Film review: OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, from Built For Speed

After his foray into mindless rom-coms Gerard Butler leaps back into mindless action films as former secret service agent and Special Forces killing machine Mike Banning who battles terrorists in the ludicrous thriller Olympus Has Fallen.

This film is basically Die Hard goes to the White House as Butler’s Mike Banning takes on a small army of rogue North Koreans who have machine-gunned their way into the White House and taken President Ben Asher (Aaron Eckhart) hostage. Led by the arrogant young Kang (Rick Yune) the terrorists’ goal is to use Asher and his senior staff as pawns in a game that may result in nuclear annihilation of the US. Like Die Hard’s John McClane, Banning sneaks around the enclosed battle zone, outsmarting and outfighting his supposedly elite commando opponents.

As a lunkhead action film Olympus Has Fallen almost works: it’s fast paced, dynamic and bloody and it never bores its audience with trivialities like a thoughtful script or realism. The action sequences suffer, though, from the dreaded wobble cam and scenes that are so poorly lit that it’s almost impossible to tell what’s happening.

Infused with news footage concerning North Korea’s military build-up and provocation of its southern neighbour, the film is admittedly topical but still utterly preposterous.

With its pounding militaristic music, bad guys who can’t shoot straight, white knuckle, down-to-the-wire bomb diffusion scene and inevitable Kung Fu smack down between the hero and the oily villain, Olympus has Fallen gleefully indulges just about every action movie cliché.  This includes making the hero indestructible as Banning defies all laws of physics to survive bullets, explosions and falls that would kill Superman. His demolition of the terrorists seems designed to underscore the NRA-approved notion that the only thing that can beat a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, so dithering government wimps, get out of the way!

Director Antoine Fuqua seems to be aware of how ridiculous this gun-worshipping, flag-waving monstrosity of a film is as he injects a  few moments of self-parody such as having Banning stove in a terrorist’s noggin with a bust of honest Abe Lincoln; Spielberg take note.  In the end, though, the nauseating God Bless America mentality wins out.

Despite his impressive physicality, Butler is not a charismatic hero. His Taken-style penchant for brutally dispatching adversaries – including stabbing a bound prisoner in the throat – is hardly endearing.  He isn’t helped by the fact that his dialogue is composed of smug, macho catchphrases rather than anything resembling a normal conversation with another human.   The film makes a feeble attempt to give Banning more emotional complexity by suggesting that he is tortured by his failure years earlier to save someone from a car accident.  This emotional baggage is gleefully discarded as Banning begins his killing spree.

The supporting cast, who are mostly cardboard cut-out action movie stereotypes, don’t fare much better.  Aaron Eckhart sticks unerringly to the decent, stoic Hollywood President model but lacks the appealing roguish quality Harrison Ford brought to similar roles in 1990’s. In this film we get two Presidents for the price of one as House Speaker (Morgan Freeman) steps into the breach as commander and chief.  Only an actor of Freeman’s immense charm and gravitas could draw a likeable and noble figure out of such a silly role.  Melissa Leo, on the other hand, is so shrill and manic as the secretary of defence and as a hostage that we actually pity her captors.

Of the recent crop of ridiculous, reprehensible, flag-waving, gun-toting, right-wing action movies Olympus Has Fallen is probably the one to see.  It’s at least more competently made than the cartoonish GI Joe: Retaliation and has more visceral excitement than the appalling A Good Day to Die Hard.


Nick’s rating: Two stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Antoine Fuqua.

Release date: 4th April 2013.

Running time:  119 mins.


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