Review: Olympus Has Fallen
|Starring||Gerard Butler. Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott|
|Release||22 MAR (US) 17 APR (UK) Certificate 15|
Of course, how stringently a film follows the Die Hard formula is, of itself, no guarantee of quality - just look at Die Hard 2. In fact, this film is riddled with some of the dumbest cinematic moments of 2013 so far (except, of course, for G.I. Joe: Retaliation in its entirety). Highfalutin, hand-salutin’ American patriotism is embedded firmly in every scene making for a whole lot of nonsensical babbling about pledging allegiance and war-room squabbling. Meanwhile, a family-oriented president and his implausibly duty bound guard have so much honour and responsibility pouring from every orifice, they’ll make you feel ashamed for occasionally forgetting to feed your cat.
But then, once Olympus Has Fallen finds its bare, bleeding feet, we're into much more enjoyable territory, with snapped necks, glib one-liners and a distinct 'fuck you, Mr Terrorist' attitude .
It takes a while to get there though and, until it does, we're in for a lot of horribly familiar clichés. Mike Banning is Gerard Butler's pudgy-faced McClane-a-like, the protector-cum-friend of the First Family but sacked from the presidential guard after a terrible accident. However, when North Korean terrorists attack the White House 18 months later and hold Aaron Eckhart's wholesome president hostage, they fail to account for the fact that Banning's new boring desk job is pretty much just down the road. Oh, and all of his access codes are still active. Yay for lax security protocols!
In the action stakes, Banning's one-man crusade is, inevitably, both ridiculous and fun. Unfortunately, before then, we have to watch the terrorists' relentless attack, which seems lacking in any real strategy other than to just bulldoze their way in. Gates are crashed, weapons are fired and the juddering bodies of special service agents are riddled with bullets for what seems like an eternity. Finally, Antoine Fuqua - a director apparently completely without humour - gives us a final indication that the attack is over: a super-slow-motion shot of a torn, discoloured US flag falling to the ground. Unfortunately, I don't get symbolism so I have no idea what that meant.
Until this point - about half an hour in - the film is a laughably straight-faced depiction of righteous nationalism - the kind that simply shouldn't exist post-Team America. Thankfully, this is when Banning steps up to put things right, despite it not even happening on his watch. His action man credentials may lack the put-upon wit of McClane (aside from one magnificent 'go fuck yourself' moment that may be the best line of the year), but his know-how and familiarity of the White House makes him a formidable hero. And there are few cinematic tropes more enjoyable to watch than a resourceful, no-nonsense man on a mission. Especially one who gets hold of an enemy radio and uses it to occasionally taunt the main villain.
However, the ensuing action doesn't completely paper over some pretty major cracks. From Morgan Freeman's ineffective replacement chief and Melissa Leo's bizarre reaction to being dragged along the floor, to the forgettable main baddie, this a film filled with thankless roles. It doesn't help that characters receive no fleshing out whatsoever, with one terrorist's motives literally explained in a rant at the president that consists of a vague "Y'know, because of Wall Street! And the banks! And… stuff!" The biggest plot failure though comes with the president's insistence that one final obstacle will prevent the terrorists from achieving their goal. Like Hans Gruber's miraculous FBI, you expect the big baddie to have a trick up his sleeve to overcome this last hurdle, but actually, when the time comes, the entire idea is swept aside like it just ain't no thang.
But it's still the Die Hard formula, right? So all these problems fade away next to some great, solid action and a macho hero saving the day with minimum resources and maximum bravado. In this case, once the film stops taking itself too seriously and gives in to over-the-top entertainment, it becomes a vastly superior movie – albeit one with some head-shakingly stupid moments. If nothing else, it's stiff competition for the second Die Hard In The White House film due this year, White House Down aka How Can The Same Shit Happen To A Different Guy Twice?