.
Olympus Has Fallen does just enough to distance itself from being a complete Die Hard rip-off. The White House setting is unique, and the film has an angrier tone than McTiernan’s film. But because it mirrors Die Hard instead of desperately trying to one-up the first masterpiece, it succeeds as being the most entertaining Die Hard sequel we’ve seen in years.