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Olympus Has Fallen Review

olympus-has-fallen-white-house
RATING:
(3 STARS)

While far from great cinema, Olympus Has Fallen, from director Antoine Fuqua, delivers exactly what it promises. It’s a patriotism-soaked exercise in John McClane-esque badassery. Was my red, white, and blue blood boiling while North Korean extremists swooped in and took the White House? Yes. Were my knuckles white with excitement while Gerard Butler—doing his best Bruce Willis—stalked his prey from the West Wing’s shadows? Yep. Did I let out a fist pump every time he broke a bad guy’s neck? Hell yeah. Did I do all these things while acknowledging the film I was watching was ridiculous? I sure did. Did I enjoy the hell out of Olympus Has Fallen in spite of itself? What does it sound like?

The film opens with a startling prologue. On a blustery winter night, President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), his wife (Ashley Judd), and their son Connor (Finley Jacobsen) are on their way to attend a fundraising dinner. On the way, their car slips on an icy bridge. It teeters for minutes while the President’s closest Secret Service agent, Mike Banning (Butler), fights to free the most powerful couple in the world. He saves the President, but the First Lady is killed.

Flash forward 18 months, and Banning is stuck behind a desk. Asher, now a single father, is meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister to help defuse tension between Seoul and Pyongyang, which hasn’t been this high since the 1950s. Shortly after their summit begins, however, an unidentified military aircraft launches an all-out assault on Washington D.C. Civilians are mowed down from above. The Washington Monument is destroyed. And when the plane finally goes down, dozens of well-trained men and women with heavy artillery begin opening fire on anyone and everyone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

To make matters worse, the President and his core team learn one of their own has been working with the terrorists. And inside a secure underground bunker, the South Korean head of security, a man named Kang (Rick Yune), murders his boss and begins a process, with POTUS and others as his hostages, that could reshape the map and kill millions. Banning, by hook or by crook, has thankfully made his way to the White House and acts as the on-the-scene eyes and ears for Speaker of the House and acting President Trumbell (Morgan Freeman), who wants to first locate the First Son before finding a way into the most secure, impenetrable room on planet Earth.

There’s no use trying to discuss the villains and their scheme. If you can’t deal with a side of stupid coming out with your heaping plate of action-packed awesomeness, you should probably sit Olympus Has Fallen out. The heroes, however, are pretty fantastic. Banning is as well-developed as you could hope for out of a hero like this in a film like this. That is to say he’s barely developed, but the opening helps us feel for him, and his knack for really deadpan one-liner delivery is a plus.

He’s matched by an Eckhart who, as the impossibly handsome President of the United States, is comically far removed from Erin Brockovich’s grungy biker boyfriend. He’s exactly the kind of president this movie needs: noble, self-sacrificing, independent. When the Secretary of Defense (a hilariously over-the-top Melissa Leo) is getting tortured by her captors, he implores her to give over a crucial bit of classified information that could put lives at risk. Why ask her to do that? Because he has similar information and he wants these punks to try to wrestle it out of him.

The action looks decent. No one will mistake Olympus Has Fallen for a $200 million extravaganza like The Lone Ranger. Most of the fights and stunts are decidedly low-key. Banner fights off a few guys in a dark hallway. Americans and North Koreans engage in a shootout on the White House front lawn. Yes, the Washington Monument collapses, but by and large the effects in Olympus Has Fallen are practical. Fuqua, for his credit, seems more interested in building a tense atmosphere than in blowing shit up.

Olympus Has Fallen was fortunate enough to open a few months ahead of another “White House goes down” movie (Roland Emmerich’s aptly titled White House Down). It also opened a just few weeks after the latest Die Hard movie, A Good Day to Die Hard—another coup, albeit an accidental one, for Olympus Has Fallen was for a while being called “2013’s best Die Hard movie.” And it’s hard not to think of a film like this in context. It’s not novel enough to stand out on its own, but when put up against other like-minded films, it’s easy to be bullish about Olympus Has Fallen. It’s thrilling mindlessness—or dumb excitement, whichever sounds more appealing.

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