The Die Hard/Air Force One action thriller OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is fun, exciting fare.
I've always considered Gerard Butler to be one of the least utilized actors in Hollywood. Best known as Leonidas in the amazing visual feast known as 300, Butler's phyique and stage presence instantly won over fans who worshipped him as a bonified action star. He was even considered for the role of James Bond before Daniel Craig was ultimately given the keys to the Aston Martin. Then, something happened: Butler began showing up in RomComs and other lesser action titles, of which none suited or matched his talents. When your film diet consists of Playing for Keeps and The Ugly Truth, one might start to think you're the victim of a cruel joke. Luckily, someone saw the action hero in Butler, and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN represents the perfect return to the place where he should have been all along.
Butler plays Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent who witnesses the death of President Benjamin Asher's wife (Ashley Judd, The Bone Collector) during a snowy drive near Camp David. Eighteen months later, Banning is working a desk job but desires a return to active protection service. That chance comes when, during a meeting with the South Korean prime minister, the White House is attacked by a well-coordinated assault of North Koreans led by the shadowy terrorist Kang (Rick Yune, Die Another Day). Banning arrives at the White House to a bloodbath of Secret Service personnel, while Asher (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) and Kang are locked together in an underground bunker. The government moves swiftly to replace Asher, installing Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption) to deal with the crisis. But no one knows of Kang's true plans, including the patsy Forbes (Dylan McDermott, The Campaign), who thinks he'll score big once this 'job' is completed. But just like John McClane in the original Die Hard, Banning isn't going to let Kang rule the day, settling instead as an effective party crasher. As Kang hunts for the elusive agent inside the shattered estate, Banning finds Asher's son Connor (Finley Jacobsen, Marley and Me) hiding from Kang's men, who see the child as an effective bargaining chip. With Trumbull and Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett, Malcolm X) on the phone, Banning orchestrates a rescue plan while stopping Kang from unleashing our nuclear arsenal before Trumbull is forced to capitulate.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN won't win any awards for acting or even its action; but its pieces create a better whole than A Good Day to Die Hard. Director Antoine Fuqua (Shooter) keeps the action moving, as if he knows the script by newcomer Creighton Rothenberger isn't exactly a well-crafted commentary on Pacifc Rim relations. That's not to say Rothenberger and Fuqua don't fashion a good tense adventure that will leave you cheering once Banning joins the fray. They do an effective job of pulling audiences into the plight of Banning, selling at once his guilt at watching Asher's wife die, and the need to utterly destroy the North Koreans for the offense they've committed. I don't think we've seen such a brazen attack on such recognizable American symbols in recent memory, the shock of which should play right into our creative team's hands. They recognize one of the biggest rules in movie making: get the audience on your side. By the end of Act 2, we can't wait for the predictable meeting between Kang and Banning, but the results are well-worth our investment. The music by Trevor Morris (Immortals) is impressive in its patriotism, reminding us of the importance that an effective score can play in a movie like this.
Audiences won't see anything new in Olympus Has Fallen, and that's OK because the overall result is still so enjoyable. Butler is back in his element, playing Banning with a quiet presence that's all the more enjoyable once he puts on his angry face. Bassett and Freeman play off each other effectively, and Kang is a perfectly despicable baddie; but it's Eckhart's seemingly minor role which represented the greatest surprise. His scenes are mostly those of someone trapped by a superior force, not only accepting that role well but shining in those few scenes where he's front and center. Our creative team sends a powerful message about our government's slow response to crises, painting us as too proud to think an attack could happen here. When it comes, the message is powerfully received.
I'm not sure how the general moviegoer will react to Olympus Has Fallen. If one views it as a pure action film with a completely believable attack on the White House, then it could go down as one of the best action films of the last 5 years. Frankly, if seeing the Koreans throw the American flag from the White House doesn't cause your blood to boil, then you're probably not meant to see it anyways. Olympus rightfully returns Gerard Butler to his action roots, hopefully signifying a permanent return for one of the most underused actors of his generation. Whether audiences reward him and Fuqua with box office cash is something yet to be determined. For now, welcome back, Spartan. Olympus Has Fallen is rated R for language and scenes of intense violence and has a runtime of 120 minutes.
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