Review: Antoine Fuqua's 'Olympus Has Fallen' Just Falls and Falls
by Jeremy Kirk
March 22, 2013
Olympus Has Fallen, the latest actioner from Antoine Fuqua, is touted as "Die Hard in the White House," the first of two similar films being released this. That would lead some to believe it's about a trained authority (in this case a Secret Service agent) going against a group of vicious terrorists who have taken 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hostage and that it would feature loads of exceptional action, colorful villains, and a charismatic ass-kicker equipped with guns and one-liners. The premise is there, but Olympus Has Fallen carries little else of value with it. It's enough to wish for Roland Emmerich's White House Down.
While I'm hoping Channing Tatum kicks the ass in Emmerich's yet-to-be-seen film with a similar premise, Olympus Has Fallen has Gerard Butler starring as Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent who is busted out of White House detail after a tragic accident leaves the president (Aaron Eckhart) a widower. 18 months later, everyone is trying to get on with their lives, but Banning's time in the private sector is about to end itself. A group of North Korean terrorists have attacked the White House, taken control of it, and also taken the president and his cabinet hostage. With the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) calling the shots from a control room, Banning finds himself the only one left who can take out the bad guys and save the day. John McClane would have been proud.
He may not have been pleased with how lifeless and dumb Olympus Has Fallen is, though. It's not the kind of dumb that action fans can get behind, rooting for the mindless action that comes in the form of dozens of masked terrorists wielding machine guns in a determined march across the White House lawn. This brilliantly conceived plan seems to take a lot from the charge-their-guns mentality of the storming at Normandy. There is action of that ilk that overcomes its stupidity on sheer entertainment value alone, but Olympus Has Fallen can't even offer us this.
It's also not the kind of lifeless that charming performances can overcome. Butler and crew (also including Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, and Ashley Judd) do their very best "not negotiating with terrorists" and standing up to brutal torture. Naturally, the villains, lead by Rick Yune, want some kind of code for their much grander plan. The familiarity that comes with every aspect in Olympus Has Fallen's screenplay (written by Creighton Rothernberger and Katrin Benedikt, both first-timers) breeds a severe lack of suspense. Sure, it makes the time or two the film actually pulls one out of left field all the more surprising, but these amount to little glimpses of what could have been a much better movie wrapped in this dull drivel. Such drivel includes a traitor in the midst, a little boy (the first son) needing found, and even a ticking clock by the film's end.
Fuqua directs with the drabbest eye, never able to get around the tight quarters he's evidently shooting in. There's no sense of geography given for anyone who's never stepped foot in the building. The power gets cut in the White House early in the second act, making the action all that more difficult to see. When it's not hard enough tell what's going on from a lack of light, Fuqua chooses to shoot the action in so many closeup montages that it amounts to little more than flack jackets bouncing off of each other in the dark. One of those flack jackets is warn by Butler. The other is usually some random, Asian guy.
The director's talents are much better utilized in serious dramas that break out into violence here and there as in Training Day or Brooklyn's Finest. He does his very best bringing the brutality out in the action here, and Olympus Has Fallen may hold some kind of record for bloody head shots. This side of a zombie flick, anyway. Banning's signature maneuver is jamming knives through people's faces, so there's loads of that, as well. Unfortunately, without a certain level of excitement or intensity, the violence begins to grow ugly. By the time Yune's villain mercilessly beats a woman to a bloody mess, the film has effortlessly shifted from fun action to uncomfortable apathy.
Olympus Has Fallen has the structural beats needed for a Die Hard ripoff, and, to a certain end, it's hard to say it doesn't succeed. What it fails at, though, is being an entertaining action movie, relying on too many derivations of familiar plot beats. So many single-location action movies have come and gone, and the success rate is all over the map. Olympus Has Fallen, unfortunately, falls and falls and falls to the low end of that particular scale. The direction gives us nothing to focus on when the screenplay is playing it dumb, and the performers, try as they might, just don't seem to be having any fun.
But, hey, there's always White House Down coming in June.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 10