Starring: Gerard Butler (300), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Rick Yune (Die Another Day)
Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day)
Writer: Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt
Runtime: 2 hours
Release Date: March 22 (US), April 17 (UK)
Olympus Has Fallen is the first of two films being released this year concerning an attack on the White House; the latter being Roland Emmerich’s White House Down. Whilst we won’t know the verdict on that one for another few months, what about this first effort?
Many have summed up the film as “Die Hard in the White House”, and they’re not lying. The tone, the characters, even certain scenes feel they’ve been taken straight out of the John McTiernan classic. That and Air Force One. Whilst I can accept these similarities, it would be easier to if the film didn’t take itself so seriously. The film is so patriotic and jingoistic, it would make Michael Bay blush. After a decent opening sequence, the film then takes way too long to get going with the main plot and doesn’t spend nearly enough time with Banning (Butler) as we should be for a protagonist. Once Banning gets inside the White House, things begin to pick up but constantly stall as we keep cutting back to people sitting in rooms talking about what they should be doing. The film lacks any personality and doesn’t give enough depth or emotion such a critical event. When you resort to introducing characters by having their names pop up on screen so we know who’s who, you have officially failed as a storyteller. And when the film finally reaches its finale, it borders on completely anti-climactic. There’s really not all that much to say about the plot of Olympus Has Fallen. It’s so bland and generic that I’m starting to forget what I saw just mere hours ago.
After a long string of terrible romantic comedies, Gerard Butler has returned to the action genre where he truly belongs. And I never thought I’d say this but it is true: he single-handedly saves this movie from being completely unwatchable. Butler is the only actor who plays the movie like it should be: witty and self-deprecating. He often channels Bruce Willis’ performance in Die Hard, but makes it his own and delivers some pretty decent one-liners (“Let’s play a game of go f*** yourself. You go first.”). But he also manages to bring the drama when required, as demonstrated in an excellent phone call scene between him and his wife (played by a mostly pointless Radha Mitchell). But as said before, he has nowhere near enough screen time. Everyone else in the movie is either under-acting or over-acting. Aaron Eckhart feels as though he should be doing more than he actually is, Rick Yune gets to look smug and evil a lot (which he isn’t bad at) but not much else, Morgan Freeman looks bored as if he shot all his scenes whilst on lunch break from shooting Oblivion, Melissa Leo does nothing but serve as a human punching bag, the list goes on and on. For a film that centres on such a massive event and with such high stakes, I just don’t give a s*** about anyone but Gerard Butler.
But even with a cookie-cutter script and mostly bland performances, Olympus Has Fallen’s main failings come on the technical spectrum. Every single bad trope you find in modern action movies is here. Shaky-cam? Check. Choppy editing? Check? Extreme close-ups? Check? Most actions scenes taking place in poorly lit areas? Double check. What action is comprehensible looks pretty decent, but most of the time I was just left squinting and wondering what just happened. Combine that with an overdramatic score and visual effects that look average at best and downright terrible at worst, and you’ve got yourself one big clusterf*** of technical issues.
Whilst marginally better than A Good Day to Die Hard (mainly because it doesn’t have a reputation to keep up), Olympus Has Fallen is still a generic and often boring action picture. Only Gerard Butler makes the movie watchable, and if a lesser actor played this role the film would be absolutely awful. Considering the man is also a producer on this, Butler really needs to find a better action vehicle for himself but he has at least proved he still has the chops for this kind of movie. Even so, I’d rather he continue doing trash like this than see him in another movie with Katherine Heigl.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/10