Olympus Has Fallen
The good news is that Antione Fuqua directed the film and Gerard Butler is the lead backed with a strong list of actors such as Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Aaron Eckhart and Radha Mitchell.
I was hopeful for Olympus Has Fallen for all those reasons but at the same time I was feeling a little trepidation, after all it was saving the President of the United States of America from a terrorist threat within the Whitehouse, was this going to get too gung-ho all-American?
The terrorists succeed in their goal and take over the building with the President and his staff who are now being held hostage. Amazingly the only one left alive inside is the lone agent who now finds he has a chance at redemption as he's the only one with a chance of finding out who the terrorists are and stopping them before they see their intentions through.
There is a real mix to this film, although I am happy to report that the majority of it falls on the side of enjoyable, although that's not the way it starts off. To begin with there are a number of cheesy moments and very recognisable developments in the plot. Much to this early part of the story has been seen before and some of the shots we see are all too familiar to this genre of film, a familiar feeling you recognise throughout the film.
Then there are some of the over patriotic scenes and cheese laden dialogue. Thankfully the cheese cools down quite quickly and the film turns to the action adventure that you are expecting, so while it does start by turning the non-American chanting audience off, that feeling doesn't last too long at all. When the action adventure film begins we see something interesting, this action film has some real bite to it, more than you'll have expected.
Despite the fact that this is fantasy there does feel like there has been a fair amount of work carried out in the detail for the terrorist plan and with the tactics that Gerard Butler's lone agent displays. While a couple of sequences feel as though they push the boundaries perhaps a little too much, nothing makes you feel like it's gone too far over the top. Oh of course this is a high concept action film so it's all over the top but the tactics and actions have a weight that makes you believe what happens in the context of the film' story, particularly during the stages of the attack on the Whitehouse and the agent's action scenes.
In fact it's Butler's character that surprises the most because of his actions and his use of language. He isn't some standard PG13 action hero and neither is the film. This guy is ex-Special Forces and a Secret Service agent, and that means he's not messing about. There are head shots, some carried out particularly brutally and efficiently, a scene where he's persuading someone for information without any thought of the Geneva Convention, and a healthy use of a knife throughout for more than just threats. This guy behaves the way you would expect someone trained as he has been. He attacks to kill and makes sure they are dead. He sees an enemy to be knocked down and kept down, he's not going to knock them out with a punch or put them to sleep with a magical blow to the head. This is a big factor of the film that won me over.
It's also one of the big differences from Die Hard and other such films, this isn't a PG13 friendly action hero wise cracking at every opportunity, mind you saying that there are wise cracks which are as funny, but they're still non teen friendly. Listen to the radio game hero talkback moment as a prime example.
There are many similarities with Die Hard and all lie in the plot and story direction, and when I say many I do mean many - the bad guys are after something else; the way their plan evolves; the ambushing of the rescuers; the sleight of hand in the escape; the call from the hero when he's at his worst, or the hero removing shrapnel from his wounds during his reflective scene - these comparisons are many but the great thing is that none of them are a negative for the film and in fact make the film better.
One of the key differences that helps Olympus Has Fallen stand firm from Die Hard, at least the recent Die Hard films, is that it isn't pandering to the teenagers. It takes the best of Die Hard and similar action films and delivers them with some more weight and bite.
While the hugely obvious comparisons with Die Hard don't hurt the film the Independence Day ones do. I'm rather surprised that Antione Fuqua has allowed the cheesy, all-American moments to appear in the film, especially when they are ramped up so high. Thankfully they aren't a dominating part and rather bookend it, but moments like the American flag, shot full of holes and slowly falling in front of the Whitehouse, drifting with the breeze with a beautiful CG sunset in the background are nigh on vomit worthy. Don't even ask me to go near the closing speech, I think I might gag. The cheesiness of these scenes is heightened by just how non-PG13 the rest of the film is, and I found that a little confusing. As I've said though, thankfully the cheese doesn't stay around too long.
Just to give you a quick example of how non-teen friendly the film is, there's a scene where a senior member of the President's staff is being beaten by the terrorist. What's shocking is that the staff member is a woman, and she's not being a typical Hollywood woman either, she's fighting hard and refuses to give in resulting in the same treatment as a male character. It's a small point but I think it's a rather important one that reflects the intent of the film.
Like that scene there are a number of sequences that surprised me as to their inclusion, scenes that presented a much riskier film than a straight up action adventure, with cheese. I think perhaps the scene that shows this the best is where the Washington Monument takes a beating. The comparisons to 9/11 are shocking and while this is where the effects are the weakest it also has the most impact. It made me take a deep breath and I was rather surprised that this had made it through the studio, and not because of the poor effects.
Scenes like this do lift the film up from just being a straight action adventure film, and in a way that's why it's so strange that there are such cheesy moments which bring the film back down a little. As a whole though the story is a good one and races along with a great pace that will have you going along with it. For the most part it feels a little more realistic than other such films, and then in others it pushes the audience believability perhaps a little too far for some, such as the Cerberus idea which felt like we'd started pushing into another genre.
The idea for a computer attack in Die Hard 4.0 (Filmstalker review) was much more believable than the one we have here, and again it presents a rather strange dichotomy in the writing. On one part we have the reality of the violence and aggression of the main character along with the presentation of tactics from both sides, and on the other we have this strange level of cheesiness and the almost science fiction, techno-thriller plot idea for the computer system. I do wish they'd concentrated more on the reality that they were bringing to the action and maybe then we would have had a much stronger film.
I won't even point out the stock joke of the countdown timer that was where the whole idea of Cerberus totally lost me and almost the film along with it. It's just so surprising that there are such strong aspects to the story and in others there's such a reliance on the stock, on the poorly conceived and written, indeed on the lazy.
Some other strong aspects lie with the fight and action sequences. There are a few one to one battles where the action is a little over-edited and so closely cropped that you lose the plot of what is happening within the fight, but there are just as many that are filmed with a little more space allowing the audience to follow. The action sequences are dramatic, exciting and well filmed, and provide for something new as well as engaging for the audience.
It's well filmed too with some strong interior shots and night sequences that aren't afraid to go dark, a reflection on parts of the story. Antoine Fuqua does a good job of delivering a visually strong action film but again manages to take another step away from the power of Training Day. If he could just get the right script he could get back there.
The cast were good with Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, the ex-Special Forces and ex-Presidential Detail Secret Service Agent, playing his character with conviction and strength; Aaron Eckhart as the President being strong and emotional at the same time; Rick Yune as the bad guy set to ruin America, no longer the bearded terrorist type; Melissa Leo plays a powerful female role who really gets involved in a surprising way, and Dylan McDermott who delivers a rather surprising character and did it rather well, even if his character is rather flat.
It also stars names such as Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Radha Mitchell who are all woefully underused, although I did like the fact that Freeman's Speaker of the House was so uncertain and built up through the film, becoming a much more assertive and strong character.
Olympus Has Fallen is, as I thought of while I was watching the film, Die Hard with balls mixed with some Independence Day cheese.
I don't like comparisons of films with other films so much but it's really hard not to do so here, the story plays out with such similar beats to Die Hard it was almost screaming at me and yet it's not a bad thing. There are some great nods to that film and with the added non-teen friendly edge to the character and his actions we get a really good bad-ass Die Hard type hero with Gerard Butler.
The action is good and at times carries a good dose of reality, but then there are some scenes and a couple of big threads that rely on the standard plot developments that you've seen a thousand times before. If these had been removed and the level kept to some of the other high points then Olympus Has Fallen would have been a much better film.
There is a strong cast, strong direction, and with the story playing out with a more adult edge to it you'll find that there are some moments in there that will surprise and elevate the film, such as the straightforward and realistic tactics of the hero, or the Secretary of Defense standing up to her aggressors in a surprisingly non-Hollywood sequence.
However you'll have to live through opening and closing cringe-worthy moments, particularly if you're not American, moments that bring you right back to that Independence Day level of cheesiness.
Olympus Has Fallen is an enjoyable and exciting action adventure film, don't think it's anything more or less, but it's up there with the better of them. You'll see some bad reviews for the film because they aren't taking it for what it is, or that they are letting those poorer moments of the film override the stronger aspects. I suspect these critics would have similarly dug at Die Hard when it arrived and look how much fun that is.