Action genre fans would remember that such films used to rule the multiplexes. Movies that are simple and yet, effective in the way they do several things. Action movies with a hostage situation driving the core elements of its plot have been done well with films such as “Die Hard”, “Under Siege” and lord knows what else. There have been some recent failed attempts to go back into the action genre with movies such as the “Red Dawn” remake and “A Good Day to Die Hard” but perhaps they were meant to try and tease action film fanatics. “Olympus Has Fallen” is the one film this spring that those failed movies have built up to. Finally a R-rated action flick has arrived.
Directed by action film veteran, Antoine Fuqua (director of “Training Day” and “Shooter”) comes out with an action flick with a rather simple screenplay and with a very straight-forward set up. Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, 300) is the top-secret agent who had been assigned to President Asher (Aaron Eckart), his first lady Margaret (Ashley Judd) and their son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen) when a tragic accident caused him to resign his post. Several years later, Mike still reminisces about his old job, when a terrorist militia led by Kang (Rick Yune, The Man with the Iron Fists) takes over the White House and takes President Asher hostage along with several other government officials in the House’s own very secured bunker. This also gives Kang the ability to communicate directly to several areas of the government and access to several of the nation’s top-secret protocols. Banning is now the lone wolf who needs to use all his skills as an ex-military operative to rescue the president and to save the citizens of the United States from nuclear annihilation.
The premise of “Olympus has Fallen” is not exactly original, but you know what, that is a good thing. It kept things simple and yet it never allowed itself to be tied by what we may see as a ‘need to be unnecessarily intricate’. The screenplay is simple and it relies on the strength of the direction to pull off tension, suspense all wrapped around its many action sequences. As its weakest, if you are a fan such films, you can almost predict each plot element and how it would play into its screenplay. But it knew what it was doing as it switches gears rather effectively, as it defines the stakes involved with the way it presented the situation through the eyes of Banning, House Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and President Asher and his staff. The build up once the assault on Washington D.C. was staged was strong, and even how it played on the hostage-good-guy-in-the-middle-authority figures dynamics, it kept all guns blazing and it barely lost a step in its forward momentum.
What the film does very well is the way it stages the action. Gun battles, explosions are aplenty, and while the set ups were stereotypical of this kind of film, they all worked to its advantage. The film dishes out as much R-rated violence as it could, albeit it came a little short of other action classics, it definitely felt like R-rated violence. There is quite a lot of blood as the film goes into one action scene after another, but they were staged as well as they should. Fuqua was able to keep his film above ground from wallowing too much in the blood and violence. Much of the film relied on CGI effects and set pieces. The effects were real good especially in the nighttime sequences, but they showed a weakness in the daytime scenes. Some CGI images were a little soft in certain scenes, but they were still decent in today’s standards.
Gerard Butler was very capable as Mike Banning, and he was able to cover up the weaknesses of its plot through his witty one-liners and presence, Butler was able to carry most of the film’s burden. The script was able to sell the idea that Banning had past links to the First family which made his situation and choices rather believable. Yes, Banning wasn’t exactly developed well as a person, but his role was sold. Eckart and Freeman were excellent in their respective roles. I do have to say that the exchanges between Freeman and Butler gave the film that sense of urgency that is necessary for an action movie such as this. The villains in the film were very cliché, and they lacked that personality that would make a really good villain. However, it all gave the good guys much more time to shine as they all try to figure out what to do next. The performances were convincing that I was able to shut my mind off to point out the weaknesses on its script, this popcorn film was able to sell the stakes, the gritty appeal and the violence that it served up some really good entertainment.
Fuqua and company gets a little too patriotic, that it turned out to be a little heavy-handed. I know the film was probably trying to appeal to the viewers that what is going in current events with the North and South Korea was something that should not be ignored. It does manage to make the relationship and comparison to Greek mythology solid, but I wonder just how it may have improved the film’s script if they made them its focus. The screenplay was thin and barely presented any surprises, its strength lied in the performances, the violent action sequences and set pieces. The film was also edited and paced very well that it felt shorter than its more than 120 minute runtime.
“Olympus Has Fallen” is nothing special and quite frankly, I am a little torn if this film is worth a rental or something that should be seen on the big screen. The soundtrack, sound effects, most notably the explosions and gunfire were all impeccably presented in Dolby Digital, that those things made the film better and a pleasing experience. Still, it is nice to have another R-rated popcorn action film, and this would definitely please action junkies. It is a satisfying film that manages to be what it wanted to be. It sure kept me entertained throughout and rooting for the Americans, and sometimes, that is all an action fan will need. Recommended to action fans. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]