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Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus Has Fallen is uninspired and would feel more comfortable on a basic cable network movie.

As primary guard to President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) couldn’t have asked for a better job. Unfortunately, he loses it all when a freak snowstorm causes the President’s car to careen off a bridge, with a few guards and the first lady crashing onto the frozen lake underneath. Not being able to look at Banning without thinking of his empty promise to save her, Asher has him fired and secluded to a desk job. 18 months later, Banning remains sympathetic and wishes to return to doing what he does best. Little does he know that he’ll get his wish, as a North Korean terrorist (Rick Yune) leads a massive attack on the White House and holds President Asher hostage, threatening to launch nuclear explosives on the United States. As acting President, House Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) must help talk Banning through the White House to not only recover the President, but to eliminate any person standing between him and saving the country.

Olympus Has Fallen was always destined to be called Die Hard or, more commonly, “Die Hard in the White House”. Action packed? Sure. But Die Hard? Yippie Ki-Nay.

Sure, we have one giant ball of masculine fighting through a secured building to reach his target, but that hardly earns it the title of one of the most memorable actions flicks ever. If I had to compare Olympus Has Fallen to any other movie, it would have to be Man On A Ledge. Both would make a pretty typical Saturday afternoon double feature on TNT: Action, drama, political themes and poor humor. While some of Olympus’ humor hits the right spot (“How about we play a game of ‘Fuck Off? You go first”), most of the humor seems to be unintentional. The problem with both Man and Olympus is that neither really know what they are. For more on the comparisons, check out my earlier review of Man On a Ledge right here. Olympus seems to be getting comfortable in its’ admittedly impressive action set pieces when it takes a U-turn, putting the majority of the remaining runtime in a control room with political figures, discussing how to save the President. Audiences are taken away from a Michael Bay wet dream to catch up on a poorly written West Wing episode. Pacing definitely isn’t on director Antoine Fuqua’s side here.

In an action movie, one would usually expect up to date graphics to truly immerse the audience into the story and events. However, something went very, very wrong with Olympus Has Fallen. Certain shots of choppers closing in on the White House and evading gunfire are downright embarrassing to watch. My lovely girlfriend, who, bless her heart, doesn’t fully understand VFX leaned over and asked me “How much was this budget?”. She cannot be faulted for her assumption that this budget was low. I myself was floored at some of the cheaper shots sitting among some decently sized action pieces. Some people claim that it fits for the movie, as not to scare some audiences into remembering the tragic events of 9/11. Not once in those 120 minutes did I think about 9/11 or anything other than how the director of Training Day could have made this picture. 11 years may not be enough to grieve and forget, but Olympus Has Fallen isn’t too similar to worry about it. And the poor graphics wouldn’t be a big problem if it weren’t for some very uninteresting or important scenes. If they look bad, just cut them! Trust me, we can do without another shot of choppers cruising through a boring nighttime DC screenshot.

But Olympus Has Fallen isn’t all bad. Gerard Butler actually does some good work as the growling Banning, fighting Korean after Korean to get to his target, the evil Kang. Side note: Kang is revealed to be one of the world’s most wanted terrorists...who snuck past both Korean and American borders...disguised in glasses. A character tries to remedy this by saying that western intelligence hasn’t been able to get any photos of the criminal. Sigh. Anyways, like I said, not all bad. Eckhart does his Harvey Dent scream every now and then and it is just great. Morgan Freeman narrates Butler through the White House and does the job we’ve come to expect from Freeman. If we want to discuss pleasant surprises in Olympus, we can bring up Dylan McDermott. Without diving too far into his arc, it’s a nice change of pace from what we’ve seen recently from McDermott. If we want to talk about unpleasant surprises, we can discuss Melissa Leo’s Ruth McMillan. To be honest, I wasn’t aware she played Ruth until I just checked IMDB. While she was phenomenal in The Fighter, this just doesn’t seem like the same actress at play. At one point, Leo lets out a cry along the lines of “NO! NO! GOD, NO!”. I know the feeling, Melissa.

Olympus Has Fallen has some decent action sequences, doesn’t shy away from showing gore and features some good acting, but none of these can save Olympus from falling as hard as it does. Poor unnecessary graphics, gaping plot holes and uneven tones make Fuqua’s newest attempt fall more into his more recent work (Brooklyn’s Finest) than his earlier, more inspired pictures (Training Day, Shooter). And yes, Olympus Has Fallen is being called “...a better Die Hard than the newest Die Hard movie” and that might be true. Yet, is that really much of an accomplishment? 

Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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