By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell and Ashley Judd
Action films are a dime a dozen. Great action films are almost impossible to come by. While A Good Day To Die Hard is included in the former and by all means should be considered a disappointment, Olympus Has Fallen classifies itself as being in the latter, leading me to declare it one of this year‘s fantastic surprises. People can say it is filled with wall to wall clichés. People can say that seeing someone beat up 50 guys and not be in much danger is something that should have been kept in the 90s. People can say that Olympus’ bombastic patriotism is another thing of the past. To these people I say, if you turn our brain off and not think of these things, you will have a darn good time with Olympus Has Fallen. An action film filled with all of the above, Olympus Has Fallen boasts such a great cast and tremendous hero that it is almost impossible not to like. It is also the type of action film that A Good Day To Die Hard tried to be but couldn’t.
Why do I keep bringing up Die Hard you ask? Because Butler’s character of Mike Banning is the best action hero to come down the pike since John McClane in his prime. With a rough couple years of tepid roles, Butler has FINALLY found one that unlocks his action star potential. Banning knives skulls and embarks in hand to hand combat with many guards. Yet, he is established as being just an everyman in the film‘s early going. And I would argue that this is what makes us root for him. When we first meet him, he is head of the Secret Service, clean-shaven, and very smile driven. These beginning scenes, which also establishes all the main characters of the film, are a great way of introducing us to the president’s family and Banning’s relationship with them. A terrible car crash on an icy bridge leads to a lightning quick decision by Banning which costs the first lady (Judd, who still looks phenomenal) her life. We then see Banning a year and a half later. disheveled and unshaven, he has now been demoted, and in turn started to doubt himself. One pivotal scene is played out here in which he unleashes all these doubts on new Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Bassett). This scene is pivotal because it explains why Jacobs does not doubt Banning when the chaos starts.
And boy does director Antoine Fuqua bring the chaos! While I have never been a fan of most the films on his resume (Tears of the Sun being his worst) there is no doubting that the man knows how to shoot action. And in the unraveling of the Korean’s hostile plan to take over the White House, Fuqua pulls out all the stops. No PG-13 action here, my friends. Olympus is dark, horrific and scary in these moments. From airplane strikes to subsequent ground attacks, Fuqua does his best to not over stylize all the action, and does well in resisting the urge to dumb it up. He could have just as easily made these scenes cartoonish. But, in true Fuqua style, he treats it pretty serious. Even going as far as showing dramatised newscasts broadcasting the Middle East’s jubilance over the Koreans’ success. Fantastically choreographed fighting and shootouts also contribute to Olympus Has Fallen being perhaps the best directed film of Fuqua’s career.It helps that he has one classy cast at his disposal. And, like Butler, all of them bring what they are best at to the table. Freeman, whose first onscreen appearance took longer than I was expecting, brings his comforting voice and uses it to relax us when the film’s tension is at its height. Yune (Die Another Day) doesn’t do much more than stand, scowl and beat people up. But I thought he was fantastic as the film’s main baddie. McDermott, whom I have always classified as underrated, is the perfect background foil for Yune. Leo’s put through the ringer here, and is the center of perhaps the most disturbing scene in the film. But in true Leo style, she doesn’t hold back. Eckhart makes a credible enough president. But don’t expect to see him do much more than sit and be tied up. This isn’t Harrison Ford’s president from Air Force One.As great as the cast is and well choreographed that the action was, Olympus Has Fallen suffers a bit when it comes to credibility. The way the Koreans take over the White House lacks any bit of depth. And these baddies are so generic that I was half expecting an appearance of the blonde bad guy that the Bond films made famous. Also, McDermott’s turning the back on his country is horribly conceived and never fully explained. Not to mention, there is a drawn out scene involving the American flag being taken down that felt ham handed at best, pulled straight from a Michael Bay film at worst. But any action fan would be hard pressed to find a better ride than Olympus Has Fallen. An action hero that we have waited for, this is Butler at his finest. And even if there are times that the film falters in terms of plausibility, it is tough not to walk out of it with a smile on your face. Which is more than I can say for most of today‘s action films.
4 out of 5