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
Reader Feedback - 17 Comments
Eh, I liked it
Daniel Koelsch on Mar 22, 2013
No wonder the ads for it were so vague about it's ridiculous plot. I had no idea what it was about until I started reading the horrible reviews for it.
zey on Mar 22, 2013
really horrible reviews from who and where, brilliant movie loved it, lots of good action
dave francis on Apr 1, 2013
so you're expecting more from an action movie with a 300+ body count? I said this before on your review of The Expendables 2 and I'll say it again... you come in and watch these movies for nothing more but pure action entertainment. I watched the corny-ass trailer and I expect nothing more than bad dialog and awesome and ridiculous terrorist ass-kicking. Still haven't seen the movie, but I'm looking forward to it. Lots of face stabbing and a possible record for most bloody headshots?? .... I'M IN!
Jacob Denton on Mar 22, 2013
Hell, anyone expecting more than a popcorn movie need not buy a ticket. I saw it this evening and thought it was great escapist fun.
Hattori Hanzo on Mar 22, 2013
I saw the flick and it kicked ass! Yes, it's escapist fun and the script is as tight and serviceable as it needs to be. Gerard Butler kicks ass and doesn't become a caricature. The filmmakers have used the original, "Die Hard", template and have succeeded where Bruce Willis's, "A Good Day to Die Hard", failed miserably! Butler, Eckhart, McDermott, Bassett, Hauser, Judd were awesome, but Freeman could have had a larger role and was relegated to mostly looking worried. The action was bloody and the huge set pieces were awesome, despite a few CGI shortcominings. I loved it and yes, there was plenty of suspense!
Spider on Mar 22, 2013
I really dont get it Jeremy, what were you expecting from this? You pick it apart like it was some oscar vehicle or something, it is meant to be a popcorn action flick and judging from viewer reviews(and not just these comments) it accomplished just that.
Cody W on Mar 22, 2013
It was ok. Very predictable. Terrible dialogue tho. If you go in expecting mindless action and literally nothing more. Not an ounce of clever in the whole plot. Fun movie tho. A lot heavy on the 'merica, ra ra ra
Rick on Mar 22, 2013
It's a fun popcorn-badassery token action film...I enjoyed it. If you hate America, you'll hate this film. U-S-A! U-S-A!
Kinda reminded me of 24 on Mar 22, 2013
Holy man, I thought I was the only one to notice the ridiculous amounts of close-up and low angle shots. It was almost giving me motion sickness. I love Gerard, but he really needs to start picking better roles.
Jaret Curial on Mar 22, 2013
i wa in this film as part of the ranger team that pulled the prsident out at the end...but let me tell you something this movie has alot of scenes cut out of it. there were alot more filmed that i was there for and really good ones too. this movie wasnt even suppose to come out until next yr but they rushed it to be out before whitehouse down. i enjoyed the movie but mainly because i was so excited for my parts to show up. this is gonna be one of those better on blu ray type of movies thats for sure.
UGLI on Mar 23, 2013
An impressive star cast, but a terrible plot and dialogues.
Dhiram on Mar 24, 2013
I liked it! It was fun and it made me laugh a lot! The moments that made me laugh were probably not intended to make the audience laugh but that's part of the fun. IMO this was a way better Die Hard movie than Die Hard 5! Rick Yune was awesome in it!
Crazy Legs on Mar 24, 2013
This was an awesome action flick! why is it that so called movie critics like you still have no clue that real people just sometimes want action..not 20 levels of depth to plots, you guys should calm down some and realize people just like to escape and enjoy sometimes
real person not a snob on Mar 25, 2013
So if falls flat, is what you're saying? 😉
Davide Coppola on Mar 25, 2013
No one mentioning the worst CGI seen in a big budget movie. When the Washington Monument was falling, I think they took a shot from Sim City
Dave on Mar 29, 2013
Who is this dump Jeremy rating this very action packed movie a 3,I think this is a 9 or 10. excellent movie, will recommend for families of all ages, action packed, like the ending America wins
dave francis on Apr 1, 2013
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