Review: “Olympus Has Fallen”

Most potential film goers will know what they’re signing up for with “Olympus Has Fallen”. Escapist action with high stakes incorporating varying degrees of violence, explosions, suspense and a high death count. If one expects nothing more out of “Olympus Has Fallen”, it can be considered a success.

In the film, a group of heavily armed and expertly trained North Korean terrorists launch a brazen attack on the White House (code name “Olympus”), and take President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his staff hostage. Their demands are not important to plot, it’s all in the execution, which is impressive. The task to rescue the president and eliminate the terrorist forces falls to one man, disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Banning uses his extensive training to become the eyes and ears of Acting President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and remains the only hope in restoring “Olympus.”

The plot sounds resoundingly familiar because it follows the “Die Hard” template to the letter. Since “Die Hard” was released in 1988, many an action film has attempted to replicate the sheer thrill ride that film produced. There’s nothing wrong with that actually. It’s a very entertaining template that has the ability to produce a solid action film if followed correctly and executed by capable filmmakers.

Over the years, films have been labeled “Die Hard On A Boat”, “Die Hard On A Plane”, “Die Hard On A Train” … you get the idea. So, “Olympus Has Fallen” can fairly be considered “Die Hard in the White House” and that’s not an insult. Just because the film follows certain guidelines set out by other films, it doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

While the film gets mostly favorable grades on the action genre report card, it does have a decidedly B-movie feel to it. Although I’d rate it high-grade B, it’s B nevertheless. Gerard Butler stands as an A-lister within the ranks of B-list action stars, so his casting in this film feels right. He’s not as flashy or charismatic as other leading men, but he’s quite comfortable in the role of action hero. Butler gives more muscle than credibility to the character of Mike Banning, but again, that’s fine for this material. He’s believable on screen and performs a lot of his own stunts, one can’t really ask for too much more from this type of film. The film attempts (and largely fails) at character development early on, but it’s really not needed. We like Mike Banning for his actions, not for his background or personal history.

The always enjoyable Morgan Freeman lends A-list credibility in a supporting role as Acting President Trumbull. Freeman isn’t in the line of fire, so his scenes aren’t particularly memorable, but he elevates the material just by being present. As the president, Aaron Eckhart certainly looks the part. Drawing upon the more noble qualities of his Harvey Dent portrayal in “The Dark Knight”, he comes across as a likeable president that audiences would prefer stay alive.

Rick Yune plays Kang, the main adversary and ringleader of the terrorist assault. While an efficient villain, Kang lacks the dynamics and snappy dialogue that would take him to the next level. This is more of a flaw in the character than the actor. Yune is best known as Bond villain Zao in the universally awful “Die Another Die”, and he strengthens his resume marginally here.

Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”, “Brooklyn’s Finest”) does a fine job at directing the various action sequences. In moments of hand-to-hand combat, the action is crisp, well-choreographed and easy to follow. These scenes are thankfully devoid of any quick-cut techniques that plague so many action films. The film can be extremely violent at times, and for the most part, the violence comes across as authentic and at some points even frightening. To Fuqua’s credit, an actual replica of the White House was constructed in Louisiana for shooting. Due to the films poor use of CGI in other areas, the use of practical sets comes as a blessing.

The CGI in the film isn’t exactly first rate and at times can be distracting. In one instance, a shot of an American flag slowly dropping down from the now under siege White House looks painfully animated. Any semblance of drama from the scene is muted by its usage. For the most part though, the CGI used in the film is serviceable, but not necessarily convincing.

The script is a product of married writing team Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt and essentially utilizes a “cut to the chase” approach that mercifully excludes time-wasting subplots or romantic distractions. While the script does take slightly longer than it should to get going, once it does, it’s entertaining enough to sustain one’s interest. Plausibility goes out the window of course, that’s to be expected. There are numerous plot holes, most of which are forgiven, but some are blatant and hard to ignore. Top of the list for me is how a disgraced secret service agent would still have valid security clearance to the White House.

The music score offered up by composer Trevor Morris is pedestrian action film fare, nothing more. Military style drumming is not used sparingly and the score often becomes a cliche itself. The score is better suited for a first-person shooter video game than it is a motion picture. Unfortunately, the lackluster score only helps to cement the b-level status of the film.

“Olympus Has Fallen” falls prey to a fair amount of genre cliches, but mercifully avoids the trappings of other ones and mostly succeeds at being an entertaining action film. Escapism is key as this is not a benchmark action film by any means. Once the film kicks into its destined gear, there’s no balanced approach, it’s straight out action … and that’s a good thing. Approaching this film with modest expectations should yield satisfactory results.