If there’s one thing I haven’t enjoyed about the last couple of “Die Hard” movies, it’s that they’ve abandoned the formula laid down when the stencil for the original film was written. Even the sequel, though an inferior movie to John McTiernan’s original, seemed to remember that the vital ingredients required for an explosive McClane cocktail included a confined space, a race-against-the-clock, a swaggering “cowboy” hero, and most notably, the ability to relate to a hero. In other words, when he bleeds, he near cries; when he’s badly hurt, he does more than winces… he near moans. Small spaces, large hearts. “Die Hard 2” will always have one up on “Live Free or Die Hard” (and by the sounds of things, next year’s “A Good Day to Die Hard”) because of that.
If Fox had owned the script for “Olympus Has Fallen” (written as “White House Taken”; the title was changed when it was announced a similar-themed project had taken the title “White House Down”), and if I’d have had a direct line to Tom Rothman, I definitely would’ve recommended he retool it to be the new “Die Hard”. It’s not an amazing script, in fact it’s riddled with clichés and plays like a ‘best bits of the Joel Silver back-catalog’, but what it is is… “Die Hard”. It’s a confined space thriller, with a charming-as-heck and loveable hero, and some villains you’d just love to see tossed off the top of the Nakatomi. Furthermore, it’s storyline could’ve expanded the “Die Hard” universe in a new, exciting way – heck, can’t you almost imagine a drunk, disgraced McClane deciding to redeem himself by sneaking in and playing hero in the most locked-down hub’s on earth, the White House! But alas, it’s not “Die Hard” but a stand-alone piece… set to star Gerard Butler. And Harvey Dent as the President.
So onto “Olympus Has Fallen”, which is about to begin shooting in Louisiana, for a 2013 release.
*** Spoilers ensue. ***
Presidential Cabin. Snowing. Shocking-ass night. Perfect set-up for a pre-credits sequence where everything turns to shit for the film’s hero and his employer.
Our hero is introduced : Banning (Butler), 30’s, charming, suave and a very personable agent on presidential detail. He is close with President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and First Lady Maggie Asher, but closer to their 12-year-old son, Connor. He spends most of the time overseeing Connor’s needs. Like tonight, he’s trying to get him organized and enthused for an outing the Presidential family is required to be at. Ends up that the only way Banning, who seemingly has a great rapport with young Connor, can get the youngster away from playing ‘Mortal Kombat 3D’ on his video-game console and into a car, is if he says he can ride behind the President ‘Beast’ with him and the rest of the security guys.
Needless to say, only moments after the car’s drive-away something biggish and baddish happens that results in a life lost, a friendship torn apart, and a dedicated but self-admittedly irresponsible secret-service agent losing his job.
Two Years Later.
Maggie Asher is gone.
Benjamin Asher’s numbers are higher than ever. Connor, now 14, isn’t a huge supporter of his sole guardian pop.
Banning is long gone. Now working with Paul Blart somewhere.
Prez Asher, whose leadership skills would not at all please George W, has pulled the pin on a possible War with North Korea – cos he’s a good man and all that shizzle. It’s celebration time.
The happy faces don’t last when a self-professed ‘Patriot’ named Kang, seemingly messed up because of how his family was treated as a child by the Americans, among an abundance of political paranoia, launches an attack and ultimately infiltrates the White House as payback for not going into War with North Korea. He wanted the War; he felt it was the only way to put an end to the ways of one of the world’s only countries thriving on a Stalinist regime still. In other words, he has his reasons for playing ID4 with the White House and those within it.
(Bottom Line : Unlike a couple of the last “Die Hard” films, this movie features a villain who seems to have an actual bonafide excuse for harbouring a big beef with America, and his believes even seem to make sense – though he does take them one step too-far. With missiles at his will, hypodermic needles at his disposal, and a cunning ability to outsmart the government, he’s a rogue to be reckoned with.)
Kang has the President, Connor, and the many employees of the White House holed up in the Fox Den. He proceeds to shoot members of the staff one-by-one (a’la Hans Gruber) until they do what he asks : Which is to initiate War.
Upon getting wind of the situation, disgraced agent Banning covertly makes his way into the White House (he’s such an expert at getting in and out of the place unseen that young Connor even took on his tips at one point), ducking and weaving from cameras, and skirting between the bodies of the dead agents that align the floors.
The security detail on the situation aren’t too pleased (hello FBI in “Die Hard”!) when they get wind of Banning’s presence, and order him gone. But knowing they’re essentially fucking hopeless (side note : There’s no shortage of cussing in the film, that might also smear egg in the face of the recent “Die Hard”, determined to expunge every ‘fuck’ from the libretto), and aren’t “built” for the job that’s needed here, he gives them the finger and continues to make his way into the locked-off White House (in fact, everything has been locked-off – airports, nuclear stations and so on, as you’d expect they’d be).
By the time Banning and Connor – who is separated from his father at one point) reunite, the government have cooked up a deal with North Korea, and any other country that would’ve gotten involved in the situation, to, well, somewhat fake the War that Kang wants greenlit. But Kang is smart, he can tell they’re bluffing, so he begins prepping Plan B. Knowing the Yankees will likely take more notice of him if he begins launching missiles in a bunch of U.S cities, he slams down the ‘countdown clock’ on America’s obliteration. Oh, and then there’s hypodermic needles…
Third-reel is your sweat-inducing ‘race-against-time’ thriller with McClane, er, Banning trying to prevent an all-out nuclear holocaust while protecting the President and his peoples, his young mate Connor, and ultimately going to town on Kang. Oh, and of course, typical of these types of movies, this is also the period when our hero discovers one or two of his former colleagues (the casting of one should work perfectly) might be a little slim shady.
And as a movie, I think it’ll be an action-movie fan orgasm, a great ‘leave your brain at the door’ antidote to… whatever that thing Len Wiseman directed a few years back.
Those looking to get their kicks out of a new McClane adventure, might find that “Olympus has Fallen” satisfies more than the official “Die Hard” film, due out next Valentine’s Day, does. I can’t guarantee that, and I’d love to be surprised and find that it’s the other way around, but from what I’ve read, now heard and have been advised first-hand… this movie is going to have Bruce Willis on the phone to his agent afterwards, demanding to know why he wasn’t offered the flick first. And it’s actually a wonder he wasn’t… the studio behind it are Millennium, who are behind the “Expendables” film’s, with which Bruno is associated. Maybe he was offered it? Maybe the fact it wasn’t someone of note behind the screenplay turned him off?
Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, who penned the screenplay, are relative newcomers to the screenwriting game. That could be why the film does so closely resemble… another big Hollywood blockbuster, because they haven’t yet been in the match long enough to develop their own unique Nolan-esque ideas, but in this case, familiarity works. They seem to know movies like “Die Hard” and Wolfgang Peterson’s “In the Line of Fire” like the back of their hands, and they’ve written a movie that, I believe, they’d personally like to pay money to see as action-movie fans. You’ll know every beat in it when you see it, but you’ll still enjoy it.
Maybe think of “Olympus” as “Never Say Never Again” – it ain’t canon, and the characters names have been changed, but at the end of the day, it’s more “Die Hard” than an all-encompassing road-trip across the United States in a helicopter with a drop-in visit to a computer-whiz named The Warlock ever was. Get Rothenberger and Benedikt on the next “Die Hard”.. if that boat is still afloat by then.
Finally, with those huge numbers “MIB3” did this year, you can probably expect to hear of a new “MIB”-related project going into development soon. In fact, you can be as sure of it as the sun coming up every day.