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Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Premise: A North Korean terrorist group attacks the White House and holds the President of the United States hostage in an underground bunker. A lone Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) must take on the terrorists and rescue the president.

What Works: Olympus Has Fallen returns Gerard Butler to the action genre and it is nice to see the actor back in a movie that plays to his strengths, especially after a string of disappointing or downright awful romantic comedies like Playing for Keeps and The Bounty Hunter. Butler is convincing in the physical part of the role and he has an onscreen charisma that is stronger than a lot of action stars, making him an agreeable lead for the movie. Olympus Has Fallen intends to be a slam-bang action movie and when the picture is in full shoot-’em-up mode it is entertaining although never mind blowing.

What Doesn’t: Olympus Has Fallen was released two decades too late. This movie plays like the kind of action film that would have been popular in the mid-1990s like Speed, Under Siege, and The Rock. Like most action movies of that time, Olympus Has Fallen uses the Die Hard formula in which a reluctant hero is the only one who can stop a terrorist plot. Had this movie come out twenty years ago it would have been an average shoot-‘em-up adventure. In 2013 the film is an anachronism and it plays like a direct-to-video action movie that ought to star Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren. The story premise isn’t the only part of this movie that looks like a relic of the 90s; the computer generated special effects frequently look awful. These effects might have been acceptable or even exceptional for viewers who were awed by the visuals of Stargate but for a contemporary audience that now shrugs at The Matrix the visuals of Olympus Has Fallen are below expectations.  The movie is also problematic because of constant storytelling missteps. The picture opens with a traffic accident in which the First Lady is killed. The scene is intended to establish the Secret Service agent and the president as sympathetic characters but it is so heavy that the sequence comes across as out of place with the rest of the movie. The film has a few plot twists but none of them make any sense. The subplot involving a former Secret Service agent played by Dylan McDermott is too obvious and it does not carry the kind of dramatic weight that the filmmakers intend. The other plot twist of Olympus Has Fallen involves America’s nuclear arsenal. The way the president and other hostages handle this is stupid and the story makes great leaps in its logic. Olympus Has Fallen is also problematic for political reasons. The movie is coming out at a time in which tensions between the United States and North Korea are high and in that context Olympus Has Fallen plays like blatant pro-war propaganda. Even as that, the movie isn’t very good. If the filmmakers of Olympus Has Fallen are going to endorse militaristic nationalism then they have to do it well, as seen in Top Gun, but this movie never excites the viewer in that way. Olympus Has Fallen is also politically awkward because the attack sequence invokes the imagery of 9/11 but it does not do that for any other reason than rollercoaster thrills. This is at least thoughtless if not downright callous and stupid.

Bottom Line: Olympus Has Fallen strives to be Die Hard but it is much more like Team America: World Police without the irony. This is a movie that should have been confined to the purgatory of late night cable and direct-to-video obscurity.

Episode: #434 (April 7, 2013)