18 April 2013


While Olympus Has Fallen is an unabashed throwback to 90s action thrillers, it's all the more sweet for coming out just a short while after A Good Day To Die Hard. That sequel was truly abysmal, dragging its leading man behind it as it hobbled between noisy, implausible setpieces and haemorraged every attempt at humour. This one is hardly more intelligent, but Olympus Has Fallen is the best Die Hard film of the year, by a wide margin.

Borrowing from a familiar action movie structure, the film begins 18 months before the action, as US Secret Service agent Mike Banning saves President Ben Asher from a car accident, but fails to rescue the First Lady from an untimely death. Removed from the President's security detail, Banning is working a desk job when the White House is attacked, first from the air, and then from the ground. As a Korean terrorist, Kang, takes control and holds the President and several other key officials as hostages, Banning winds up being the Pentagon's eyes and ears inside the White House, as the terrorists' audacious attack gives way to a devastating plan to change the world.

"You know what you're in for" seldom works as a free pass for films like this, especially when it's the first of this year's "whoops, we made the same movie" twofer, ahead of Roland Emmerich's White House Down this summer. It takes a little more to distinguish this from the herd, and happily, Olympus Has Fallen doesn't so much fall into the category of dumb fun as outright crash into it, buoyed by explosions and head-stabbings.

In case you don't know what you're in for, it will suffice to say that this is the kind of film in which the burden of male American-ness is paramount. It's also a film in which hundreds of mostly faceless people are slaughtered in a bombastic ten minute action sequence, but when the time comes for the tattered American flag to be dropped from the White House roof, it takes about thirty seconds to balefully drift to the ground. After a decade or so of American films that have been coloured by 9/11, this one feels like it was made without as much anxiety about the depiction of terrorism and senseless violence.

Taking the safety off doesn't always work, especially with the timing of its release next to the recent real-life escalations in Korea. But in this case, it allows a certain audience to appreciate the silliness of some moments, without the film ever stopping to take itself less seriously. It's considerably better for a revelatory turn by Gerard Butler, who finally rediscovers the action hero in himself. After a string of romantic comedies and lesser actioners, GButz goes full McClane and serves as a surprisingly rootable hero. He also gets the honour of delivering the best one-liner I've heard in a film of this kind for many years, truly putting A Good Day To Die Hard's incessant "I'm on vacation"-ing to shame.

Aside from the smirksome nonsense with the flag though, the maleness of it all may become obnoxious at times. The women in the film essentially serve as Welshy, repeatedly taking brutal beatings or death at any point that the stakes are supposed to escalate, instead of the more important, apparently less vulnerable male characters. Elsewhere, there's the usual issue with films that are based on the Die Hard formula- most of the characters lack anything like the depth of that film's characters, especially when it comes to the villains. Neither Rick Yune nor Dylan McDermott are in the league of a good Hans Gruber type, in performance or character. It's never more apparent that when the latter of those gets a moment that mirrors one of Gruber's most memorable scenes- you know what you're in for.

Olympus Has Fallen is a more solidly written example of the Die Hard knock-off than we've seen for many years, and its refusal to pull punches makes for a bracing, yet supremely daft experience. There are times when you're watching it and wishing that Trey Parker and Matt Stone had made it, but the humour that's there, both intentional and unintentional, makes it a fun watch, and the action is well played too. Hell, I'd watch Gerard Butler in a whole string of increasingly silly sequels that took themselves just as seriously- "How can the same shit happen to the same house twice?"

Olympus Has Fallen is now showing at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Olympus Has Fallen, why not share your thoughts in a comment? 
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch

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