“Olympus Has Fallen”: A Review

Finally, I get it right this time. Coming into the movie theatre having seen the trailer only minutes before, I was once more playing the role of expectant moviegoer, ready for whatever ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ was to throw at me.

Needless to say, it threw quite a lot.

Gerald Butler returns to serious action after a series of strange rom com roles and unmemorable thrillers, playing a former Secret Service ranger turned desk clerk by the name of Michael Banning. Banning is relegated to desk duty following a decision that costs  the life of the First Lady (played by Ashley Judd, in a sorta-cameo). Yet it doesn’t take long for Banning to return to action once a couple of North Korean terrorists decide to infiltrate what the film banners as ‘the most protected building on the planet’: the White House.

There isn’t much to say about the story (considering there isn’t much there), save for the timeliness that echoes the possibility of propaganda.  Just a day or two ago I was watching a documentary on History Channel about the Nazi Titanic, a German-made movie about the sinking of the RMS Titanic that was meant to somehow empower the German people during the Second World War. I couldn’t help but think back at what I had learned from the documentary whilst watching the film–and found myself wondering whether or not a similar tactic was now being employed in this movie.

Firstly, the selection of the villain’s nationality. One could call it mere coincidence that the screenwriters of this film opted for an Asian– particularly North Korean– villain. Words cannot express just how timely this is, considering the tensions between North Korea, South Korea and the US. Secondly, the killing of the South Korean prime minister somehow manages to put the blame (at least, all of it), on our North Korean villain. Yet the associations to reality end there.

First and foremost, our president in the film (played by Aaron Eckhart)  is white and has a son instead of two daughters. He happens to be a widower. Secondly, our vice president in the film plays a minor role and is of Latin American descent. In a nutshell, nothing in the characterization of prime roles even allude to Barrack Obama, Joe Biden and the current American presidency. Thirdly, the White House is probably NOT THAT VULNERABLE in real life… we have to remind ourselves (at least I do), that this is a movie. Exaggeration is the name of the game, especially when it comes to characterization.

Case in point: Butler’s Michael Banning could almost pass for the perfect agent. He proves to be immune to anything in the movie, save for a stab wound or two that as if by (movie magic), still keeps him alive. He lacks vulnerability whilst in action. One finds it hard to believe that he’s got a huge piece of luggage on his shoulder with the way he works. Personality-wise he’s the ideal action hero– an empty soul whose sole purpose is redemption  sprinkled with a few choice death threats.

On to the other acting parts– Eckhart’s been typecast and he knows it. From Nick Naylor to Harvey Dent to President Benny Asher, Eckhart’s progression in ‘political’ roles is in itself, laudable. He could almost be the Bill Pullman of our generation… ALMOST. But even we’ve seen better from him.

Morgan Freeman is a breath of fresh air, bringing to the table the same level of wisdom Yoda brings to the Star Wars franchise, yet this isn’t him at his best and he knows it. Angela Bassett holds her own in a powerful supporting role, proving to be the only legitimate symbol of feminine strength in the entirety of the film. I didn’t even recognize Melissa Leo as the screechy secretary of state– forced into submission after a beating that was nothing short of misogynistic. Butler’s wife (played by Radha Mitchell)  plays a bit part, briefly appearing to add some level of consistency and some sense of reality into the character of Mike Banning. I wondered how he even managed to get hitched.

Good old action is this movie’s saving grace. Director Antoine Fuqua’s thrill timing is something to be proud of, as he makes up for the lack of so much essential film elements with impeccable timing, kills that make one go “woah” and million-dollar explosions that Americans would fear had they happened in real life. Another saving grace? the mini rescue mission that involved presidential son Conner climbing his way to freedom through one of the White House trap doors amidst the split-second possibility of losing his life.

Its moments like these that save the film as they manage to grip the audience so hard you feel stupid wanting to sit there and see this kid get saved. After all, he’s done nothing wrong. Blech… talk about movie sympathy.

Gripping moments aside, Olympus Has Fallen is like the mid-level salmon sashimi you order at a restaurant. It tastes okay and you’ve tasted it before. Its nothing new. It isn’t the original new dish everyone’s talking about– its just.. blech… blah. The usual.

In a word, forgettable.

It may be too early to predict but no acting Oscars here. Maybe one or two nods (and possible wins) for technical achievements but that’s about it.

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