IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME:120 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Former U.S. Army Ranger Mike Banning is the lead Secret Service agent assigned to guard President Benjamin Asher. On a drive from Camp David, the car transporting the First Family crashes; Banning saves President Asher, but his wife Margaret dies in the crash. Eighteen months later, Banning works at the Treasury Department, within eyesight of the White House, having been demoted. During a meeting between Asher and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Tae-Woo, Korean-led guerrilla forces, aided by treasonous members of the Prime Minister Lee’s own detail and Dave Forbes, an ex-US Secret Service agent turned private contractor, mount an air and ground assault that results in the capture of the White House, Asher being held hostage, and Tae-Woo being killed. However, Banning is still in the building….
I doubt there are many above the age of 30 who would say the action movie is in a good state right now, and I know I am one of many who wish for a return to the glory days of the 80’s [and don’t forget the first half of the 90’s was pretty good too]. Of course some enjoyable stuff is still coming out like the unashamed nostalgia trips that are the Expendables movies, and actually the first Taken was really good. For the most part though, action cinema seems to be partially taken over by CGI, editing where you can’t see what the hell is going on, and an obsession with getting that bloody PG-13 or 12A rating. Olympus Has Fallen, which nobody seems to have pointed out is very similar to the Eric Roberts starrer The Alternate from 2000, is no classic, and does at times suffer from two of those ubiquitous flaws I’ve mentioned above, but it is the best action film in quite a while and the facts that it doesn’t hold back on the violence and appears to be doing well at the box office are almost causes for celebration.
We don’t waste much time in getting on with it, and the script does a good job of introducing character relationships in such a short period of time, though of course you know that when, for instance, we learn that the President’s young son likes to sneak around the White House, he will use his ability to do that later. The car crash where the President’s wife is killed is edited so you can barely tell what’s happening, but never mind, it probably transmits the sensation of being involved in the incident, and we soon move forward eighteen months. Our hero Mike is your typical hero who is haunted by an episode where he failed to save someone’s life, but he has little time to brood as the White House is suddenly attacked from the air and from the ground. Director Antoine Fuqua is obviously the type of filmmaker [though he doesn’t do this in all of his films] who thinks that, in order to transmit a sense of panic, the cinematographer needs to shake the camera about and have loads of shots that go by so quick you can hardly see what’s happening. Given that the sequence was so long, I started to get sore eyes from all this, but the action is so well sustained, the pace never slowing for a moment, that I have to give Fuqua some guarded praise here. It’s quite exciting and staged in a way that makes it seem quite believable, while most viewers will be more bothered by the crappy CG planes and explosions, I mean WHY?
After a while it all starts to boil down to Die Hard in the White House, right to the point of paralleling certain familiar occurrences such as one of the baddies pretending to be ‘good’ to get close to our hero.Mike dispatches villain after villain, the main baddie Kang gets more and more fidgety, and elsewhere Morgan Freeman gets, for a while, to be President of the United States a second time. The action begins to get a little repetitive and, unlike most of the classic old action films it sometimes evokes, there’s no humour except for a few mildly funny comments which Bruce Willis may well have made something of but which Gerard Butler, as good as he is in this movie, is kind of lost with. The film never slows down for a moment though, and just about retains its gritty feel even as the stakes get higher and higher and you may feel like you’re watching a strange combination of Die Hard and one of the more fantastical James Bond films. You will also most certainly have seen the climax loads of times before, but it still had me on the edge of my seat even though it was obvious things were only going to go one way.
Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t soft-peddle the violence, with the carnage coming thick and fast without ever going over the top about it or it being exploitative. Interestingly, there’s little attempt to make it ironic or humorous [though watch out for the use of a Lincoln bust!], a sign of the mood of the times I suppose. There is quite a vicious scene where a woman is beaten up which would have made the film an ‘18’ even ten years ago, and I was a little surprised, but it reinforces how brutal the bad guys in this film are, and Rick Yune [almost playing his Die Another Day role again] and his gang really are convincing and scary, to the point that you may be on tender-hooks as to who they’re going to kill next. As for Mike, he doesn’t hold back either, having no bones about slitting one guy’s throat while his companion is tied up, then sticking his knife in the companion to get him to talk. While in the end this film doesn’t try to be any more than a bit of somewhat guilty fun, the script by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt is savvy enough to make the viewer wonder if Mike is always doing the right thing.
There has been much criticism of the supposed flag waving in the film. Actually, apart from a final speech which would probably have been uttered in real life, I didn’t find much of this, and in any case what is so wrong about a bit of patriotism? Critics of the left-wing persuasion always seem on carp on how dreadful it is that so many films from the USA have a patriotic element [I’m old enough to remember when Rambo : First Blood Part Two was savagely attacked by folk more for its political point of view than its qualities, of lack of, as a film], but we see more films from the US from any other country anyway so it’s obvious this would be the case anyway isn’t it? I know that loving your country is a bad thing to many but the constant attacks on American films because they express a love for America [and for the record I don’t agree with all of its foreign policy either] make me sick, as do the pathetic comments of racism if the villains are chiefly all from another country. Just because Olympus Has Fallen has Korean villains doesn’t mean it hates Koreans. Namby-pamby political correctness is getting ridiculous.
O well, I’m doing what I try not to do, verge on the political whilst reviewing a film, so I’ll turn to the acting, and by and large it’s good. Gerard Butler’s character is, in the end, written as a variant of John McClane [and is certainly closer to him than that guy running around Russia in A Good Day To Die Hard], but he has a commanding presence and I was certainly behind him all the way. To me, Aaron Eckhart doesn’t come across that well as a very moral, upstanding President, and Melissa Leo doesn’t have enough to do in a smallish role, but Finley Jacobson, taking a break from movies with dogs, proves himselfto be a solid little actor as young Connor. All in all Olympus Has Fallen is worth a watch for action fans, it tells us that they still can make half-decent films of this kind, even if, in the end, it would probably have been done better back in the 80’s.