22 April 2013

Review: Olympus Has Fallen

(Dir: Antoine Fuqua, 2013)

The most interesting thing about Olympus Has Fallen is how easy it makes it look for terrorists to take over the White House. As the chief villain Kang (Rick Yune) says, it took them only thirteen minutes to do so. Anyone remember that later season of 24 where a similar thing happened? In the case of Olympus Has Fallen it's a bunch of renegade North Koreans (or Democratic People's Republic of Korea as they insist on unironically being called), who we're to believe have the skill, ability and capacity to break into and overthrow one of the most protected places on Earth. Ok, let's set aside reality for a minute, I can suspend my disbelief, this is Hollywood. And if the President looked like Aaron Eckhart we'd all want to vote for him right?

Stepping into the John McClane role in what is essentially a direct retread of Die Hard is Gerard Butler. He's ex Secret Service, he once saved the President's life (see the first ten minutes of the film, just so we know) and he gets himself into the right place at the right time so he can fuck up Kang's shit (I can't remember if that's a direct quote or if I'm paraphrasing). Butler proves two things whilst threatening to jam a knife into a brain (another direct quote) - he can convincingly handle action scenes (he's quite fun to watch in that mode) and he's really really not a good actor. He helped make 300 thoroughly enjoyable, but can you name another film where his presence actually added to it? I'm struggling.

The script goes a long long way towards enhancing the woodeness of not only Butler's acting but the whole ensemble. This is the first film by the writers - here's hoping we don't get more. Eckhart probably took this role because he got to play president but he's relegated to the background and gets time to work on how to look pissed off whilst cable tied. He's proven in the past that he's a far better actor than this. Morgan Freeman fulfils what appears to be his sole purpose in films these days, to pop up for a bit and add a touch of gravitas. This is another easy paycheck for him, just like last week's Oblivion (read review). And what of Robert Forster's boorish general or Melissa Leo's Secretary of Defense? Nothing to see here other than cliché. Yune fulfils the villain role satisfactorily, with snarling menace and the requisite gleeful aplomb.

Most curious is how timely this American demonising of the North Koreans is both here and in the recent Red Dawn remake. This amounts to propaganda for brainwashing the masses; forget about the Middle East and the pesky Russians, no, this is the new enemy and they seem like commies, have nukes and hate the good ol' US of A. Recent real life tension between these countries is just damn fortunate timing. The US response apparently needs always be decisive and violent and in Olympus Has Fallen it's jarringly so, in a way that feels excessive probably to all but those with the deepest patriotism running through their veins. (Best not point out it's a Scot with a dodgy American accent who saves the day!).

If it wasn't already clear from my sardonic tone, Olympus Has Fallen is bad. The story is pure filtered cliché with a risible script and acting so wooden it gives off splinters. Gunfire and explosions alone do not a good film make. It's about the taking of a temple of pure Americanism so the jingoism is expected, but it's so heavy handed it never sits easy. As the film plays it totally straight it's impossible to watch and not constantly hear in your head "America, fuck yeah!!". If you like your films bad and littered with simple patriotic propaganda, Olympus Has Fallen may just be for you. I'm intrigued how White House Down will handle a similar story later this year with a domestic enemy - it can surely only be better.

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