Gerard Butler in "Olympus Has Fallen." (Phil Caruso / FilmDistrict )
As the first of two movies this year portraying a terrorist takeover of the White House, "Olympus Has Fallen" (opening today) has often been mentioned in the same breath as its upcoming summer counterpart, "White House Down."
For movie critics, however, it's a different film that "Olympus" brings to mind: "Die Hard." As many reviews point out, Gerard Butler follows in Bruce Willis' footsteps as a lone good guy (in this case, a former Secret Service agent) who becomes the last line of defense in a building commandeered by evildoers (in this case, the White House). Unfortunately for "Olympus," the comparison doesn't appear to be a favorable one.
In a review for The Times, Robert Abele asks, "Does everything in this movie … have to be ripped from 'Die Hard'? The inside man is one thing, but the idiots in authority, the rooftop adventure gone bad, the hero mistaking a bad guy for a good guy… it's a hostage movie all right, of that 1988 suspense classic." He adds that director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") "gives in to terrible instincts here, flirting with overwrought patriotism, one too many laugh lines amid numerous characters being shot in the head, and a general chaos-inspired editing technique all too rampant in today's action cinema."
USA Today's Claudia Puig similarly describes "Olympus" as "'Die Hard' in the White House" while lamenting that "it doesn't have the tension or the funny one-liners" of its predecessor. In the lead role, Puig says, "Butler is better playing the action hero than playing his recent rom-com hunks, but the entire premise is forced, formulaic and far too familiar." Fuqua meanwhile "paints everything here with too broad a brush."
A.O. Scott of the New York Times calls "Olympus" "the worst 'Die Hard' movie this year" — worse than the poorly reviewed "A Good Day to Die Hard" — even though it "is not, strictly speaking, part of the franchise at all." Although Fuqua "is skilled at orchestrating both hand-to-hand mayhem and large-scale explosions" and "it may be too much to ask for anything more," Scott writes, "if you’re going to go to the trouble of pretending to blow up the White House, you might also want to pretend that something was at stake."
NPR's Ian Buckwalter cautions, "It's probably best not to think of 'Olympus Has Fallen' as a movie released in 2013. Antoine Fuqua's film … feels from start to finish like a throwback to the action cinema and military thrillers of decades past." He continues: "At times the debt the film owes to 'Die Hard' is so huge that it goes uncomfortably beyond homage and into wholesale theft." That's not all — Buckwalter also says "Olympus" cribs from "Red Dawn," 1950s B-movies and even "Dr. Strangelove" ("absent that film's satirical edge").
In the Village Voice, Scott Foundas echoes his fellow critics. Like Puig, he uses the sobriquet "Die Hard in the White House"; like Buckwalter, he invokes "Red Dawn." On the other hand, he says, "'Olympus Has Fallen' is pretty ridiculously entertaining — or at least entertainingly ridiculous — for long stretches, dulled only by the realization that there are many parts of the country where this will play as less than total farce."
In one of the more positive reviews, the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle writes, "'Olympus Has Fallen' is about as satisfying an action thriller as can be hoped for, with an irresistible premise and nothing but follow-through all the way to the finish." Even so, he says, "It's too derivative to be a classic — practically an uncredited remake of 'Die Hard.'"