It's no mistake that Olympus Has Fallen (opening today) is chock-full of talented actors. That's not necessarily typical of big-budget action movies, but Olympus Has Fallen is not your average action movie. Until it becomes one about mid-way through.
But oh, that first half. What a delightfully refreshing build-up, a series of delicious appetizers that unfortunately lead up to a bland, predictable main course of action stew.
The first half of the film works so well because it takes its time - A rarity in this genre. There is character development, strong performances and a believability factor that is established by our "heroes" not being able to save the day, initially. Nothing makes an action movie more effective than by following the Three Golden Rules of Action: Give us characters we care about, set up plausible circumstances for the action and, perhaps most important of all, create the illusion that no character is safe.
Olympus Has Fallen follows all three to a tee, before not knowing what to do with itself.
Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent tasked with serving President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and we immediately see that their relationship is more than strictly business. We see that Banning is a close friend and confidant, as well as a strong role model to Asher's son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen). A tragic event forces Banning out of the Service and onto the fringes of political life.
But the unthinkable is about to happen. A visit from a North Korean leader to the White House is the setting for a horrific act of horror, as a splinter cell of North Koreans - by force - take the White House. Banning - going rogue - has managed his way into the White House where President Asher and many other top American leaders are being held hostage by the terrorists. To make matters worse, young Connor is missing, presumably somewhere in the White House as well.
The terrorists (led by the stone-faced Rick Yune) are trying to secure three launch codes, in order to take over our nuclear arsenal. The three codes belong to three top-ranking Americans currently being held, so getting them is only a matter of time.
If this premise reminds you of Die Hard, or the Fox TV show 24, that's because it is in the same vein (24 actually had this exact plot-line occur one season). This could have easily been converted into a 24 film, or the next Die Hard movie. Gerard Butler's Mike Banning is in fact, cut of the same cloth of other rogue heroes like Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer or Bruce Willis' John McClane.
But every John McClane needs a Reginald VelJohnson (who played Sgt. Al Powell in the original Die Hard): You know, that guy on the outside who is forced to trust our hero with stopping the bad guys. Olympus Has Fallen calls on "God" himself, Morgan Freeman, whose character - as Speaker of the House - becomes the acting President with the absence of our Commander-in-Chief and VP. Those of us who know his filmography are pretty certain that he's about to play a capable man for the job. Dylan McDermott, Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett and Ashley Judd all show up in supporting roles that only add to the quality of the adventure.
The set-up of this intense premise comes about in a plausible way but once all of the pieces are in place things begin to fall apart. We can see every major beat coming a mile away and the action begins to get a bit repetitive. It's too bad, because what was developing could have been one of the more memorable and exciting action films that I've seen in years.
Still, Olympus Has Fallen transcends most other action movies in that it has heart, it just loses the balance between character and mind-numbing explosions about mid-way through. When real people are at stake, we are invested, but once it evolves into just another throw-away cartoon villain intent on destroying the world, we're all pretty sure that he's not going to end it.
Not when Morgan Freeman is involved.
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Morgan Freeman, Finley Jacobsen, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Cole Hauser, Rick Yune
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur, Brooklyn's Finest)
Opens locally on Friday, March 22, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time