Olympus Has Fallen
Director : Antonine Fuqua
Screenplay : Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2013
Stars : Gerard Butler (Mike Banning), Aaron Eckhart (President Benjamin Asher), Finley Jacobsen (Connor), Dylan McDermott (Forbes), Rick Yune (Kang), Morgan Freeman (Speaker Trumbull), Angela Bassett (Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs), Melissa Leo (Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan), Radha Mitchell (Leah), Cole Hauser (Roma), Phil Austin (Vice President Charlie Rodriguez), James Ingersoll (Admiral Nathan Hoenig), Freddy Bosche (Diaz), Lance Broadway (O’Neil), Sean O’Bryan (Ray Monroe), Keong Sim (Lee Tae-Woo)
Not since Roland Emmerich detonated the White House with a blast of alien firepower in Independence Day (1996) has a film treated the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with such violent disdain as we see in Olympus Has Fallen. And not since the original Die Hard (1988) have we seen a film that plays so much like, well, the original Die Hard, with so many plot points lifted and transcribed into the new setting that one could play a potentially lethal drinking game putting away shots every time you spot one (“I spy Robert Forster in the Paul Gleason role!,” “I spy the scene where overconfident military commandos try and fail to take back the building with badly misguided force!”). Of course, I don’t think anyone is necessarily looking for originality or innovation in an action film of this sort; rather, a certain rote familiarity is expected, even desired, as long as the violence is bloody enough, the language salty enough, and the stakes ridiculously high enough.
And the stakes are indeed quite high in the script by first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. Not only does a sizeable army of North Korean terrorists storm the White House with enough brute force to take out what looks to be the entire Secret Service and most of the Washington, DC, police force, but their arrogant, sociopathic leader Kang (Rick Yune) both demands that the U.S. military withdraw entirely from the zone between North and South Korea and plans on detonating all of America’s nuclear devices in their silos, thus reducing the country to a complete wasteland (which makes the aforementioned removal of the military seem almost unnecessary given that the entire country and its government would be laid to waste).
Luckily, there’s a “fly in the ointment, a monkey in the wrench” who slips past Hans, er, Kang’s devious and meticulously plotted take-over, in this case the all-American-named Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a former Special Ops soldier and secret service agent who had been responsible for personally protecting the President (Aaron Eckhart) until an untimely tragedy sent him packing to the Treasury Department. Mike is a one-note badass who is lethal with whatever he has in his grasp, whether it be a knife, a gun, or a bust of Abraham Lincoln. He is truly operating on his own as he moves about the darkened, bullet-ridden White House, making use of hidden passages and his years of experience to take out the North Korean baddies in route to saving the President and his entourage, who are being held and treated none too kindly in a secret underground bunker.
Director Antoine Fuqua, who has honed his gritty action-thriller chops for the past 15 years with films such as Training Day (2001), Tears of the Sun (2003), and Shooter (2008), delivers the action with speed and intensity, making each punch, kick, and bullet register with full stereophonic impact. The cutting is sometimes too quick to maintain much in the way of coherence, which is not helped by the visual gloominess of the electricity-deprived White House, but Fuqua isn’t really after details, but rather bigger-than-life emotions and visceral reactions. He opens the film with a fawning shot of Old Glory in all her glory, and the shameless jingoist machismo never lets up from there. The manner in which the terrorists take over the White House—with a mixture of surprise, massive military firepower, and sheer numbers—is just plausible to be a bit unnerving, but a little too over the top to keep anyone awake at night.
And, just in case anyone wants to take things too seriously, Fuqua gives his actors plenty of room to ham it up, whether it be Morgan Freeman doing a particularly stoic Morgan Freeman performance as the Speaker of the House-turned-acting President or Melissa Leo gnashing her teeth and kicking with all her might as a feisty Defense Secretary who refuses to be treated like a damsel in distress. Aaron Eckhart makes that famous square jaw do most of the acting for him, while Gerard Butler just grimaces and takes it all like the good Ameri-CAN that he is. He isn’t rough enough around the edges to have the everyman charm that Bruce Willis exuded so effortlessly in Die Hard, but he does get to go through all the same motions, right down to the cocky banter he exchanges with Kang (albeit now on high-definition video screens, rather than Reagan-era walkie-talkies) and his own clever F-bomb put-down. It all pales in comparison to McTiernan’s action masterpiece, and the nakedness with which the filmmakers ape it suggests that they really don’t care. They just want to blow stuff up real good, put the hurt on some communist nasties, and remind the audience that the good ol’ U.S. of A can absorb any punishment doled its way, even if the White House is going to need a paint job and a sh-tload of screen doors at the end of the day.
Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick
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