Olympus Has Fallen Review
Let the Die Hard Comparisons Commence
It’s already March and we’ve experienced several movies attempt to solidify the action genre in 2013. Gangster Squad, The Last Stand, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Parker, Bullet to the Head and Live Free or Die Hard each failed to establish this feat despite some films getting closer to that goal than others. Olympus Has Fallen did with its box office take and favorable review from critics across the board. From the lead to the entire supporting cast, each actor gets as much out of his or her screen time as possible. There’s much to be said about the patriotism and “Americanness” of the film, but that’s best left up to viewer interpretation. Yes, Americans are the good guys here, but is it a crime to have loyal protagonists who have the conviction to fight for their beliefs against invaders? Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur) directs.
The plot is simple: a disgraced former Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler- 300, Gamer) is America’s only shot of saving the president of the United States from North Korean terrorists during an invasion of the White House on present-day July 5. (I don’t get the irony of the film taking place on July 5, but I’m willing to overlook it. I’ve found that it’s best not to question the clunky-at-best social and political commentary from action movies.) So we’re given one shamed man with a chance to redeem himself by taking on an entire terrorist army. This sounds familiar, yes? Well it didn’t bother me because it’s the best action movie of 2013 as of today. We have spectacular plane sequences that are reminiscent of the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises, a protagonist not unlike NYC’s own John McClane, bad guys from a dictator-ruled oppressed country and a fictional presidential cabinet made up of so many classy actors that I wouldn’t mind if they were the real cabinet.
Olympus Has Fallen’s biggest strength is its ensemble. It’s no surprise that Olympus Has Fallen managed to get such an outstanding, talented cast for what is seemingly a straight-forward action flick due to Fuqua’s direction of Denzel Washington in Training Day that led to the actor’s second Academy Award win. I was surprised to see Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking) play the Commander-in-Chief mainly because those roles are reserved for older actors and Eckhart still appears to be in his action-starring prime. However, Eckhart’s performance is great and certainly reminiscent of his performance as Harvey Dent/ Two-Face in The Dark Knight.
Morgan Freeman shows up as sage wisdom yet again as the Speaker of the House who is thrust into “pinch presidenting” as Eckhart’s pesident has been abducted by terrorists who invade the White House in order to “unite” South Korea back to North Korea. I was ready to call the casting of Melissa Leo in the film a wasted opportunity until the last act of the film. Leo hides in the shadows for the first two acts wearing the worst makeup job I’ve even seen in a Hollywood blockbuster (seriously, the dark circles around her eyes before the attack are disconcerting) but she shines in the final act, nailing the right amount of cheesy patriotism and gravity in reality that take intense, brutal action movies to the next echelon.
Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, The Descendants) makes a play as an angry general who makes cliché headbutts with Freeman throughout the film. Perhaps most underused is Angela Bassett’s Secret Service Director. Like 2011’s Green Lantern, Olympus Has Fallen didn’t allow Bassett to fully flex her acting chops. Ashley Judd briefly shows up as the first lady and Radha Mitchell does her best in a thankless role. Finley Jacobsen plays the president and first lady’s son. I must admit how refreshing it was to see a child who wasn’t constantly angst-filled and annoying in an action film for once.
Rick Yune (Die Another Day, The Man with the Iron Fists) and Dylan McDermott (“American Horror Story,” The Campaign) split villain duty on this one with Yune taking the lead and McDermott taking the role of most-obvious-double-agent-ever. Yune plays the stereotypical action villain: leads a militant terrorist group, is North Korean (thanks for that new stereotype Red Dawn remake), has idealistic motives and doesn’t flinch when he executes innocent American citizen after innocent American citizen. A villain indeed. So many Washington, D.C.-types are executed during this movie that a change to “Star Trek” red vests may be more appropriate uniforms for congressmen and women. Yune never overacts nor tries to match Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber like so many failed action villains from days of yore.
Gerard Butler is back and hasn’t been this intense since 300. He truly is the shining star of this picture. Butler is the film’s lead and never stays on screen too long to wear out his welcome. What makes Butler’s character, Mike Banning, so interesting is that despite being the lead, he isn’t crucial to every scene. Like Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Banning isn’t in more than half of the scenes. The movie truly is an ensemble action piece and this helps Butler immensely: he has an entirely talented and able supporting cast who can carry their own scenes with grace and dignity without the star carrying the entire film on his shoulders and storyline. We almost forget about Banning when the camera cuts to the war room, bunker or hospital, but never fully do because know there’s a wraith in the white house that the terrorists didn’t count on when they made their plans. Banning doesn’t have the charisma of John McClane (Banning’s line of “playing a game” falls flat) or the intensity of John Rambo but we do root for him because of the humanity Butler is able to bring to his character despite the simple, action-driven plot. The opening hook of the film shows Banning’s disgrace, and we can’t help but root for him from there.
I initially had no intention to see this film based on Butler’s horrendous slide of recent role choices, but Olympus Has Fallen is where he turns his career around. Butler’s Banning is a character who can carry his own franchise. It wouldn’t even be absurd to put him in an international situation (looking at you, A Good Day to Die Hard). I expect sequels featuring Banning and the supporting cast for summers to come (I think it has earned getting out of March). The writers just need to make Banning’s one-liners work and remember not to burden him with carrying the film on his own. Olympus Has Fallen will be one of those classic action movies played every other weekend on TNT and TBS. The film has its flaws but they’re well-worth overlooking for the best action flick so far from 2013.