Olympus Has Fallen is a TNT movie, but the best of its kind: one that knows exactly what it is. Director Antoine Fuqua seemingly tailored his heavy-duty actioner for that specific crowd. It hits every action beat in the book, and it hits those notes loudly and skillfully.
Within the first few minutes Fuqua and screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt introduce their audience to the exact kind of film we’re going to get. We see a perfect Mr. President (Aaron Eckhart), copious amount of shots featuring the American flag, triumphant and patriotic music, a character we know will turn evil from his first frame of introduction, and our hero, played with charm and muscles by Gerard Butler, as a hot-shot secret service agent who everyone likes. Then, like clockwork, we see Butler’s character, Mike Banning, hit hard times. He fails to save the President’s wife (Ashley Judd), his marriage with a disposed Radha Mitchell isn’t what it used to be and now he’s working security at the treasury building. With Mike no longer around, a group of terrorists sense it’s the perfect time to strike The White House.
And strike they do, with planes, bazookas, machine guns, women and more. The only man capable of stopping this mini-army is no other than Banning, who initially appears as slightly rusty, something the film tries to convey through his wicked five o’clock shadow. Turns out the man isn’t so out of shape after all. He is as capable as action heroes come, but the script wisely kicks him while he’s down at the start, not letting him be an invulnerable, all-out war machine with no vulnerability.
The only carnage drone here is Antoine Fuqua. The filmmaker behind Training Day and the underrated Mark Wahlberg gem Shooter, displays little restraint when it comes to bloodshed. When the terrorists attack, it’s an all out CG bloodbath. Countless amounts of civilians and service agents are killed and while Fuqua shows the gravity of a terrorist attack, he later goes on to revel in his headshot-filled warfare.
Fuqua knows how to craft an efficient, muscular action picture, even when dealing with the most basic of material. Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t call for anything beyond the basics, and it’s all the better for it. This Gerard Butler vechicle is as self-aware and unabashedly crowd-pleasing as they come, practically spelling out its a Die Hard redux. This similarities do not just occur through Mike’s marriage issues or the confined-space, one-man vs. the world set-up, but more specifically with a shot that comes straight from the Die Hard library, featuring a rooftop and a helicopter.
Funny enough, Fuqua has made a superior John McClane adventure than the one we had to endure last month. Fallen wasn’t made by an autopilot director like John Moore (Max Payne), but someone who knows pacing, comedy and how to make a set-piece pack a hard punch with simple camerawork.
Not many filmmakers could overcome the visual-effects in this movie the way Fuqua does. If anything gets in this movie’s way of being a high-calliber action movie, it’s the wonky effects. From the pure CG objects to the models of the white house, they’re never photo-real and quite a bizarre contrast between the practical fight scenes.
Roland Emmerich‘s upcoming White House attack movie, titled White House Down, may have all the fancy toys to create a more believable environment, but it is doubtful Emmerich will match Fuqua’s grasp of action filmmaking 101. The Training Day director knows that less sometime is more, unlike the bigger-is-better Emmerich. Olympus Has Fallen succeeds because of Fuqua’s efficient filmmaking and a power-house ensemble — Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster all doing what they’re asked of — that elevates an already well-rounded, joyfully derivative, script.
Olympus Has Fallen is now in wide release.