Action films often use the same tropes and themes as old-school fantasy or adventure stories. There is a hero who is set up to save someone (usually a loved one or friend) from the villain obsessed with domination and/or power. In the process, the hero also manages to save the town, country or even world from evil. In Millennium Films’ new motion picture, Olympus Has Fallen, all of these elements are featured. But while the action sequences are packed with gunplay and fight choreography, the plot seems to ring familiar to an already classic action flick.
With Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, screenwriters Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger make their hero the savior of an already real life hero: the leader of the free world. The protagonist is depressed former Presidential guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) who has to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) and his administration from North Korean terrorists who have taken over the White House, but who also threaten much more than just Washington DC.
Scottish born Butler is not one unfamiliar with the action genre, and here he is believable as someone who spends his time shooting guns and beating up people. Though his American accent can be a bit questionable in some scenes, blockbusters are one of the few genres where authenticity can be overlooked or excused. Melissa Leo, a chameleon of an actor, escapes into her role as McMillan, the Secretary of Defense. Her role is shorter however, than viewers might want and makes us wish she was kicking butt as well.
As is also the case with Eckhart as the President, who might seem a bit young to portray the leader of the free world, but he pulls it off with confidence. The only slight disappointment being that Eckhart spends most of Olympus tied up and captive. Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett, both pros at playing strong, wise or opinionated characters, are confident, yet are stressed out on-screen as much as the Secret Service agents aiding Banning along the way.
Director Antoine Fuqua, famous for making Training Day twelve years ago, knows how to shoot violence on film, and his ability is clear here with Olympus as there are violent acts in nearly every other scene. The film is given an R rating and appropriately so, with close-ups and long takes of graphic gun shots and fights between the American citizens and North Korean terrorists. Unfortunately, the effects of the action in this feature are not as impressive as those in Training Day. Many of the visuals during the attack on the city come across too polished and generated to feel real. Olympus’ effects seem more along the lines of a video game.
Benedikt and Rothenberger pen a very basic plot, like most action films. Olympus Has Fallen feigns resemblance to the classic action flick, Die Hard. Wherein the main character has to hide and seek through a huge building to save a group of civilians from terrorists. This time John McClane is Mike Banning, the Europeans are North Koreans and the estranged wife is the President (though there is also an unhappy wife here played by Radha Mitchell). Olympus also follows the tradition of the Die Hard films with one-liners and gimmicks in some scenes. But with so much intense cruelty from the terrorists giving the film a serious tone, Olympus could have used either more jokes or less to fit a certain tone for the story. There are no ‘yippee-ki-yay’ catchphrases, but there is at least one amusing moment where Banning doesn’t know what a hashtag is.
Olympus Has Fallen might not have the most original concept or mind-blowing plot twists, but for those who love lots of action and explosions on the big screen with an all-star cast or new takes on an old film theme, this is the movie for those audiences.