This year’s first “save the President” action yarn, Olympus Has Fallen, is a D movie trying to fill B movie shoes. It’s a movie that should buckle audiences in for ecstatic escapist entertainment. Unfortunately, it’s trying too hard to have its cake and eat it too by becoming too emotionally involved.
We’ve all seen mindless action flicks that centre around a terrorist attack. We may have also seen one of these action films that star a buff hero, like Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, or Jean-Claude Van Damme…even though some of us may be too embarrassed to admit it.
By looking at those rock’em sock’em beat-em-ups, we do see that it’s possible to make a movie about terrorism with a brawny hero saving the day, while also keeping an exciting mindset but not losing its sensibility. These movies may not all be winners, but at least the filmmaking team knows why their audience showed up and knows how to somewhat bring home the bacon.
I couldn’t have that same enjoyment watching Olympus Has Fallen that I’d had with previous action films. In fact, the action scenes in Olympus Has Fallen bothered and dismayed me. It’s a really violent movie that never lets up – and that’s a bad thing.
What’s worse is that it’s a relentlessly violent movie that isn’t afraid to show everyone getting mowed down by a turret gun. This also means, yes, some of the good ole’ boys hired to protect the President, but also innocent bystanders. After each effects-heavy catastrophe, the body count almost felt like the baddies had more people on their team.
Art imitates life and vice versa. However, an audience should be able to enjoy a movie on its own level and not be reminded of real life issues – unless the film is aiming for a satirical angle and director Antoine Faqua isn’t that qualified to tackle such a challenge.
As much as you try and separate real life attacks from Olympus Has Fallen’s purely fictitious material, it’s a daunting, sometimes impossible task. The scenes of innocent casualties are shot in a way that’s supposed to add to the balls-to-the-wall set pieces, which makes things terribly tasteless since the filmmaker seems to want to add realism to his movie. To use an extreme but straightforward example, these action scenes are the equivalent to someone using 9/11 footage to set their film’s pulsating action bar high.
I guarantee – and hope – Faqua wasn’t intentionally going for this off-putting approach. But as it stands, we don’t have scenes that just mirror tragedies. We have scenes that are supposed to show off the weaponry and the striking damage it causes. That’s not exciting in the slightest. It just makes the audience distraught and saddened.
On top of all of this soapbox ranting, if Faqua was intentionally going for more seriousness in order to add weight to his film, these tones shouldn’t have been placed next to scenes where our hero Mike Banning (played by a charismatic but cliched Gerard Butler) is pratically in a video game.
I like all the ominous creeping Butler does in Olympus Has Fallen. If Faqua has done anything successful with his film, it’s that he’s done a really good job at creating intensity during those instances of Butler wandering vacant, blown out hallways in the crumbling White House. He has no idea if he’s about to enter another empty corridor or meet a clan of gun-toting villains.
This same intensity can be found in the boardroom scenes filled with high profile political and military figures. To avoid convoluted statutes and seniorities, we’ll just call these people Robert Forster, Angela Bassett, and Morgan Freeman. The third of whom is the acting President while the real President (played by Aaron Eckhart) remains missing.
The thick tension is, however, done in by immediate choppy hand-to-hand combat or bloody gun and knife play. These action beats would’ve been more appreciative, however, if they were shot and edited in a more competent manner and, again, didn’t resemble an XBOX first-person shooter.
There are even exchanges over the phone and through video with Butler and Kang Yeonsak, our main villain played by Rick Yune. Hardcore action fiends will cringe as Faqua and screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt try to out “Die Hard” Die Hard with these back-and-forths, and as Butler becomes more and more of a John McClane renegade as he converses with Freeman and company.
If Olympus Has Fallen had done what it wanted to do in 90 minutes and had been more courteous with its mixture of tragedy and escapist entertainment, this could’ve been a slight recommendation for someone looking for shallow fare.
But, here’s the thing. It’s brash and it’s minutes shy from being two hours. If this thing plays on TV, it’s going to run close to 3 1/2 hours with commercials. If that happens, I hope everyone will have their own Mike Bunning to save them from their television sets.