Every film critic is (or was) a film fan first, and so sometimes, despite the fact that we take our seats ready to dissect and investigate the film in front of us, the fan in us takes over, and we’re content to turn off our minds and just enjoy it. Olympus Has Fallen is a movie you don’t need to bring your brain to. A heathy supply of sugar and soda will suffice instead.
Olympus Has Fallen is not a great film. It’s not a bad one either. If you’ve seen the previews, in which the White House is taken over, the President (Aaron Eckart) is taken hostage, and Gerard Butler is left alone to save the the President, kill the bad guys, and protect the American way of life as we know it, then you already know exactly what the film is going to be. Things get blown up (a lot of things), people get shot (a lot of them), and Gerard Butler gets to sneak through the White House room by room fighting off indistinguishable bad guys. He may not have as many catch phrases as action heroes past, but his delivery is good enough to carry the role the way it needs to be carried.
Not surprisingly, logic goes out the window early, when we see a foreign aircraft get within minutes of DC airspace before being picked up for an attempted interception. What is a bit surprising is how bloody the violence gets. Antoine Fuqua is able to carry over some of the grit of his earlier films (especially Training Day and Tears of the Sun) into Olympus, and while that doesn’t exactly break it out of its cookie cutter shape, it does raise the stakes a bit. This level of violence, especially the bluntness in the scenes of torture and execution in the President’s bunker, give Olympus Has Fallen a heavier edge than it might have had had it been a squeaky clean PG-13 action flick.
As for the villains, their motives and the politics in dealing with them are a bit silly at best; here we have militants trying to instigate a new Korean war, which I suppose makes sense given that North Korea is the new bogeyman of American foreign policy. A few years ago it would have been terrorists (foreign or domestic); before that, Soviets; before them, Nazis. American action films never seem to have trouble creating stock characters to portray the enemy of the moment, yet they usually fail to give the individual characters any depth beyond the age old archetypes of the scheming head honcho and his number one henchmen. We understand that they’re bad, but we rarely get under their skin to find out why they’re so evil, which usually makes the final showdown a bit underwhelming.
But even this seems like over-analyzation. Olympus Has Fallen isn’t here to revolutionize or rework the Die-Hard Ripoff (an action subgenre all its own), it’s here to play by the rules in a unique setting and give us a reason to enjoy some over-buttered popcorn and a cold Icee. By that right, it does what it sets out to do, which I suppose is the mark of a successful film. We get everything that we came for, including the completely over the top political sermonizing about the inherent glory of America, the slow motion shot of a tattered American flag floating to the ground, and the hallmark of all American action movies – the destruction of national landmarks in well styled set pieces.
Olympus Has Fallen is a paint by numbers film. If you know what the finished painting is going to look like, odds are you already know whether you want to see it or not. It’s enough that Fuqua and his cast kept all the color between the lines to make it worth watching when they so easily could’ve made a mess of things.
When the credits rolled, I checked my popcorn bag and saw that it was empty. For a film like this, I suppose that’s enough.
Olympus Has Fallen hits UK cinemas on April 17th.
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