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Review: Olympus Has Fallen – Fun, but not a Herculean effort

Posted by on March 22, 2013 – 12:05 am

Olympus Has FallenThe cold war is alive and well in Olympus Has Fallen as director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) resurrects the flag-waving action-flick format that was a staple of 1980’s cinema. But in this new film the Russians have been replaced by the North Koreans and Chuck Norris has been swapped for Gerard Butler — proving that old American action heroes never die … they’re just replaced by Englishmen.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a Secret Service Agent who has a close personal relationship with the President (Aaron Eckhart) and his family. But when he fails to save the life of the First Lady (Ashley Judd, who is only onscreen for about a minute of this film) during a freak auto accident, the Presidential Guard is relieved of his duty at the White House (Codenamed: Olympus) and reassigned to a desk job at the Treasury Department.

Months later and out of the blue the North Koreans, led by sadistic terrorist Kang (Rick Yune), launch an attack on Washington DC with ground forces and a tricked-out plane with all sorts of heavily armed gizmos. The communists are fed up with having their people starved by the economic sanctions forced by the United States and now they’re going to give the Americans their comeuppance.

The terrorists successfully breach the White House and take the President, Vice-President and many of their staff hostage, demanding that the US Navy pull out of the Pacific and withdrawal troops from South Korea – oh, and also give up the security codes for the entire supply of US nuclear weapons.

Banning finds himself in the middle of this mess and because of his knowledge of the White House, not to mention his skills as a one-man-army, he becomes an invaluable asset and inside man that the President Interim, House Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and his security team uses to counteract the terrorist plot.

Olympus Has FallenCan one man save the President, his kid and the country – all while spewing macho one liners and enduring a barrage of bullets, bombs and bodily harm? Did I mention this was an eighties-style action flick? You bet your arsenal Banning is going to save the day.

Olympus Has Fallen has a great ensemble cast that also includes Dylan McDermott as a shady Secret Service man, Angela Bassett as the Secret Service Director and Robert Forster as a misguided General. Gerard Butler is really the only cast member that I take issue with in this film, not because of his cheesy acting per say, but that it was hard for me to buy into his being an American action hero.

No matter how well the Scottish actor disguises his accent I know he’s not an American, so why try to hide it. In fact, the entire Hollywood trend of using United Kingdom and Australian actors in American hero roles is disturbing to me (see Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead, Christian Bale as Batman, Henry Cavill as Superman and Karl Urban as Judge Dredd* to name a few.) That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the actors and those films, because I do (we’ll see about the Man of Steel), but you can’t tell me we don’t have any American actors who can play these parts. (But I digress…)

I almost always have problems with films like Olympus Has Fallen that are set in alternate realities where characters like the President are put into fictional scenarios that never existed and are unlikely to ever exist. I fully understand that fictional movies and books are always created using “what-if” fantasies, but when you build the narrative around an actual person or position (like the President) set in the real world, then plausibility is pushed to the edge.

Olympus Has FallenSpeaking of implausibility, after seeing the recent propaganda video that North Korea shared with the world, the one where a sleeping Korean man dreams of a nuclear attack on the Unites States – all set to the tune of “We are the World” – I found it difficult to believe that circus-styled regime would ever be capable of pulling off an elaborate siege of the US Government. Seeing Dennis Rodman elected President is a more plausible scenario.

Despite my many issues with Olympus Has Fallen, I did have fun watching this movie. I’m a fan of the 1980’s action films that this movie reminds me of, so I use that comparison as a compliment. The script by first time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt gets all the ingredients right, so if you’re a Die Hard fan or can name all the actors in the latest Expendables film, then you’ll probably have a good time at this movie as well. Grade: 7/10

* Before I get blasted with crazy correction comments, I know Judge Dredd is a British book, but the character is an American with a story set in post-apocalyptic America and he was played by New Zealander Karl Urban in the latest film.

Photos © 2013 FilmDistrict