In 1988, the movie Die Hard pretty much revolutionized the action movie. You could tell because it spawned a host of imitators in the '90s (Under Siege, Passenger 57).
But if you witnessed Bruce Willis's last half-hearted trip to the studio paymaster, A Good Day to Die Hard, you'll know that not even Die Hard movies are appropriating the Die Hard formula any more.
That leaves the field open for this enjoyable cinematic cheese plate, the first of two movies playing on the logline: Die Hard in the White House.
The second one, due in June, is Roland Emmerich's White House Down. To whet our appetite, director Antoine Fuqua serves up his cheaper-but-first entry, a derivative but somewhat satisfying slab o' action cinema.
Helping matters: Gerard Butler in full This-is-Sparta mode as Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent with, natch, past combat experience with Special Forces.
In the opening sequence, Banning is revealed to be both a friend and protector of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), but that doesn't help when Banning must choose favourites and allows the first lady (Ashley Judd) to die in an elaborately staged car accident.
Banning is shunted to a desk job. But a few months after the tragedy, he rises to the occasion when a North Korean terrorist task force launches a co-ordinated attack on Washington and gains access to the White House. The president, the secretary of defence (Melissa Leo), and South Korea's prime minister all find themselves in an underground inner sanctum with the plot's deadly mastermind (Rick Yune, who also played a North Korean baddie in the Bond movie Die Another Day).
Soon, all that stands between a further castration of American might is Banning... oh, and a room full of sub-presidential power players, including the House Speaker (Morgan Freeman), and the Secret Service director (Angela Bassett), whose job is to helplessly watch the terror unfold and say things like: "Oh my God."
Banning proves to be a little more proactive, diminishing the bad guys one by one in the best John McClane style.
The visual effects, especially pertaining to that Washington assault, are a little sloppy and the overall look of the movie is a tad muddy. (One anticipates Emmerich's movie will look much more slick and expensive.)
But Olympus Has Fallen has its old-school charms. It is frankly a relief to see Butler kicking butt, given that his last few movies have been spent in the realm of the drippy drama/insipid rom-com.
Yes, this movie does indulge in a bit of spurious flag-waving of the type we would expect from Michael Bay's Transformer movies. We expect better of Fuqua, whose films usually have a more hard-boiled sensibility (Training Day, Brooklyn's Finest).
But at its nasty core, Olympus Has Fallen is an effective, even gripping action movie, a worthy Die Hard clone that is actually more satisfactory than the last Die Hard movie.
Excerpts of select reviews of Olympus Has Fallen:
A North Korean terrorist may be responsible for taking the president hostage, but it's Bulgarian-made CGI that does the most damage in Antoine Fuqua's intense, ugly, White-House-under-siege actioner Olympus Has Fallen. Cut past the pic's superficial patriotism, and the message is ironically clear: Never outsource your visual effects when a domestic shop will do.
-- Peter DeBruge, Variety
Directed by Antoine Fuqua with his usual slam-bang, cutthroat aggression but with almost nothing in the way of surprise or genuine, organic suspense.
-- Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
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.
-- Scott Foundas, Village Voice
The film spends its first act establishing a flimsy emotional groundwork before gleefully taking a sledgehammer to it just seconds into Act 2.
-- Calum Marsh, Slant Magazine