Skip to main content

I want to speak to the Russians, the Chinese, the British and the French, in that order.


Olympus Has Fallen
(2013)

Gerald Butler looks like he should be propping up the bar in EastEnders. And yet, he has a fairly tidy Hollywood career going for him. One enormous hit can carry you only so far, particularly when it’s debatable how vital you were to that success. Mind you, following up 300 with a series of forgettable romcoms and trashy action movies probably isn’t the best way to verify one’s appeal. I suspect the key to Butler’s star turn in that film wasn’t his finely toned abs. Rather, it was his impressively pointy beard. Have we seen it since? No. Has he appeared in anything approaching 300’s popularity since? No.


Here, Gerald plays Secret Service agent Mike Banning, detailed to President Aaron Eckhart’s personal protection. He is reassigned to a dull desk job at the Treasury Department following a tragic incident requiring him to make the most difficult of judgement calls (this, the opening sequence, is possibly the best in the film; it’s certainly the only one showing any degree of restraint or verisimilitude). Banning and the President were best buds, of course; they boxed together, he was like a slightly mid-Atlantic uncle to the President’s son, and he even advised the President’s wife on what earrings to wear.  How can he possibly “redeem” himself? Fortunately, a whacky terrorist incident is just round the corner. It’s exactly what he needs!

This time it’s those dastardly Koreans who are up to no good. But don't worry if you’re Korean, and feel as if you are being unfairly maligned; these particularly Korean terrorists are an ill-defined breakaway faction and should not be seen as damning an entire nation (or nations)! This, of course, is in the Hollywood rulebook for the depiction of terrorists in movies; it’s okay to vilify a nation as long as you go out of your way to say that you aren’t really doing any such thing.


Their leader (Rick Yune) is North Korean, but he is not directly affiliated to North Korea (the ones we're supposed to dislike, and who don’t provide sufficiently high cinema attendance, so it’s okay to make them villains in a Hollywood movie right now). So, when he attempts to initiate nuclear holocaust, we shouldn’t assume that this is what North Korea wants. Right?  Additionally, we shouldn’t assume that all Koreans are equally undesirable, even though those stupid South Koreans enabled one of the world’s most prolific terrorists to infiltrate their cabinet (Wiki says that he’s posing as a ministerial aide, but I’m sure that’s not what I heard; either way, these South Koreans are slack). We are told this is because no photos of Kang exist, but in Hollywood speak we know this means its because all foreigners look alike (even unto each other). If you’re offended by any of this, it’s your own fault; the script makes it quite clear that all bases are covered and no one could possibly be aggrieved.

If the special effects in Olympus Has Fallen are frequently not-so-special, one still can’t fail to be impressed by the credulity writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt expect of the viewer. Our terrorists mount their attack on the White House in the most ridiculously insane manner imaginable. But you know, it takes an insane plan to make a difference in America today.


As to Rick Yune’s bad guy, it suggests someone has been watching Die Another Day. Where he also plays a North Korean super-villain. Credit where it's due, Yune seems to be enjoying himself immensely. As usual in such set-ups, the security measures our hero would take are not followed by others; the new head of the President’s detail, Cole Hauser (who must have resigned himself to a career of supporting roles) says that they are following standard procedures. Why should he do otherwise, unless you’re the type who instantly assumes that a delegation of South Korean government officials (our friends, remember) will be a nest bed of North Korean extremists? Also as per the norm, there's an inside man who is identifiable in about ten seconds and has motivation so half-hearted and garbled one can only assume the writers were on a caffeine high when they thrashed him out.

Radha Mitchell plays Banning's Leah. Leah works at a nearby hospital, which is useful when the filmmakers need to show just how horrific these terrorist acts can be. This kind of incident has consequences, you know! Consequences more than justifying Banning’s use of interrogation methods, the like of which would make even Jack Bauer blanch. The set up also allows Banning a mid-carnage phone call to his missus, where he expresses his love without really saying what he’s up to;  kind of like the Sergeant Al Powell scene in Die Hard but not very good.


I seem to be watching only films with Morgan Freeman in at the cinema this year. Here he is again, the Speaker of the House (a step down from the halcyon days of his Deep Impact presidency). There's Dylan McDermott in another crappy supporting role. And there’s Melissa Leo; I seem to be watching only films with Melissa Leo in at the cinema this year. Poor Melissa’s Secretary of Defence becomes a human punchbag. Hey, she can take it. There are a number of very good actors in minor or forgettable parts (Angela Bassett, Ashley Judd, Robert Forster), but it’s that kind of film. I don’t know what Eckhart thinks he’s doing with his career, but this and Battle: Los Angeles probably aren’t the best way to go.

Olympus follows the Die Hard template scrupulously, but it lacks the wit or finesse of that (the original, at any rate) film. Actually, saving the President is probably the only place John McClane could go now, so they missed a trick not adapting this for him. But the first Die Hard had the veneer of a screenplay that actively sought to plug plot holes or make a virtue of them. Olympus definitely doesn’t do that.


Any film that has a terrorist takeover of the Oval Office as its premise is unlikely to hold up to much scrutiny, but there seems to be an active contempt for internal logic here.  It’s understandable to an extent, because if the party line of non-negotiation were adhered to you wouldn’t have a movie (it’s rather quaint that Hollywood still wheels out the “terrorists with hostages making demands” premise, as it seems entirely antiquated in the today’s world). But it would be refreshing if a movie like this found a way to surprise in its choices, rather than going the usual clichéd route of stalling while the hero takes out more bad guys.

Especially as the ultimatums in this film are so ludicrously large that there’d never be any question of bending to them for the sake of a few lives. In particular, the Cerberus sub-plot makes not a jot of sense; surely if the terrorists could do what they can do with only one code, the President wouldn’t even conceive of his staff surrendering them. It’s also very considerate, and inefficient, of Kang to leave great gaps of time between demanding each code. The whole idea would be more suited to Colossus: The Forbin Project.


Antoine Fuqua stages the action coherently and effectively, occasionally let down by a scale his budget will not allow. Brooklyn’s Finest suggested Fuqua was intent on finding material with a bit more meat to it, but this indicates he has forsaken such lofty aims for B-movie pulp. It should also be noted that, despite only carrying a “15” certificate, this is a relentlessly, graphically, violent film. I’m not going to be hypocritical and suggest it isn’t enjoyable, but there’s a point where you do start to wonder if less might not be more; by the time of the bloody, ticking clock showdown it’s all become a bit wearisome.


Fuqua’s never been the most ironic of directors and, for a stupid film, Olympus Has Fallen takes itself much too seriously (just watch that tattered American flag falling in slow motion!). Butler occasionally gets a bit quippy, but it’s more on the level of Jason Statham than prime Willis. The closest you get is the realisation, when Butler says he's gong to stick a knife in someone's brain, that is exactly what will happen. That, and stoving in a terrorist’s head with a bust of Abraham Lincoln. It’s not exactly Noel Coward. Perhaps Fuqua could have achieved the status of a minor classic with a polish by Shane Black (and the self-consciousness of his script for Last Boy Scout). Instead, this is two hours of mindless but diverting mayhem; instantly gratifying but unlikely to demand a repeat performance.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Imagine a plant that could think... Think!

The Avengers 4.12: Man-Eater of Surrey Green
Most remarked upon for Robert Banks-Stewart having “ripped it off” for 1976 Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom, although, I’ve never been wholly convinced. Yes, there are significant similarities – an eccentric lady making who knows her botany, a wealthy businessman living in a stately home with an affinity for vegetation, an alien plant that takes possession of humans, a very violent henchman and a climax involving a now oversized specimen turning very nasty… Okay, maybe they’re onto something there… – but The Seeds of Doom is really good, while Man-Eater of Surrey Green is just… okay.

This isn't fun, it's scary and disgusting.

It (2017)
(SPOILERS) Imagine how pleased I was to learn that an E Nesbitt adaptation had rocketed to the top of the US charts, evidently using a truncated version of its original title, much like John Carter of Mars. Imagine my disappointment on rushing to the cinema and seeing not a Psammead in sight. Can anyone explain why It is doing such phenomenal business? It isn’t the Stephen King brand, which regular does middling-at-best box office. Is it the nostalgia factor (‘50s repurposed as the ‘80s, so tapping into the Stranger Things thing, complete with purloined cast member)? Or maybe that it is, for the most part, a “classier” horror movie, one that puts its characters first (at least for the first act or so), and so invites audiences who might otherwise shun such fare? Perhaps there is no clear and outright reason, and it’s rather a confluence of circumstances. Certainly, as a (mostly) non-horror buff, I was impressed by how well It tackled pretty much everything that wasn’t the hor…

You better watch what you say about my car. She's real sensitive.

Christine (1983)
(SPOILER) John Carpenter was quite open about having no particular passion to make Christine. The Thing had gone belly-up at the box office, and adapting a Stephen King seemed like a sure-fire way to make bank. Unfortunately, its reception was tepid. It may have seemed like a no-brainer – Duel’s demonic truck had put Spielberg on the map a decade earlier – but Carpenter discoveredIt was difficult to make it frightening”. More like Herbie, then. Indeed, the director is at his best in the build-up to unleashing the titular automobile, making the fudging of the third act all the more disappointing.

Don't worry about Steed, ducky. I'll see he doesn't suffer.

The Avengers 4.11: Two’s A Crowd
Oh, look. Another Steed doppelganger episode. Or is it? One might be similarly less than complimentary about Warren Mitchell dusting off his bungling Russian agent/ambassador routine (it obviously went down a storm with the producers; he previously played Keller in The Charmers and Brodny would return in The See-Through Man). Two’s A Crowd coasts on the charm of its leads and supporting performances (including Julian Glover), but it’s middling fare at best.

It could have been an accident. He decided to sip a surreptitious sup and slipped. Splash!

4.10 A Surfeit of H20
A great episode title (definitely one of the series’ top ten) with a storyline boasting all the necessary ingredients (strange deaths in a small village, eccentric supporting characters, Emma even utters the immortal “You diabolical mastermind, you!”), yet A Surfeit of H20 is unable to quite pull itself above the run of the mill.

Why are you painting my house?

mother!
(SPOILERS) Darren Aronofsky has a reasonably-sized chin, but on this evidence, he’ll have reduced it to a forlorn stump with all that stroking in no time at all. And then set the remains alight. And then summoned it back into existence for a whole new round of stroking. mother! is a self-indulgent exercise in unabated tedium in the name of a BIG idea, one no amount of assertive psued-ing post-the-fact can turn into a masterpiece. Yes, that much-noted “F” cinemascore was well warranted.

Have no fear! Doc Savage is here!

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
(SPOILERS) Forget about The Empire Strikes Back, the cliffhanger ending of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze had me on the edge of my seat for a sequel that never came. How could they do that to us (well, me)? This was of course, in the period prior to discernment and wisdom, when I had no idea Doc Savage was a terrible movie. I mean, it is, isn’t it? Well, it isn’t a great movie, but it has a certain indolent charm, in the manner of a fair few mid-‘70s SF and fantasy fare (Logan’s Run, The Land that Time Forgot) that had no conception the genre landscape was on the cusp of irrevocable change.

Let the monsters kill each other.

Game of Thrones Season Seven
(SPOILERS) Column inches devoted to Game of Thrones, even in “respectable” publications, seems to increase exponentially with each new season, so may well reach critical mass with the final run. Groundswells of opinion duly become more evident, and as happens with many a show by somewhere around this point, if not a couple of years prior, Season Seven has seen many of the faithful turn on once hallowed storytelling, and at least in part, there’s good reason for that.

Some suggest the show has jumped the shark (or crashed the Wall); there were concerns over how much the pace increased last year, divested as it was of George RR Martin’s novels as a direct source, but this year’s succession of events make Six seem positively sluggish. I don’t think GoT has suddenly, resoundingly, lost it, and I’d argue there did need to be an increase in momentum (people are quick to forget how much moaning went on about seemingly nothing happening for long stretches of previ…

James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing.

Thunderball (1965)
Look up! Look down! Look out! Her comes the biggest Bond of all! So advised the poster for the fourth 007 cinematic feast. Biggest it most definitely was, but unfortunately in almost every other respect the finished film is inferior to its three predecessors. Nevertheless, the approach taken by the producers (a favourite of Hollywood generally) was to throw enough money at the screen in the hope it would result in higher box office receipts. Which proved a successful one on this occasion. It remains the highest grossing Bond film (inflation-adjusted), in the US.