A solid actioner is truly a rare sighting these days. With all the “G.I.Joe’s”, “Fast & Furious” and various comic book adaptations being proliferated ad infinitum vomitum, it would seem that action films that do not overdose on adrenaline (and in its stead rely on the characters’ charisma and interesting story) are all but extinct. On top of that, after a raging disaster “A good day to die hard” turned out to be, it was only logical of me to be somewhat sceptical when I rolled up into the cinema to see “Olympus Has Fallen”.
This new baby of Antoine Fuqua’s (“Training Day”, “Tears of the Sun”, “Shooter”) is a film depiction of Bin Laden’s wet dreams – a day when The White House with its precious contents get taken hostage by bloodthirsty terrorists. It may seem a bit inappropriate for some to be watching films like that in the wake of the Boston Bombings; however I don’t share that belief. In fact, “Olympus Has Fallen” is a fantastic example of how powerful Hollywood can be in conveying the ideas of Uplifting American Patriotism (I believe that it deserves its own little place in the dictionaries, because no other nation on Earth can display affection to their homeland in such an unhindered and positively proud manner). Maybe even a bit too powerful, but I will get to that later on.
Anyhow, in “Olympus Has Fallen” we meet Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a Secret Service agent who used to work as security detail to the American President Ben Asher (Aaron Eckhart). After a horrifying accident that claimed the life of The First Lady (Ashley Judd) Mike was relieved from the Secret Service, and the next 1.5 years he spent riding the desk in the Treasury Department (some sort of purgatory for the seemingly disgraced pariahs of the US officials). Then, the unthinkable happened. A bunch of North-Korean-looking baddies launched a full-frontal assault on The White House exactly on the day when The US and South Korea were supposed to discuss security measures against the growing threat from the North. The terrorists succeeded in taking over the White House and were holding The President with his entourage hostage in a bunker underneath it. It also turned out that the only person left alive in the building was our man Mike Banning, who – although he wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place – dashed towards The White House the minute the attack started to help defend it. You can figure out the rest. One man to face them all and all that jazz…
I don’t really understand the whole idea of calling “Olympus Has Fallen” the ‘Die Hard in the White House’. I mean, I do see where those who claim that are coming from, but I think they are simply wrong. If anything, “Olympus Has Fallen” would be a successful mash-up of “Commando” meets “Die Hard” in the White House, but this is as far as I can go. First of all, it’s not Christmas. Secondly, Mike Banning is not your every-man caught with his pants down in a crisis situation. He’s a well-trained killing machine ex-special ops bad-ass who knew exactly what he was getting into. But… On the other hand, he bled like a human would and as the old adage goes: ‘If it bleeds, we can kill it’. He also had a wildly inappropriate sense of humor that he displayed in a good amount of one-liners and, holding John McClane as example, he had a thing for displaying all manners of disrespect towards his superiors. So take it as you want it, I don’t see this film as “Die Hard” in the White House. “Olympus Has Fallen” is good enough to stand on its own two feet, thank you very much.
Now, don’t get any stupid ideas that this movie is genre-redefining or anything to that effect. If you go to the cinema with that in mind, you’ll leave seriously disappointed. What it is, is just a solid no-bulls**t action movie. It’s got almost everything a fella could need in an action flick: a charismatic protagonist (Gerard Butler really did his job here), good amount of violence, strong language and one-liners, Morgan Freeman, explosions, rapid pacing, and did I mention Morgan Freeman? It was simply pleasant to watch. Of course, I have my usual set of drawbacks to point out, most important of which would be the lack of boss fights. Normally in an actioner (especially from the 80’s and early 90’s) the protagonist would have to plow through a sea of thrash opponents and defeat a couple of bosses – usually main baddie’s lieutenants (the blondie from “Die Hard”, the let-off-some-steam-guy from “Commando”) – in order to face the final guy. Each of the boss-characters would have some sort of special trait that preferably exploits some of our hero’s weaknesses, but not the biggest one. The biggest weakness is always reserved for the main baddie to use. Not in here though. Maybe if I squinted my eyes, I could point out one such boss fight… but not really. Not to worry though, this little drawback didn’t really spoil the show for me, because Banning kept me busy in different ways.
Staying on the subject of drawbacks, you can spot the usual lapses in logic, i.e. the cowboy general and his decision-making fiascoes the attention to detail when it comes to programming the user interface for military software, or the ease with which protocol is breached in critical situations (taking extra people to panic room structures in places like The White House would most likely never happen). But those are always present in action movies and in some weird way are responsible for the specific atmosphere commonly associated with an action flick.
All in all, “Olympus Has Fallen” managed to maybe not as much as reinstate my hope for action movies in this day and age, but at least give me a glimmer of hope that there are people in Hollywood who want to make action movies ‘the old way’. Well, ish… It’s nearly two hours of high-octane entertainment filled with blood and f-words. If anything, the movie would have been a tad better had it not been for the very ending. If you leave the cinema 45 seconds before the end, then “Olympus Has Fallen” ends with a cheesy one-liner. If you stay, you’re in for some patriotic flag-waving. It’s OK if that’s your cup of tea, but I would personally prefer the one-liner and fade to black. But you can’t have it all.