Thursday, April 11, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

For F*** Magazine, Singapore


Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast:         Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Rick Yune
Genre: Action, Drama
Run Time: 119 mins
Opens: 11 April 2013
Rating: NC16

Terrorists have overtaken the White House and held the President hostage?

“This is blasphemy! This is madness!”


Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, formerly the head of the security detail for United States President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart). An incident in the film’s opening minutes forces Banning to leave the President’s side, but his more mundane existence working at the Treasury Department is rocked by a vicious surprise attack on 1600 Penn. The attack is spearheaded by the ruthless terrorist Kang Yeonsak (Yune), who has disguised himself as a member of the South Korean delegation to Washington. With the President and Vice-President indisposed, Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Freeman) takes on the mantle of acting Commander in Chief, and Banning is the only man he and the others in the Pentagon can trust. It’s Secret Service Agent Leonidas to the rescue.

It’s the general consensus among genre fans that action films aren’t quite what they used to be. Well, if you’re nostalgic for the likes of Under Siege, Executive Decision and of course Air Force One, Olympus Has Fallen will probably sate that appetite. Director Antoine Fuqua has delivered an old-school action thriller that isn’t restrained by a “PG-13” rating and can let loose with the gunfire, the bloodshed and some swearing for good measure. The “Die Hard on an X” formula seems to have fallen out of favour with the Hollywood powers that be – even the last three Die Hard films themselves didn’t have John McClane stuck in a confined space. But here, the trope is in full effect, with the one-man Special Forces team that is Mike Banning trapped in the besieged White House.

However, there’s probably good reason that filmmakers have edged away from such plotlines, mainly because we’ve seen it all before. Replace the North Korean villains with Middle-Eastern ones and you just might believe this was released in 1994. Unfortunately, the sub-par visual effects, especially in the opening aerial assault, make it look that way too, hurting that potentially harrowing sequence. The action flicks of the 90s may have been more subdued than those of the preceding decade, but they were often cliché-riddled and had their fair share of implausibilities to get around – as is the case here. Apparently, wanted terrorists can infiltrate the higher echelons of South Korean government, thus gaining access to one of the most-protected buildings in the world, evading every last background check along the way. There’s also a Secret Service agent who has turned traitor with the flimsiest excuse.

It is to Fuqua’s credit then that this reviewer was more often than not willing to overlook such contrivances. The director manages to keep the tension at a consistently high ebb, and in spite of the odd silly moment and the afore-mentioned bad visual effects work, the movie never falls into abject silliness. This is also thanks to Butler, in his element as the protagonist with a gun in his hand, a chip on his shoulder and clad in “plot armour” (enemy armies can fire endlessly at him but he’ll still live) like the action heroes of yore. He clearly should be doing more of this and less playing for keeps and dispensing ugly truths.

While there isn’t much in the way of characterisation to keep the action going, the supporting cast is top-notch. An action flick like this may not be the best use of their talents, but it benefits from their presence anyway. Freeman is not required to do much other than take charge and have terse conversations with Banning over the radio, but darn if he isn’t cool as always doing it. With his lantern jaw, gritted teeth and blue eyes, Eckhart embodies the archetypical “all-American Prez” image. As the supervillain, Rick Yune is nowhere near the likes of Gary Oldman or Tommy Lee Jones, but gets the job done as our two-dimensional force of evil.

Yes, Olympus Has Fallen is brutal, exciting and has its share of white-knuckle moments, but its old-school 90s action flick pedigree is often a double-edged sword, as audiences have come to expect something with perhaps a little more sophistication. Still, the film is enjoyably earnest, a throwback without the smart-alecky winks and nudges and there’s Gerard Butler taking names and kicking ass. Just not down bottomless wells.

SUMMARY: An action thriller right out the 90s. Straightforward, rough around the edges and it isn’t the pinnacle (or Mount Olympus, as it were) of action flicks, but it’s entertaining and intense where it counts.

RATING: 3 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong


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