I was wondering the other day if it’s possible to find a review of this movie that does not mention the words Die Hard. Seems that the comparison is inevitable and it seems that Olympus Has Fallen is begging for a comparison. In fact, perhaps it’s an homage to that action franchise, as it’s more akin to the spirit of the original Die hard movie than its official sequel (and if the latest one is any indication, much less banal)! Surely this movie will make you nostalgic about 90s bombastic action extravaganza (whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you).
If you’ve seen the trailer, or even a poster, then you’ll know the plot. The White House is being attacked by a group of North Korean terrorists and hold the president hostage. As is with a lot of 90s action flicks, there is only one person who could save the day and that man is
Leonidas Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). The first ten minutes or so of exposition reveals a tragic event during his day as a Presidential guard. Again, if you’ve seen the trailer, you know exactly what happened, but in case you haven’t I’m not going to mention it here. In any case, Banning is now confined to a desk job and even as time passes he’s still consumed with regret that he let his boss and friend, that is President Asher, down. So naturally, he’s more than eager to redeem himself when the chance presented itself one sunny Summer day. The attack comes hard, fast and vicious. The first attack came from above, but instead of a space ship, practically the entire Washington DC is sprayed with bullets from an air carrier, and within 13 minutes (yes the terrorist leader was counting), the supposedly most secure building in the entire free world is reduced to rubble with dead bodies piling up on its grounds.
The words fresh and original aren’t likely to be associated with this film, but it certainly stays completely true to its title. Olympus indeed has fallen, and Antoine Fuqua doesn’t pull any punches with the brutality of how it goes down. It’s rated R for a reason, it’s violent and bloody. I lost count how many people getting shot in the head at close range, not to mention all the severe stabbings. Both the good and bad guys deliver all kinds of ways to send people to their Maker. Banning himself has no qualms in *taking care* of the enemies. He seems to subscribe to the same “No mercy! No surrender!” motto as his most famous role in 300, but with a bit more humor thrown in. Some of the one-liners did deliver some laughs, especially his defiant quips at the Pentagon folks, though Butler’s character not quite as charismatic as Bruce Willis’ John McClane as the script lacks some serious wit.
Unfortunately it’s lacking in common sense as well. I mean, granted the believability factor depends on whether you’d believe a group of extreme terrorists could deliver such a blow to the United States. The thing is, I don’t know how such a big aircraft could enter our airspace, passing through Andrew Air force Base, without being shot down?? The security forces are so quickly rendered powerless by the enemy, it’s as if they’ve never been trained to respond to emergency attack whatsoever. But the biggest plot blunder of all to me is how Banning is still able to get security clearance once he’s inside the President’s compound as he’s technically no longer part of the Service. Yet could still use his thumb print to gain access, has the right code to open a safe, etc. as if he’s never left!! I mean, they didn’t change authorization codes every time there’s a shift in the security personnel? WOW, some *security* huh?
Now, I can’t possibly write this review and not mention the cheesy special effects. I get that this is a throwback to 90s action blockbuster, but do they have to throw in 90s SFX as well?? It gets distracting at times, especially during the ambush scene in broad daylight. Fortunately things get better and grittier as the day progresses, and the action gets more up-close with more hand-to-hand combat between Butler and whoever is unlucky enough to get in his way. Butler is utterly believable as a bad ass special forces (is there any other kind in the movies?), he’s definitely credible in action flicks and as a one-man army. Yet he’s not wooden or vacant like many action stars, he still brings a touch of humanity to the role as the mission is a personal one for his character. There’s some emotional resonance in his scenes with Aaron Eckhart as the beleaguered POTUS, and also with his young son.
The supporting cast are stellar but not really given much to do. We’ve seen Eckhart and Morgan Freeman in far better roles, but their presence are more than welcome and add gravitas to the project. Melissa Leo got more screen time than I thought, though it’s curious what made the Oscar winner sign on to do THIS particular role. I’m disappointed that Angela Bassett — who still look beautiful and athletic — didn’t get to do any butt-kicking in this movie! I was sure she would get to do some of that when she was cast as the head of Secret Service. Rick Yune pretty much rehashed his role as Bond villain in Die Another Day as the villainous mastermind Kang who’s hellbent to get his hands on US nuclear missiles. I guess he’s serviceable but nothing more, a far cry from the iconic performance of say, Hans Gruber, as Kang is neither menacing nor entertaining. I’d say the characters of Dylan McDermott and Radha Mitchell could’ve been left in the cutting room floor and they won’t make a dent.
Well, this movie doesn’t exactly put Butler back in my good graces just yet. He still needs to be much more selective in his role choices and most importantly, seek out decent scripts! A lot of his projects have potential but suffer from poor writing. I do think he’d be better off doing more action thrillers than rom-coms, though I do wish he balance things out with dramatic roles, too.
The spirit of patriotism is so high in this movie, there’s absolutely no room for subtlety. But seems like in the screening I was in, the audience ate it up, I could tell people were rooting for Butler as the lone hero. A torn down American flag being thrown by the bad guys from rooftops falls in slow-motion as a patriotic score comes on, there are plenty of moments like this and I can’t help but feel a bit emotional despite its inherent corny-ness. Btw, Lincoln also makes an appearance here, and you’d cheer when he [sort of] shows up on screen.
Final Thoughts: Despite all the flaws, I still think this one is not a bad movie. In fact, it’s actually quite entertaining and action fans should be pleased to see the relentless combat scenes and countless shootouts. Apart from the rather sluggish start, there’s not a boring moment as the action never stops. There’s also a decent level of suspense overall, and I definitely feel a pang in my gut seeing our leaders being violated in such a way. The subject matter of terrorism is sadly still relevant to this day, and at times it really hit close to home. Fuqua said in an interview that he sought to show America’s post-9/11 vulnerability and he certainly achieved that.
3 out of 5 reels
Those who’ve seen this one, what did you think? And for those who haven’t, are you going to check this one out?