Gerard Butler kills lots and lots of terrorists threatening the White House and the president in Olympus Has Fallen, the latest stylish bloodbath of an action film from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest). If that’s your thing, you’re very likely to enjoy the film, which for the most part is well staged and slickly produced. Think Air Force One taken to the next, far more violent level.
If, however, you’re not into jingoism, sadism, brutality, and action “thrillers” that are predictable from start to finish, treat yourself to something else more pleasant, like maybe having your gums scraped.
Butler stars as Mike Banning, a ex-Special Forces operative turned Secret Service agent who’s languishing behind a desk at the Treasury Department after a decision he makes while protecting President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) results in a tragedy for the First Family. Banning finds himself back in harm’s way when a brazen aerial assault upon the White House leads to an all-out ground assault on the White House lawn.
The terrorists, led by the cold and ruthless Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune), are well-organized and armed to the teeth. After several bloody battles in and around the White House, they are able to overwhelm the Secret Service and take the president and most of his inner circle hostage, leaving Banning as the only resistance left alive in the building.
While the National Guard position themselves around the White House and the acting president, Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) try to figure out how to re-take the building, they have to rely on Banning’s knowledge of the premises and all of its secret doors and passages, his Special Forces skills, and his toughness to gain an edge on Kang, whose plans go far beyond simply changing the world’s balance of power or destroying America’s seat of government. He’s out to punish all of America for flourishing while others in the world have lived with poverty and famine, and he’ll kill millions to do it.
So in other words, one well-trained, well-armed, super-tough American SoB versus a horde of terrorists holding our president, our government, and our very way of life hostage. Scary? Pah. This is a Hollywood movie: you just know the bad guys don’t stand a chance.
Arguably, there are few directors out there that could have been a better choice to juggle all the different elements in play here than Antoine Fuqua. The one-time music video auteur turned film director brings all of his experience handling both large-scale action set pieces (Tears of the Sun, King Arthur), up-close, visceral fight scenes and gunplay (Brooklyn’s Finest, Shooter), and terse, testosterone-fueled and profanity-laden exchanges between hard men in tense situations (Training Day) to bear here, and on a technical level, it works, for the most part. What really shows here is his sense of pacing: it’s a brisk, pedal-to-the-metal 2 hours with just enough lulls between gun battles and explosions for let the audience take a breath and for the plot to advance in a somewhat realistic manner. Well, realistic for a movie like this. Again, if you enjoy loud, bombastic actioners like this, it’s a hell of a ride.
But for anyone demanding compelling drama and actors pushing their talents beyond what’s expected of them, there’s very little to enjoy here. For all of Fuqua’s skill as a director and all of those quality actors filling out the cast — Academy Award winners Freeman and Bassett, Eckhart and Jackie Brown‘s Robert Forster — he’s still telling a Die Hard-style tale that boils down to Butler skulking down dark corridors, growling out epithets and exchanging threats with Yune, now Hollywood’s go-to guy to play Korean terrorists/bad-guys (2002’s Die Another Day, the 2012 remake of Red Dawn), and interrogating and killing anonymous thugs in brutal and sometimes sadistic ways. It could have been a script for an entire season of 24 — in fact, see Season 7 of 24 for a White House siege and hostage situation handled just as well, if not with greater skill on a smaller budget.
Now to be fair, nobody growls better than Butler in roles like these, even when he’s clearly struggling to suppress his Scottish brogue as he does here, so he’s the right guy to give this thing a chance to succeed. But in the end, what he brings to the table is not enough to make this any more memorable than anything he’s done since 300.
Score: 2.5 out of 5
Olympus Has Fallen
Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, and Rick Yune. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Running Time: 120 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.