THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN"
If you'd have told the world on September 12, 2001 that Olympus Has Fallen would someday exist, no one would have believed you. This is a movie that very intentionally brings to mind the events of 9/11, all in the service of yet another generic Die Hard ripoff. Early on and this is not a spoiler, since it's shown clearly in the film's advertising a plane crashes into the Washington Monument, causing it to crumble, much as the World Trade Center towers did. This is on top of a sequence in which the White House comes under attack from terrorists. While real-world events can certainly be fodder for big-screen entertainment, filmmakers have to walk a thin line. Making a movie with ambition and something to say on the subject can be meaningful; using those events to lend false import to your disposable action flick can make the audience uncomfortable. That's what happened to me with Olympus Has Fallen.
Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a disgraced former Secret Service agent now working in the private sector. When North Korean terrorists storm the White House and take President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) hostage, Banning jumps into action, eventually getting the chance to redeem himself. Asher and a few other VIPs are being held in the White House's solidified, underground bunker. Banning declares war on the lead baddie, Kang (Rick Yune), taking out many of his minions in the process. How, you may ask, is one man able to disband an entire terrorist operation? Why, Banning is ex-Special Forces, of course! This designation has become a Hollywood go-to rationale. Being ex-Special Forces in the movies means you're impervious to bullets, never miss a shot, and can take down an endless number of assailants, even if they all attack simultaneously.
Olympus Has Fallen follows the Die Hard formula right down to the letter, but with little of the style of that 1988 Bruce Willis classic. Admittedly, it's never boring. There is something happening every single second. Unfortunately, so much of it is routine, with Banning going through all the same motions that all the other heroes in all the other Die Hard ripoffs have gone through before. You can sense every beat the story is going to hit before it actually hits them. When you add the not-so-subliminal references to 9/11 into the mix, the film becomes a bit off-putting. Why call all this to mind if you're only going to exploit sad, tragic memories in an overused formula? There's a lot of violence here, much of it bordering on mean-spiritedness. Olympus feels as though it has a blood lust. Kang tortures his hostages just as intently as Banning unrepentantly mows down every America-hating swine he sets his sights on.
The best scenes in the movie are the ones set in the Defense Department strategy room, where the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman), the Secret Service director (Angela Bassett), and a leading General (Robert Forster) all strategize about how to stop an increasingly dire situation. These characters and the actors who portray them give Olympus Has Fallen a sense of gravitas that is sorely lacking from the scenes in which Banning pulls a John McClane in the White House hallways. It doesn't help matters that Gerard Butler seems to be on autopilot here, doing nothing to give his character a personality beyond the requisite profanity-laden quips he makes to Kang.
Some occasionally cruddy CGI and a few false moments of sentimentality are additional distractions. Olympus Has Fallen is certainly watchable in spite of its very significant flaws director Anton Fugua (Training Day) gives it a relentless pace but the movie takes on baggage that is ultimately too much for it to carry. If I had to sum up the film's theme, it would be: America! Don't mess with us! Woooooooooo! A movie that celebrates America's greatness? Fine. A movie that gives us catharsis over fears in this post-9/11 world? Also fine. A movie that drudges up the painful feelings associated with 9/11 just to make its routine, by-the-numbers action seem more relevant than it really is? Thanks, but no thanks.
( 1/2 out of four)
Olympus Has Fallen is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. The running time is 2 hours.
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