Welcome to Olympus Has Fallen…or as the general movie-going audience may refer to it as Die Hard in the White House! Clearly another over-indulgent and action-packed political thriller with a big name cast and a thirst for blood and bravado, Olympus Has Fallen clamors for a sense of free-style absurdity in its popcorn pleasing pomposity. This is another carousing and crude kinetic caper in the tradition of Hollywood’s hedonistic need to concoct a crowd-pleaser dipped in chaotic jingoism.
Director Antoine Fuqua, who skillfully guided Denzel Washington to his second Oscar with the gritty urban cop actioner Training Day, certainly knows a thing or two about constructing a rollicking thrill ride that resonates with escapist sensibilities. However, Olympus Has Fallen is an overactive cliché-driven concoction that panders to the familiar “White House under attack” formula that we have seen countless times over. This blatant Die Hard rip-off (with traces of comparable angst and suspense as found in the superior Secret Service/president-in-danger drama In the Line of Fire) tries too hard to convey its stylish swagger in a post 9/11 world where foreign intrusion and high-wire cynicism besiege the nation’s capital in banal boisterousness.
There is no doubt that Fuqua enthusiastically pushes the buttons as he unleashes this mindless melting pot of empty-headed bombastic action devices, exasperating Washington insiders and officials, throwaway references to every copycat under siege movie and the latest cultural bad guy (mainly the North Koreans in this case) that carry a major grudge against their patriotic antagonists. Of course Olympus Has Fallen would not be complete without its resident Man of Steel (sorry Superman…we do not mean you in this instance) at the helm in the form of super stud Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler).
What made Olympus Has Fallen mildly credible are the high-powered participants that Fuqua assembled to take part in this flashy frenetic flick with such notables as Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo as well as former Oscar-nominated contenders in Robert Forster and Angela Bassett. Capable veterans such as Aaron Eckhart and Ashley Judd are not too shabby either as far as signing on the dotted line to partake in this robust, vacant venture. Apparently it is very enticing for established A-list performers to appear in shameless shoot em’-ups just to say that they were in a hyper mainstream moneymaker at the box office. Whatever.
For those that get an instant rush in exaggerated multiple explosions, over-the-top foreign invaders with deadly chips on their shoulders and political muckraking, Olympus Has Fallen does not disappoint in the least. Top notch Secret Service agent Mike Banning once led a charming and exciting life even enjoying a hearty friendship with the President of the United States Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) while being a mentor to Asher’s son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). Somehow, things go downhill and in due time Banning finds himself off the president’s detail as he is relegated to working a desk job at the Treasury Department. Plus, Banning’s relationship with his wife (Radha Mitchell) has not been that solid as of late.
Thankfully, Banning will get a chance to redeem himself but at the costly expense of his boss. Shockingly, villainous North Korean enemies (led by the insidious Kang as played by Rick Yune) take the president and the majority of his staff hostage. It will take an exhaustive military strategy and skillful precision to rescue the Free Leader of the World and his trusted advisors. Naturally, the thought of rescuing the president means doing what it takes to get the job done—and that entails lots of sacrificial bone-crunching, head-banging and blood-gushing options. Regardless of the recklessness of lives or the destruction of property being damaged the Asian evil-doers must pay for their defiance against American national security.
While Asher and his crew are being held captive in the White House’s underground bunker, Banning gets to spring into action as his one-man wrecking crew routine swings into full gear. Banning clashes heavily with the twisted Kang and in the process takes out a massive amount of his associates in his mission to take back the control of the White House and restore order in a panic-stricken America. For every American target that Kang eliminates based upon his immense disdain for them Banning answers the call by eradicating the baddies without hesitation.
Fuqua relishes turning Olympus Has Fallen into a splashy big screen pinball machine as his thirst for outlandish violence is poured on thick. The torturous tactics to convey the colorful sadistic flourishes feels rather desperate. Whereas one could get lost in the furious and frivolous free-fall of mayhem that the Die Hard movie series conjured up for the sheer spectacle of escapism there appears to be a convenient and lazy usage of shock value ugliness that falsely radiates the perverse entertainment value in Olympus Has Fallen.
The genuine intensity actually comes from the Defense Department headquarters where the top brass convene to assess the magnitude of the presidential hostage crisis. As the Speaker of the House, Morgan Freeman steps up to his usual regal togetherness as the mastermind trying to figure out the ultimate solution to the volatile situation at hand. Angela Bassett’s Secret Service Director, Melissa Leo’s Secretary of Defense and Robert Forster’s high-raking general are equally as compelling given the cartoonish carnage that are addressing that sadly upstages their roles.
Butler’s Mike Banning certainly could not hold the showy shoes of Bruce Willis’s Die Hard action-seeking cad Officer John McClane. Whereas Willis chewed up the scenery as the self-destructive tendencies of McClane seemed impishly intriguing and effortless, Butler’s Banning feels very mechanical as he goes through the mundane bullet-bouncing moments. Fuqua’s heavy-handed touch for implausible and insipid buckets of nonsensical depravity undermines the wooden warrior-like instinct of Butler’s badass butcher in the name of justice.
It is true in that this Olympus has indeed fallen…and in so many unimaginable ways possible.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013) Film District
1 hr. 58 mins.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Action & Adventure/Drama/Political Espionage
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)