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'Olympus' surprises with unexpected strengths and flaws

FilmDistrict

By Mayank Mathur, For the Daily
Published March 27, 2013

As a film, “Olympus Has Fallen” is never stronger than when tested: It excels in areas it isn’t expected to, and falls flat when it’s meant to fly high. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”), the film presents itself as a cross between “Die Hard” and “Air Force One” in an attempt to combine political intrigue with kick-ass action sequences. However, for a film produced by Millennium Films (“Rambo,” “The Expendables”), the final product is a poorly executed action flick that surprises you in its quietest moments and forces you to yawn when you should be at the edge of your seat.

The film focuses on former U.S. Army Ranger Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, “Coriolanus”) as he navigates his way through a White House invaded by North Korean terrorists in an attempt to save President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, “The Dark Knight”). Morgan Freeman (“The Dark Knight Rises”) plays Alan Trumbull, the Speaker of the House, who is thrust into the role of acting president as a result of the hostage situation. The well paced film runs two parallel stories, as one focuses on Trumbull’s negotiation attempts with the terrorists and the other follows Banning as he tries to reach the president in time before a worldwide nuclear war is declared.

However, not all attention is directed toward meaningful and well shot cinema. As the Korean terrorists take control of the White House — one explosion after another — it’s not too hard to focus on how ludicrously simple and convenient each development is. You’d imagine that taking down “the most heavily protected building in the world” would take some amount of elaborate planning and well executed action, but according to Fuqua, none of that is necessary. Hell, all you need is one huge fighter plane (capable of destroying literally anything that the U.S. army has to offer), a handful of Korean tourist-terrorizers, some really clueless White House defenders and bam — you’ve got yourself the White House. After 13 minutes of that, you can’t help but wonder … is it really that easy?

Soon after that begins a slightly modified version of Miniclip.com’s hit game, “Bush Shoot-Out.” Instead of a wimpy George Bush running through the corridors, you have a macho Gerard Butler picking off the terrorists. It is here, in the dark of a deserted and nearly annihilated White House, that Fuqua’s directorial skills come to light.

As Banning navigates his way to the president, Fuqua manages to create an almost palpable sense of thrill and intrigue with swift hand-to-hand combat scenes peppered throughout to keep interest alive.

The cast keeps the tense atmosphere intact by delivering decent performances. Butler convinces as the tough guy Banning, carrying off the combat scenes with the appropriate show of grit and determination while managing to elicit a few laughs from the crowd with the right mix of badass-ness and sarcastic humor. Eckhart makes for a fine president, holding his own against his tormentors and Freeman is, well … Morgan Freeman. Fuqua doesn’t shy away from usage of expletives and manages to instill a sense of grit and masculinity in every character, which makes the hostage scenes entertaining.

However, as the film nears the climax, Fuqua makes the blunder of not trusting the audience, and an attempt at a mind-boggling twist comes off as unnecessary and ultimately stupid. This is where the movie reaches its low point and, unfortunately, it’s way past its point of redemption. Thus, watching “Olympus Has Fallen” is a strange experience as it takes the audience on an undulating journey of highs and lows, stabilizing at mediocre.


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