Friday, 24 May 2013

[Review] Olympus Has Fallen

Stars; Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo
Screenplay; Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benidikt
Director; Antoine Fuqua
Cert 15; Running Time 120 mins

When highly organised terrorists invade American soil, and take over the White House holding the US President hostage, it's up to disgraced former secret service agent Mike Banning to save the day. Time is not on his side however as the terrorists demand the removal of US military from South Korean waters but have a far more insidious plan to implement.

The first of two movies in which terrorists invade and decimate the White House  (the second being Roland Emmerich's unimaginatively titled White House Down), Olympus Has Fallen is a beefcake action extravaganza with tongue firmly in cheek but played out very straight laced. It is not so much a parody, yet woe betide anyone who takes it seriously, but a homage to the numerous films of 80's and 90's in which one man is pitted against a group of highly trained and deadly terrorists. The trend of course started with Die Hard in 1988 which launched Bruce Willis' cinema career not to mention numerous sequels that have at times proven divisive in debate yet on same scale hugely entertaining with bigger & badder explosive fun but less engaging villains. Let's face it Alan Rickman's European baddie set the bar so high that only Jeremy Irons in Die Hard with a Vengeance came close enough to match or even set the new standard. 

The success of Die Hard prompted numerous "copies" whilst so blatantly a Die Hard rip off one wonders why the courts were not awash with copyright infringement lawsuits. That said however, the likes of Cliffhanger (Die Hard on a rock face), Under Siege (Die Hard on a boat), and Passenger 57 (Die Hard on a plane) are sufficiently distinct in that they never quite match up to the one that started it all but were packed with thrill rides in their own right. Thankfully the trend died down being relegated to the direct to video/DVD market. Olympus Has Fallen brings the trend back to the big screen with a bang.



If there is an absence of fundamental aspect that made these films the blockbuster financial and critical successes of their day it the lack of decent bad guys and kick arse one liners. Rick Yune does his best to be menacing as Kang, the leader of the North Korean invasion force. Sadly however he ends up a pale imitation of his far more worthy villainous performance as the diamond encrusted albino Bond baddie Zhao from Die Another Day, but still excels in the action and fight sequences. The script is also devoid of the genre's quintessential one liners that made Die Hard and its compatriots the legends they are. In particular Gerard Butler's secret service agent Mike Banning's utterance of a poorly scripted line (Let's play a game of "go fuck yourself, you go first) was cringeworthy at best. 

From start to finish all the little homages to the far fetched action flicks of  yesteryear (or even decades) are evident, and writers Rothenberger & Benidikt pull out all the stops. Mike Banning is a combination of Steven Segal's Casey Ryback from Under Siege (a secret service agent who's more than he seems) and Stallone's guilt ridden rock jock hero Gabe Walker from Cliffhanger. The similarities risk bordering on the ridiculous where at one point it was anticipated Butler would turn to the camera and say "Yeah well I am also a secret service agent." The humour and explosive action save the film from the pit of absurdity. Any avid film buff will not only spot similarities to Die Hard-eque films mentioned earlier but also more obscure 80's action fare such as Invasion USA and even Red Dawn. It also casts Dylan McDermott, who played a secret service agent in 1993's In the Line of Fire as, you guessed it, a secret service agent. As much fun can be had spotting the references as simply watching the events unfold with plenty of entertaining shock and awe action.

Butler is excellent as Mike Banning, the former head of US President  Aaron Eckhart's protection detail engaged in self directed angst ridden guilt over the death of his boss' wife. He seemless transform into a one man counter invasion force and it is in the action that Butler truly shines giving Bruce Willis and Daniel Craig serious runs for their money, oozing charisma, spot on delivery & timing, and handling the action as easy as making an omelette  Eckhart's President Benjamin Asher is sadly lacking in depth and whilst the star of The Dark Knight and Battle; Los Angeles turns in a well executed performance it is too reminiscent of Harvey Dent his most noted role to date. Amiable support is provided courtesy of McDermott making a welcome return to the big screen but the supporting stars of the show are Angela Bassett as the Secret Service Director standing up for Banning's abilities, and Morgan Freeman once again taking the presidential seat as the reluctant POTUS with some difficult decisions to make.


The script is a fair first attempt from newcomers Rothenberger and Benidikt who have turned out a fun packed well paced action thriller. There are one or two lapses in realism, one wonders why the acting President and Joint Chiefs of Staff would easily acquiesce to terrorist demands  with so much more at stake. Saying that such trivialities are quickly forgotten with likeable characters and  a few plot twists whilst likely to be predictable do not disappoint. Direction courtesy of Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) keeps the proceedings moving along at just the right pace dispensing with the sub plots before getting down to the fun bits. The centre piece of Olympus Has Fallen, the explosive action is fun and over the top featuring giant aircraft unleashing a rain of ammunition from heavy calibre guns, gunfire and the obligatory close quarters hand to hand fisticuffs that look highly impressive. Action lovers will be left open jawed as some Washington DC's political landmarks are reduced to burning ruins, charred shells of their former glory. 

Olympus Has Fallen ticks many of the essential boxes for Saturday night popcorn flicks, which plot holes and underused characters aside, has all the thrills of speedy fairground ride. It has sent a high benchmark for Emmerich's White House Down. Until that arrives sit back, power down the brain and enjoy.

Image Credit; Marshalcover (C) All Rights Reserved

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