Olympus Has Fallen
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 21st April 2013
I generally don’t watch trailers before seeing a movie, so if you’re the same, let me tell you first off that, despite its title and the presence of a burly Gerard Butler, this is no sandals and swords epic.
One thing you can reasonably intuit about the film, however, is that with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) at the helm, it shouldn’t be too shabby. While Olympus Has Fallen is more the latter than the former (there won’t be any Oscars given out to these leads actors), it’s nonetheless a solid bit of action film-making that actually bothers to drag a story and a passable script through the bloodshed.
Things get off to an encouraging start with a gripping, snowbound prologue that sets up our hero as a man dullened by professional failure. 18 months later we’re in modern day Washington, as the White House prepares to receive a visit from the South Korean head of state.
Previously the President’s favourite security detail, Butler’s emotionally-detached Mike Banning proceeds to witness, then take centre stage in, one of the most ferocious and bloody attacks on the United States’ centre of power seen onscreen in recent memory. Think The Raid (the ultra-violent Indonesian martial arts flick that wowed audiences last year) meets Die Hard. Including the jokey one-liners.
Mercifully, there’s not an alien or child’s toy in sight – here the baddies are human, and somewhat topically not Arabs or ex-Soviets, but North Koreans. And boy, do they know their warfare. (Certainly more than the US government knows its ex-employee security measures anyway, as Manning inexplicably uses his unexpired password from 18 months prior to gather his own arsenal.)
Picky details aside (and there are plenty of clangers), the film is really one big bombastic piece of seemingly unironic patriotism. Initially the incessant drumroll and pompous brass is grating, so melodramatic that even a walk down the corridor seems laden with doom. But once the massacre commences – the filmmakers could be in line for a body count world record, the annihilation looks so like War of the Worlds – you can’t hear the pomp for gunfire.
Strong support from Angela Bassett, Oscar-winner Melissa Leo (superb at balancing beaten with feisty) and the comforting presence of Morgan Freeman goes some way to alleviating Butler’s burden that, while well-meaning, he lacks charisma. His Scottish burl is nonetheless well-Americanised, and physically he’s everything you’d want your erstwhile bodyguard to be, even if his emotional arc of redeemed disgrace is more Kevin Costner than Clint Eastwood.
As Olympus falls, you can’t help feeling that while this movie is an absurdity, as far as it goes it’s quite an entertaining, well-executed absurdity.