Olympus Has Fallen is a movie that shouldn't work; yet somehow it does. Featuring a large cast of A-list talent, but a very B-movie premise, Olympus Has Fallen delivers the type of visceral action movie pleasures 2013 has been missing. In fact, it outdoes nearly every 2013 action movie combined.
Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent who's been looking to get back "in the game." After serving under President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) for his first term, Banning must make a harrowing decision that puts him on a different career path. However, Banning gets the opportunity for redemption in the form of a rescue mission; an improbable rescue mission put into action after terrorists take the President, his cabinet, and the entire White House hostage. Banning storms the White House, the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) assumes the acting President role, and the terrorists make outlandish demands. And from there things follow the typical story beats, albeit in a very R-rated fashion.
What makes Olympus Has Fallen unique, though, is that it doesn't pull its punches. It portrays an outlandish situation in a somewhat believable fashion. That is to say, this movie doesn't try to skirt around certain ideas, but rather approaches them head on. For example, Banning takes no prisoners while making quick work of the terrorist group's B-level thugs. If a knife to the brain gets the job done, Banning is more than willing to make the introduction. Similarly, the terrorists don't play games, but execute any member of the President's cabinet to get results.
The terrorists plan? It's pretty stupid, and it falls into action movie cliche territory, complete with a countdown clock. But the overall construction of the movie is enjoyable enough to keep audiences engaged, and its action is wholly satisfying to witness on screen. Moreover, the violence, and overall gritty nature of the film, elevates the action perfectly for fans of Die Hard or films of that ilk. If for no other reason than to see a somewhat mindless action movie that delivers on its promises, Olympus Has Fallen makes for a perfect distraction.
Speaking of actors, Olympus Has Fallen features quite the A-list talent. If Olympus Has Fallen was terrible, you could see easily see this movie standing out as a major stain on these actors resumes. However, everyone performs admirably in their respective roles, and never once do their performances undermine the plot. Though the general premise is preposterous, these actors approach the material with a gravitas that feels authentic. Aaron Eckhart plays a President that is human, but fully understands the responsibilities, and sacrifices, that come with being Commander in Chief. He's somewhat broken, but unflinching in his resolve. Similarly, Melissa Leo as the Secretary of State makes you believe that this is a politician who values her country above all else, even when pushed to the limits.
And then there's Gerard Butler, who dominates nearly 80% of the film's action, and truly makes this film work. He's the John McClain of the Secret Service, minus all of the wise cracking. Unlike Leo or Eckhart, Butler isn't asked to do much "acting," but he makes for a great action hero. This is the type of role we expected to see Butler in coming out of 300; it's only about a decade later.
Director Antoine Fuqua made a name for himself with the cop drama Training Day and has since then tried to stay relevant within the action genre. To say that a film like Olympus Has Fallen was beneath him is easy, but that's the feeling you'll have prior to seeing it. Rather, only in the capable hands of a director like Fuqua could such a movie not feel like straight-to-DVD schlock. Fuqua clearly knows how to create compelling action, and he also knows how to get some solid performances out of his actors. He believes this movie is a big budget blockbuster action flick, and by extension you will too.
It bears repeating: Olympus Has Fallen
is a hard 'R.' Its action is brutal, unflinching, and is exactly what something like A Good Day to Die Hard
was missing. It's an action movie constructed the way they were a decade ago, with a simple premise, a likeable hero, and high stakes - no riff raff, and no trite love story. There are plenty of shootouts, bombastic explosions, and bare-knuckle brawls to satisfy any fan's appetite, and there's actually some pretty thrilling sequences thrown in for good measure.
However, the CG effects look a bit rough in places, especially in the early "invasion" sequence. Luckily, the film is edited well enough to hide most of those flaws. Most moviegoers will sit down expecting a mediocre action flick, and they'll come out pleasantly surprised. In fact, a lot will leave Olympus Has Fallen
with a renewed faith in the action genre. Those who want something a little more cerebral or carefully constructed, on the other hand, won't find that here.
March 22, 2013