We review Olympus Has Fallen – Thrilling action, no brain required

6 min read
5

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I once heard Training Day helmer Antoine Fuqua’s last name pronounced not as “Few-Kwa”, but rather as “[email protected]#$ Yeah”. Never has that slip of the tongue been more fitting than with Olympus Has Fallen, the first of two (that we know of) “terrorists take over the White House” action flicks for 2013. If you’re a fan of skop, skiet en donner, you’ll be happy to know that all three are in abundant supply here. Just don’t be surprised to find that just as Olympus is falling, so too is your IQ.

While every reviewer and his pet monkey seems to be making Die Hard analogies when reviewing Olympus Has Fallen, I think they’re barking up the wrong action hero. See, Fuqua was the man once tasked with bringing the counter-terrorist adventures of 24‘s Jack Bauer to the big screen before the feature film adaptation of that acclaimed TV series fell apart, and it’s clear to me that a lot of his ideas didn’t get thrown into the waste paper basket along with Kiefer Sutherland’s contract. This is essentially a feature length, big budget 24 episode, with a couple of swear words and some more explicit violence thrown into the mix, because, you know, edgy.

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Stepping into Sutherland’s blood spattered shoes is Gerard Butler, who has been churning out damp squib movie after lame duck film lately and who desperately needs one in the win column again before he turns into the male Katherine Heigl. And he certainly gets it as he turns in a really solid, 100% badass performance as ex Secret Service agent, Mike Banning. Once the head of security for and pretty good friends with US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), Banning’s been demoted of sorts to the security detail at the Treasury Building down the street from the White House, after a making a tough call during a car accident that ended with him saving the President’s life but watching the First Lady (Ashley Judd) die.

Banning is bored in his new glorified security guard post and wants back in, and lucky for him – but unlucky for all the civilians whose bodies are about to be rudely introduced to the deadly bits of a heavily fortified C-130 transport plane – he gets it, when a small army of North Korean terrorists launch a simultaneous ground and air assault on the White House just as a South Korean delegation is meeting with the President. A couple of backstabs later and President Asher and his top ranking staff find themselves locked up and held hostage in a fortified underground bunker.

Luckily for them though, Banning was on hand to ventilate some North Korean skulls and managed to fight his way across the corpse strewn lawn and into the White House before the terrorists overran it completely and put it on lockdown. Now he’s Speaker of the House turned acting-President Allen Trumbull’s (Morgan Freeman, who else?) only man on the inside who can save the President and stop dastardly North Korean terrorist leader Kang (Rick Yune) who wants to yadda yadda, boom boom, maniacal laugh maniacal laugh.

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The reason why I didn’t elaborate on the plot is not just to keep you spoiler free, but rather because the script that writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt have come up with is rather ridiculous in places. Unless you follow my advice and set your brain to neutral, you’re going to end up spending a lot of the film’s 120 minute running time going “But what about…?” and “Why would they…?” and maybe even blurting out a couple “Now that is just stupid!”‘s as governments reveal silly plans and Secret Service agents prove why they don’t have the “Intelligence” bit in their organization’s name as well.

All of that time and breath should rather be spent marveling at Fuqua’s superb action directing. From the film’s straight-out-of-a-videogame assault on the White House, to watching Gerard Butler unleash unholy violent hand to hand combat hell on every Asian fellow unfortunate enough to cross his path, the film’s action sequences are tense and visceral. Filmed with a breathless pace that relies more on masterly, brutal choreography rather than just making the cameraman have a seizure, it’s all really impressive stuff and should leave most action junkies grinning. Even when the action slows down, the film refuses to pull any punches as bad guys kick the wrinkles out of middle age ladies and Banning reveals that he’s not an avid student of the Geneva Conventions. Much like his 24 template, Banning is very good at doing some pretty bad things and he has zero problem in doing them to get the job done. And Butler completely sells it.

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As President Asher, Eckhart turns in a decent performance and the same can be said for Angela Bassett, who plays head of Secret Service and Banning’s ex-boss Lynne Jacobs, while President God Morgan Freeman plays President God Morgan Freeman just the way you expect him to. Melissa Leo aka the middle aged lady being beat up in the paragraph above, just like she does in just about everything she’s in, briefly steals the spotlight as she turns in a particularly spirited performance as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan. On the opposite side of the moral and on-screen charisma divide though, Rick Yune is asked to merely glower at the camera while making ultimatums and he does that affably enough, I guess, but his Kang is about as unmemorable a villain as you can get.

Not that his character actually stands a chance of being remembered among all the incredible gunfire and explosions and lots of knives being buried in brains. Not yours though, because you clearly checked your brain in at the door so as to enjoy this film the way it should be.

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Last Updated: May 3, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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