At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Olympus Has Fallen “2013”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Sean O’Bryan, Lance Broadway, Tory Kittles, Keong Sim, Phil Austin, James Ingersoll, Freddy Bosche, Kevin Moon, Malana Lea, Sam Medina/Runtime: 119 minutes

In the long gone year of 2013, movie goers received from iconic film helmer Antoine Fuqua a slice of cinematic pie known as Olympus Has Fallen. A slice of action packed cinematic pie where romcom actor Gerard Butler finds himself playing a character from writer Vince Flynn by the name of Mitch Rapp. A character that happens to be a remarkably talented government agent who, after the White House is taken by a group of bad guys, is left as the only guy who can prevent a terrible W for terrorists worldwide. Wait a second. I just realized something. I don’t think that is entirely accurate in the least. My apologies dear reader. Please permit me to try this again. Ahem ok here we go. So in Olympus Has Fallen, the Phantom from the 2004 Phantom of the Opera portrays a wisecracking yet determined cop from the Big Apple by the name of J. McClane who winds up in the middle of the worst possible situation at the worst possible time and in the process finds himself going toe to toe against a group of armed to the teeth mercenaries who have taken over the building where his ex(?) wife works. Is that right? No. Well shoot! Please let me try this one more time. I promise I will get it right. Ok so in Olympus Has Fallen, the guy who was Dracula in a 2000 Dracula movie executive produced by Wes Craven lends us his considerable acting talents in the role of Mike Banning, a sidelined Secret Service agent who leaps back into the frontline when, following a devastating siege on the White House, is able to during the chaos sneak into the bullet-sprayed and partially demolished building and finds himself the only guy who can help stop a group of terrorists’ nefarious machinations which include the President being killed as well as no more and no less than the complete and utter annihilation of the United States. There now I got it! Hallelujah! Joke-ridden review openings and all the things this movie has in common with movies or other fictional works that are significantly better than it by and by though, it should still be said that at the end of the day that the 2013 slice of cinematic pie that is Olympus Has Fallen really truly is a better than expected thrilling entry in the “Die Hard in or on a…..” subgenre of action cinema. Yes I can say without a doubt that this does take quite often and quite a lot from other movies, but thanks to the wonderful work done here by both its helmer, a man who is easily one of the land of movie magic’s more tragically under the radar helmsmen, and a terrific and game cast led by Gerard Butler, the pieces are all there for a slice of cinematic pie that fans of the action thriller genre will most assuredly love to watch time and time again.

The plot is as follows: When a horrific tragedy results in the President of the United States, one Benjamin Asher, becoming a trauma-ridden and scarred individual he makes the choice to put some space between himself and the Secret Service operative who was there when the tragedy unfolded and made a choice that has forever impacted Asher’s life since. 18 months later and we see that the Secret Service agent in question, one Mike Banning, has been removed from the presidential detail and is now over at the Treasury pushing a pencil whilst itching for a chance to get back on the frontline once more. Meanwhile we also see that Asher has done his best to move on from what occured and is currently in the midst of trying to deal with an potentially world-changing dilemma in Korea that, if it goes badly, could destroy all the years of uneasy peace that exist between North and South Korea. Suffice it to say that President Asher is about to be shoehorned to making a choice and none of the options on the table are really looking all that appealing. Unfortunately, this situation is quickly about to go from bad to worse when the Prime Minister from South Korea comes to the White House to have an emergency session with President Asher only to have their discussion cut short with the arrival of a brutal and disastrous attack. An attack that consists not only of a airborne gunship raining down heaps of bullets on the unsuspecting denizens of DC, but that is quickly followed up with a significantly number of troops making their way through the White House’s ground-level defenses and proceeding to take over one of the most secure buildings on the planet with numerous people, including virtually the entirety of the President’s detail, wiped out in the chaos. Fortunately, our intrepid hero Mike is able to hurry over to the White House during the chaos and, in the confusion, is able to get into the building without being noticed. Thus with the President, Vice President, and other key members of the cabinet being held hostage by the terrorists we see that the Speaker of the House, one Allan Trumbull, finds himself having to take the reigns as acting President and is quickly and swiftly faced with some of the most difficult choices of his career and only Mike on the ground to aid him in trying to figure out just how to handle this situation in a way that stops the terrorists, and saves not just the President and his upper-level staff, but also the United States, and potentially the world as well.

Now all the comparisons I could make to both the first Die Hard as well as the other White House under siege that was also released in 2013 slice of cinematic pie that is Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, it should be noted that Olympus Has Fallen is a fairly well done, brutal, and reliable entry in the Action genre of movie magic that is by and large nearly void of novelty and completely void of surprise. With that in mind though, what this slice of cinematic pie does set out to do it does do phenomenally well and that is to showcase a riveting and bare-bone look at the most famous house in America coming under brutal and bloody attack. Indeed the action beats in this are in equal measure taut and riveting even if it does stretch credibility incredibly thin at times for audiences to really believe that not only could this group of mercenaries really pull this off, but that 18 months after a member of the President’s detail was transferred off said detail, his codes would still work and permit him to access stuff like the freaking President’s satellite phone. Blood-pressure raising rant aside, this is easily one slice of cinematic pie that you are just meant to set aside reality, either dim or turn your brain off completely, and just sit back and enjoy the movie. Suffice it to say therefore that incredibly talented film helmer Antoine Fuqua has managed to construct a slice of cinematic pie that does give the little details the attention they deserve even when said little details are surrounded by a predictable narrative and nearly nonstop action. Above all though, Fuqua deserves praise because more than anything he makes sure this slice of cinematic pie is fun pure and simple. Yes there is a serious bent that this slice of cinematic pie is operating with, but even with that in mind you really can’t confuse this slice of cinematic pie is anything more than a potent popcorn movie albeit one that is fairly leaps and bounds better than a lot of movies of a similar ilk as it.

It should also be noted that Olympus Has Fallen is blessed with not only a talented helmer behind the camera, but also a truly fantastic and game cast operating in front of the camera starting with Gerard Butler in the lead role of Mike Banning and he does very well in the role. I mean don’t get me wrong: Ahunld, Chuck Norris, Sly Stallone, or especially Bruce Willis this guy is most assuredly not. At the same time though, the character of Banning is written as a character who is quite direct and not exactly a mix between action hero/ regular Joe/quip machine all in one body. Sure he has a few moments here and there that will make you chuckle, but by and large he is more about taking care of business and in that respect he handles said business of dispatching bad guys left and right whilst doing so in a way that fits both the movie and what is going on in the movie to a t. We also get wonderful work here from Aaron Eckhart who, as the President, really brings forth a amicable, real guy type vibe to the part. Indeed his bonds with both his wife and son, his camaraderie with Mike, his gravitas in his official duties, and his strength as a leader when faced head on with a crisis are all either audience palpable, realistic, or a wonderful mix of both. No he’s not perhaps the most riveting or electrifying fictional holder of the highest office in the land that the world of movie magic has gotten to witness, but Eckhart still manages to capture the right components that this film’s President so desperately needed. Along with the aforementioned work by Butler and Eckhart, this film also backs them up with a fairly top-flight support cast including screen icon Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House who is forced both to operate as Acting President and turn to Mike to help deal with this crisis when no one else can as well as wonderful work from such screen dignitaries as Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Radha Mitchell, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd, Cole Hauser, Rick Yune as this film’s main slimy heavy, and Dylan McDermott among others even though with due respect to the last name mentioned, one of the more head scratching moments is when this film has him basically pull with Gerard Butler the scene from Die Hard where Hans and John McClane share actual screen time together (if you’ve seen the movie then you know what I’m referring to and know where this might be headed; if not then hey! I just avoided a spoiler AND gave you a reason to check out Die Hard which is a real win in my book). Jokes aside, I get why they did that scene, but I still didn’t really feel like it was that necessary especially because of how quickly the scene is played which really dilutes the impact to an extent. That minor quibble aside however, I think it can be said that with respect to the cast Olympus Has Fallen really truly is a terrific look at what you get when an entry in the iconic genre known as “leave your brain at the door action cinema” is actually done fairly well.

All in all I think it is fairly safe to say that the slice of cinematic pie that is 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen is one that is not able to locate the same three dimensional characterization, genuine human vibe, or even the potent and raw sense of pathos that can be found in droves in the movie that many consider to be film helmer Antoine Fuqua’s finest film, to say nothing of one of my favorite early 2000s movies, Training Day. At the same time however, this highly underrated film helmer does manage to contribute a kind of potent and mostly bare-bone approach to this slice of cinematic pie that really goes a long way to getting it past the very familiar vibe that is part and parcel of practically the entirety of this slice of cinematic pie’s close to 2 hour runtime. At the same time Fuqua and his talented cast and crew also do a wonderful job of making this movie actually serious without once taking it out of the realm of popcorn cinema. Indeed it really is a wonderful balancing act and the movie is that much better of deploying it rather than trying to shoehorn in unnecessary characters or worse even more unnecessary comedy. Thus if you are in the mood for the next Best Picture winner at the Oscars then please know that this is most assuredly not the film for you. However, if you are the kind of viewer who loves a fun yet riveting action thrill ride then honestly this slice of cinematic pie is most definitely for you to say nothing of being the movie the 5th Die Hard movie, coincidentally also released in 2013, wished it could have been and so much more. On a scale of 1-5 I give Olympus Has Fallen “2013” a solid 3.5 out of 5.