– Summary –
Director : Antoine Fuqua
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Finley Jacobsen, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Phil Austin, Ashley Judd.
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: Terrorists take over the White House. A lone Secret Service agent must fight to take it back.
What we think : Effectively entertaining action thriller delivers a bunch of excitement, a whole heap of hokum, and an entertaining time overall. Sure, it’s not the smartest film in the world, and
some most all of the characters are as generic as they come, but Anton Fuqua has delivered a thunderously patriotic roller-coaster ride that is as vacuously thrilling as it is competently directed. I just wish the central role of Butler’s had been a little less Superman and a lot more Everyman.
White House Dow- wait, wrong movie.
The planets must surely have been in alignment this year. Like 1997 before it, which saw competing Asteroid Films released in the same calendar year (Deep Impact and Armageddon), and 1998, which saw competing ant-related films released (Antz and A Bug’s Life), 2013 will go down as the year the White House came in for some attention by those pesky terrorists. Olympus Has Fallen, the first in a pair of similarly themed films (White House Down being the other) is a fairly solid action thriller from director Antoine Fuqua, delivering a chest-pumping, flag-waving thrill ride a lot like the Wolfgang Petersen flick Air Force One – only this time, the President is holed up in his underground bunker for the majority of the film. Fuqua, who directed one of my favorite 90’s films in The Replacement Killers (which also saw the debut of Chow Yun Fat’s Hollywood career), pulls out all the stops in this frenetic, occasionally inane but altogether enthralling movie.
Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) serves on the US President’s (Aaron Eckhart) personal detail, until a fateful night when an accident ends up costing the life of the First Lady (Ashley Judd). 18 months later, and stuck in a desk job at the Treasury Department, Mike finds himself on the outer with the President (who doesn’t need the reminder of Banning’s presence in his face all day). Then, without warning, an assault and incursion by Korean terrorists, led by a man named Kang (Rick Yune), on the White House leads to the President and several of his advisers being held hostage within the nuclear Bunker beneath the facility. With Kang’s forces effectively rendering the entire Secret Service on-site out of action, Banning manages to get into the building and begin the task of taking back the White House, and rescue the President. Watching on from the Pentagon, and advising, is Speaker Of The House (and acting president) Trumball (Morgan Freeman), Secret Service Director Jacobs (Angela Bassett), and General Glegg (Robert Forster), who soon learn that Kang plans to make use of a top secret Nuclear defense mechanism named Cerberus. Alongside the President in the bunker are David Forbes (Dylan McDermott), a traitorous Secret Service agent, and Defense Secretary Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo).
Olympus Has Fallen really does feel a lot like Wolfgang Peterson’s classic Presidential Attack thriller, Air Force One – only instead of a plane, we have the most fortified building on Earth, and instead of Harrison Ford we have…. well, Aaron Eckhart, who’s no slouch as an actor but lacks the gravitas for this underwritten role. Instead of Gary Oldman’s insane terrorist, we have Rick Yune, perhaps best known to audiences for being the diamond-faced villain of Brosnan’s last Bond film, Die Another Day. Yune is no Gary Oldman, let me give you the tip. Instead of Glenn Close, Paul Guilfoyle and Tom Everett, Olympus Has Fallen gives us Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster as the People In Charge Elsewhere from the main action. The President’s son, who figures in a small subplot throughout the movie (even though he’s effectively written out once the shit goes down) is played by Finley Jacobsen, and in all honestly, he might as well have not been there at all, for all the role brings to the story. No, the focus needs to be – and rightly is – on Gerard Butler’s Banning, who, according to Action Movie 101, is an ex-special forces, ex-Black Ops, ex-superman jack-of-all-trades with whom, apparently, you do not want to f@ck. So of course, the Bad Guys don’t pay any attention to him.
Olympus Has Fallen is one of those films where exposing plot holes and leaps of logic will tear down what little entertainment there is to begin with until there’s nothing left. While I highly doubt the scenario which plays in this film could actually ever happen (especially in the post 9/11 world), Fuqua bravely decides not to worry too much about the nitty gritty of “possible?” and go with flat-out, gung ho action. Like the aforementioned Air Force One, Olympus Has Fallen is an adult actioner, filled to the brim with gunfights and a horrendous body count. People are killed via all manner of methods, although the vast majority are cut down in the opening hail of bullets and explosions. Blood is spilled in this one, and I think the movie is far better for it. This isn’t some stripped-down bloodless PG-13er for the pre-teens. This is outright, kill-or-be-killed, badass motherf@ckery of the highest order. Fuqua, who also helmed the turgid Bruce Willis political actioner Tears Of The Sun, the equally turgid period “action” film King Arthur, and the impressively lackluster Mark Wahlberg flick Shooter, knows his way around an action sequence; it would seem his latter career has tried to balance social commentary with action, much to his (and our) detriment. Fuqua should just stick to ballsy, sweaty action films like this – he handles the majority of Olympus’s set-pieces with a sure eye and a classy action sensibility. While the gaps in reality show every time the gunfire seems to stop, Fuqua’s direction, coupled with some terrific performances by the cast, elevate what could have been a DTV disaster into a rip-roaring few hours of diverting entertainment.
The story unfolds with the expected Hoo Rah America mentality – there’s a lot of Team America parody to be mined in this film – but for what it is, the film’s still more than decent. Military impotency in the face of underwhelming odds, the Lone Hero routine (aka The John McClane Method) and a fierce streak of patriotism in the face of horrendous behavior, evoke both chuckles of derision (occasionally) and a sense of urgency about proceedings. Olympus Has Fallen isn’t the most intelligent story of them all, nor is it the most original (Air Force One did it better, to be honest) but it more than accomplishes its limited brief to the audience. The script gives us only the broadest brushstrokes for characters, including Butler’s Banning, who appears to be the square-jawed hero type from the 80’s; most modern heroes have some flaw in their personality to make them more interesting, give them an arc to follow as the film progresses, but Banning is a blank slate, with an overly developed sense of duty being his most endearing – and noticeable – character trait. It’s unfortunate that Banning’s so ill-defined compared to classic action film heroes, because one gets the sense that had Butler had more to work with, the film might have had more of an emotional weight behind all the bullets and patriotic grandstanding.
That said, Butler is solid in an emotionally undemanding role. Butler’s no stranger to action, with his breakout role in 300 leading to a career of…. romantic comedies with Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Anniston… Urgh. Hopefully Butler’s career can now get back to doing what he does best – kicking ass. The problem with his role here is that he’s nigh indestructible. Banning’s so good at everything needed to vanquish the enemy that nobody really ever poses a threat to him. Sure, he takes a pounding, gets bloodied up a bit, but there’s no real sense that he might fail – and that fear of failure might have engendered a greater attachment by the audience to his plight. As it were, it’s not so much a question of if he’s going to succeed, but merely how quickly. Accompanying Butler is Rick Yune’s Kang, the central antagonist of the piece. Yune isn’t a great actor (in my opinion) with his lack of charisma and a stunted performance style getting in the way of him being a memorable villain; he’s a Generic Villain, designed as the Boss Level character on whom the focus of our rage and anger belongs, but beyond that, his motivations are murky at best. Something about the DMZ in Korea? Whatever. Morgan Freeman’s Acting President character is as close as we’ll get to seeing him reprise the President role he took up in Deep Impact – damn, I’d so vote for Freeman if he ran – and he does his best Phone It In effort once again. As with Bassett’s clunky Secret Service Director character, and equally so with Forster’s gruff Army General, Freeman’s role in this film is to look at monitors, deliver exposition which underlines the severity of every situation, and sit around tables shaking his head as it all goes to shit. In this regard, all three of these competent performers are solid. Undemanding, but solid. Small roles to Cole Hauser (as another Secret Service agent), Radha Mitchell (as Banning’s wife, a nurse who spends all her time in the film in a hospital caring for people) and Ashley Judd (as the First Lady, who is unfortunately not in the film anywhere near long enough) provide some “I know that face” moments for the audience, but this is primarily Butler and Yune’s show, and they shoulder the burden of the success or failure of the film. Aussie audiences will spot a surprise cameo from local journalist Hamish McDonald (on the Ten network) giving a credible cameo as a newscaster summarizing the events of the day.
If you’re a casual observer of pop-culture cinema, you’d be forgiven for wondering why a salable name like Butler isn’t front and center on the promotional grab-bag for this film. The simple fact is that years of romantic comedy fluff has somewhat soured audience’s appreciation of the man’s talent. Thankfully, hopefully, Olympus Has Fallen will go a long way to rectifying this; the film lacks street-smarts and occasionally struggles to overcome its many flaws (some of which gape wider than a sinkhole) but is generally entertaining. While the generic nature of the characters and plot often stultify the emotional impact of the story, the action hounds will lap up the copious gunfights, fistfight and last-breath saves with ease. Olympus Has Fallen is fun, frivolous entertainment that delivers just what you need to kill a few hours, but never remains on your mind for long after the credits roll. A worthwhile diversion from more serious fare, I recommend Olympus Has Fallen on the strength of its utterly bizarre premise, and Butler’s dialogue chewing performance.