The opening set piece of Olympus Has Fallen, which involves a group of North Korean terrorists overpowering the Secret Service and commandeering the White House, is exhausting. According to Kang, the mastermind behind the takeover, the Armed Forces is fifteen minutes from the White House, which is why they planned it out so that the siege only takes thirteen minutes. And I think every one of those minutes, including a few more thrown in for good measure, is documented in loud and excruciating detail.
It’s like the opening twenty five minute sequence in Saving Private Ryan, but only more obnoxious and haphazard. The Utah beach set piece in Saving Private Ryan had an understanding of strategy and location, and it had Steven Spielberg, one of the greatest directors of pure action in the history cinema, guiding you through the chaos. You always knew where you were on that beach and where you had to go to consider the attack a success. I say “you”, because Spielberg rarely left the side of of those soldiers to take an objective point of view of the situation. With Olympus Has Fallen, director Antoine Fuqua is not interested in guiding the audience through the sequence. His objective is to run roughshod over our senses and overwhelm us.
I almost felt I needed to call a timeout and gather my energy before continuing with the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being complimentary. There is no ebb and flow in the takeover sequence, just raw, unrelenting forward momentum with no place to even try to catch your breath. It’s like being trapped on a Tilt-a-Whirl that threatens to never stop spinning.
But here’s the surprise…. If you can get through that sequence in one piece, Olympus Has Fallen proves to be one of the better Die Hard knockoffs. It’s WAY more entertaining than the recently released A Good Day to Die Hard. This movie has been called Die Hard at the White House, but it’s more like a Die Hard movie directed by Roland Emmerich of Independence Day. It has the big cast of recognizable character actors that Emmerich favors. But more importantly, it’s similar in the way Emmerich fetishizes the destruction of national landmarks. During the takeover, the USAF bomber the terrorists somehow obtained clips the Washington Monument, causing it to cave in on itself and come crashing to the ground with large chunks of marble and granite crushing the fleeing spectators below.
At the center of all the mayhem is Gerard Butler, playing a Secret Service agent who was formerly on the President’s detail but is now stuck behind the proverbial desk. During the attack, he makes his way into the White House and, knowing all the hidden passages and subterranean tunnels in there, takes it upon himself to become a one man band of destruction. Now, I can’t speak for Butler’s career after his work in 300, where he screamed and ab-flexed his way to stardom. He did a lot of romantic comedies (The Ugly Truth, The Bounty Hunter, some other stuff) and I haven’t seen all of them. But that won’t stop me from speculating (this is a blog… what did you expect?)
His persona is all wrong for anything but action films. He has a twitchy physicality that has trouble expressing itself if he’s not being, well, physical. When he’s looking into the eyes of Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston or whoever he’s trying to seduce, he lacks that contemplative stillness to let the romantic moment sink in. Sure, there’s a fire burning behind his eyes, but it’s more like a raging inferno; it’s not romantic, it’s psychotic. Which is why, singing aside, I liked his performance in The Phantom of the Opera. He seemed like the kind of guy who would not only live in the sewers of Paris, but would also build all his own furniture and fixtures, going to surface to uproot a tree with his bare hands to supply the wood needed. And he would still have the time to compose operas for the dear Christine, because really, this raging psychotic doesn’t have time to sleep.
In Olympus Has Fallen, like in 300, all Butler has to do is exhibit brute physicality, and he does it well. He’s a barbarian. When he’s snapping spines and breaking bones, I buy it. When he’s attempting to be witty, a la Bruce Willis, it falls flat, but that’s not his thing. There’s a scene in the movie where Kang sends another character, who I won’t give away, to personally dispatch Butler, and you just have to chuckle. Unless this character is going one-on-one with Butler in some underground form of Death Scrabble I’m not aware of, there’s no need to even show the fight between them. How about this character just trips going down the stairs and breaks his own neck so we can move the plot along and leave it at that. America’s Visigoth has got a country to save!Follow @filmbyfelix