Sunday, March 24, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen - Theatrical Review

Release Date: March 22, 2013

"Olympus Has Fallen" is the best Die Hard movie released this year.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block
Time: 10:00 pm March 21, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: R  
Film Runtime: 2 hr 00 min
Studio: Millennium Pictures

Loves: "Die Hard" style movies, Morgan Freeman
Likes: Gerald Butler, Aaron Eckhart, brutality in my action movies
Neutral: The large number of idiotic characters
Hates: A solid movie let down by poor effects    
Where there is one there is always another: Look out for the other White House under siege movie "White House Down" this summer.

While transporting President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), his wife Margaret (Ashley Judd) and son Connor (Finley Jacobsen) from Camp David, Special secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerald Butler) is forced to make a horrifying split second decision after a deadly accident which results in the President's wife's death while saving the President himself. 18 months after the accident, Banning has been relieved of active White House duty and currently works at the Treasury Department as both Banning and the President deal with the repercussions of that fateful night in their own ways.

Then during a meeting with the Korean Minister at the White House, an all out attack begins by an unknown enemy that completely decimates all defensive measures and leaves the President held captive in the bunker under the White House. With all agents wiped out, it is up to the disgraced Banning to rescue the President and all other captives while ensuring that men responsible pay for what they have done.

The premise for director Antoine Fuqua's new action flick "Olympus Has Fallen" is borderline preposterous. There isn't one single facet of the film where anything ever seems plausible let alone realistic. But there is a time and a place for films like this, where we just want to leave our brains at home and revel in the gleefully over the top action. The near cartoonish violence gets the adrenaline pumping and the surprising solid cast help sell the ridiculous nature of what is quite possibly one of the most far fetched action movies in recent memory. But so long as you are willing to accept the conceit that a small military force totaling no more than 50 can take down the White House, you will have a great time with the film. This is a clear cut case of ignorance is bliss and "Olympus Has Fallen" is blissfully ignorant.

You are likely to hear a lot of comparisons to the venerable "Die Hard" franchise from various other reviewers out there. That is because Fuqua does very little to differentiate his film from all the other countless "Die Hard" clones and wears the comparison like a badge of honor. Everything in that tried and true formula is present and accounted for, a lone wolf with a sharp wit about him cut off from his superiors in a dangerous claustrophobic environment where he is hunted relentlessly as he plays cat and mouse picking off each and every bad guy he comes across in hopes of whittling down their numbers.

An evil bad guy leader from a foreign country who is dressed nice, speaks to his captives with a stern respect even when beating the s**t out of them, while in a safe enclosed room where he instructs his subordinates to hunt down the lone wolf as he uses his command center to ward off any sort of attempt by the army outside to penetrate his defenses and executing hostages when he needs to make a point. Sound familiar?

When making a movie like this you either go all in or don't even try and it looks as though everyone went all in on this one. It's many many flaws almost feel intentional at times, like unless we have a group of important people in suits and uniforms in a war room second guessing our hero at every turn or reporting on how close the bad guys are to destroying the world the formula wouldn't work and the entire infrastructure of the film would collapse.

Likewise, the violence has been turned up a few notches to overkill and it is all the better for it. When someone dies they often times die in a suitably grisly fashion. Every single bullet to the head is followed by a nice crimson red blood spray against the wall behind them. Sometimes even people that are killed are killed again as we are treated to numerous scenes of both good guys and bad guys walking up to corpses and unloading an extra clip into them. The violence would be obscene if it weren't so outrageously over the top.

In one of the films most intensely well executed action scenes during the initial raid on the White House, the body count quickly and easily rises to the triple digits and it makes no qualms about it. The carnage on display is the ultimate in excessive violence for the simple sake of excessiveness. It feels like Fuqua is afraid that his villains won't seem evil enough unless they gun down half of Washington D.C. and take out the entire secret service in the process. Heck, they even go ahead and destroy the Washington monument for good measure.

But in the film's most outright despicable display of overt patriotism (and a crass move to get the audience to say, "America...f**k yeah!", the bad guys not only shoot and kill the American flag itself, but they also take the time to go to the roof of the White House, lower the bullet ridden flag and throw it down to the ground. Yes, that really happens. Blind patriotism is a double edged sword however and if used too often it starts to become a parody (just ask Michael Bay).

While Fuqua never takes it that far, the aforementioned killing of the American flag and a scene with a hostage being dragged on the floor reciting the pledge of allegiance, or even the standard line from every American leader ever taken hostage in a movie, "America doesn't negotiate with terrorists", are done with so much bravado that it is hard to take the film in as a simple mindless action flick sometimes. Instead it starts to feel a little preachy which may be fine for some but will likely induce some major eye rolling from others. The one thing that helps counteract this issue is of course the films star Gerald Butler, who keeps the film firmly rooted in the mindless action arena.

Butler has a real knack for playing hero types with an attitude. As the disgraced secret agent who is looking to redeem himself, Butler brings a lot of charisma and charm to the role. He is probably the most believable part of the film, in both his actions and his words. In the early parts of the film before the s**t hits the fan he doesn't really grab a hold of you the way a leading man should, but when the attack begins, so does he. Watching him take out countless goons as he creeps around the White House is a lot of fun, but what really kicks up the fun factor is Butler's little quips to both the bad guys he is gunning down and the idiots outside messing things up every other second.

The signature moment for Butler comes near the middle of the film where he interrogates two captive bad guys. If by this time you aren't sold on him as the hero, this one brief (and bada**) scene is enough to win over even the most jaded audience member. The level of personality Butler brings to the table was greatly needed given how everyone else seems to playing it all pretty close to the chest.

Eckhart is fine in the role of the President but Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Morgan Freeman and Radha Mitchell (a fine actress in the most throwaway role of the year as Banning's girlfriend), they all seem somewhat bored with what they are doing. Even Dylan McDermott's role isn't really given much to do beyond one scene between him and Banning that at the very least has a surprising conclusion.

There are two other exceptions however, Rick Yune as Kang, the leader of the bad guys, he brings a cool and calm demeanor to his role to make a fitting villain for Banning to face off against. Then there is the Secretary of Defense played by Melissa Leo who gives a commanding scene stealing performance that will have audiences standing up and cheering with her constant defiance which was quite the pleasant surprise.

There are some unfortunate missteps and some obvious technical flaws that keep the film from reaching its true potential though. For some reason, movies of this type always have at least one character that is a stubborn idiot who causes more problems than they help fix and for "Olympus Has Fallen", we are treated to multiple individuals whose role is to be as stupid as humanly possible and unfortunately for us, they succeed. Having one character be a pain in the a** is tolerable, even funny if handled right, but making every single person in the war room a class one moron isn't exactly the right way to go. If they aren't questioning Banning's loyalty, they are ignoring his advice which more often than not leads to multiple deaths. Even better is directly after not taking his advice, they try and remove him because he is not needed anymore. Can these people get any more asinine?

Yes they can actually. In what first appears to be a noble act by the President to save his staff (SPOILER ALERT) by forcing...let's repeat that, FORCING his staff to give their security codes to Kang because apparently he thinks they won't be able to force the final code, his code, out of him. Problem is that when Kang finally reaches the point where he needs that final code he has already cracked it! Yes, that's right, the President forced his staff to give up their codes that control all of America's nuclear weapons failsafes and in doing so gave them complete control. Whether he knew this would happen or not (just for the record, everyone in the war room seemed to know it was possible), that single act by him was without a doubt the worst thing he could have done. He does know that those codes are a secret for a reason right? (END SPOILER).

Other problems persist that are not so much a failing of the film but more a problem with Hollywood in general. Hollywood always seems to want to make s**t up about the government and our national defense programs. Sure, there is no way for them to have any idea what our defense programs are (they are classified for a reason, although if we have this President in charge, well...), but this idea that there is a failsafe that requires three codes to activate held by three high up officials who are always within close proximity to one another AND always near THE ONLY computer in the world that can either activate or deactivate the failsafe, well...(sigh), that's just stupid. If the government were to ever have such a plan in place you would bet your a** that the codes could be overwritten from ANY terminal if a code holder is taken hostage. Let's not even mention the nuclear proof, inpenetrable bunker that happens to have old tunnels leading to it...really? Come on now...

Lastly there are the special effects for the film which honestly don't look horrible, but were clearly not given the budget needed to sell them. The attack by the plane in the beginning is exciting stuff with all the destruction and mayhem it rains down upon Washington D.C., but it looks about as real as a Syfy movie of the week at certain points. There are scenes sprinkled all throughout the film that either have an obvious green screen or an obvious digital effect that just takes you out of the experience almost every time. Do the dodgy effects work hurt the film? No, not really, but even though special effects never make the movie, they at the very least can support it which in this case the film needed a bit more support.

Are these nitpicks? Yes, most certainly. But these nitpicks only standout because the film itself is a lot of fun and you want it to be as good as it can be. So it becomes a sore point whenever you see them screw it up. The strong points far outweigh the low points though and with some solid R-rated action that is near non-stop once it gets going and a likeable hero that the audience can easily root for as he clears the White House of its trash, there is no way anyone could walk away from the film and not at the very least feel entertained. Antoine Fuqua has made a well executed piece of popcorn entertainment which is more than can be said for the disaster that was "A Good Day to Die Hard". Who knew that the best "Die Hard" movie this year would be the one without Bruce Willis?





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