Olympus Has Fallen

March, 2013, Action


Olympus Has Fallen

Director Antoine Fuqua specializes in testosterone-laden action films that focus on men with military and/or police backgrounds who see themselves as guardians of American freedom and the ideology that undergirds it. With one notable exception. (Denzel Washington’s stellar depiction of a thoroughly corrupt cop in Training Day) a Fuqua hero is comfortable with guns, violence and killing - - all in the name of law, order and the greater good of the U.S. So it should be no surprise that he’s at it again in the lubricious tale (by first-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt), which depicts the brutal take-over of The While House by a band of North Korean terrorists.

A sizeable assembly of Hollywood veterans (Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Basset, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott & Robert Forster) surround ex-secret service officer Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) as he battles what initially appears to be an endless number of Asians who come to the heart of the capital equipped with assorted military hardware, municipal garbage trucks and any number of surreptitiously-placed members of a security detail escorting the President of South Korea to a meeting with our head of state.

Once inside the portico, phony members of South Korea’s security force quickly dispatch their counterparts while a helicopter simultaneously penetrates D.C.’s tightly controlled airspace and begins to shoot up 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, triggering the transfer of key administration personnel to an impregnable chamber deep below the home of our nation’s leader. Yet as the body count rises, Agent Banning comes to the rescue; armed with only an automatic pistol, he slips into the East Room and soon becomes the sole U.S. surviving occupant of the building above ground. So far, so good; but how is he going to extract top government officials from the fix they’re in?

 Reducing the impossible to the merely improbable is no simple matter and the best “disaster” film directors employ strategies to accomplish the proper aura of surprise at the hero’s ability to make the incredible appear at least briefly plausible. Fuqua moves his plot along briskly, in the manner of the Bruce Willis Die Hard franchise, mixing lots of gung-ho profanity and explosions while painting the villains as unredeemably bad guys and their captives as well-intentioned but incapable of helping themselves. Even other potential rescuers are depicted as incapable of doing anything effective - - including a raft of Army officers, various Nay Seals, The Secret Service and half the personnel in the Defense Department.

 Butler, a Scottish actor in his early 40’s, has made 20 or more films in the last decade, wandering from chick-flick romantic comedies to blood-soaked action flicks like Machine Gun Preacher, with intermittent work as a voice in animated children’s movies and even a part in Coriolanus, the latest filmed version of a Shakespearean tragedy. He’s okay here, but just barely - - there’s enough physical heft in his screen persona to make him a credible leading man in this type of vehicle, but the dialogue he’s given ranges from maudlin to wooden and he lacks the capacity to make his character credible.

 That said, the sheer energy on display in this lengthy exercise in urban fantasy is impressive in its own right and the seasoned cast does a better-than-average job of projecting the tensions which the storyline provides. No one is outstanding in that regard, but they’re sufficiently competent and when combined with the director’s commendable flair for pyrotechnics, the movie stands a good chance of gaining some box-office recognition in the macho & mayhem genre. Who knows? Someday, Fuqua may make a movie with something to say.

There’s a consistent undercurrent of paranoia in Olympus; does it reflect an effort to assure American audiences that we’re strong enough to overcome what is portrayed as near universal envy of (and hatred toward) the U.S.? This film is  propaganda at its most insidious …and Hollywood excels at turning that into a profit.

 The Verdict? Blood-soaked hokum, crisply delivered.

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