You'd have to be living under a rock to not know about Olympus Has Fallen, between its big-name cast and the huge promotional campaign that's been everywhere for the last month. This, though, is one of those rare cases where the hype is justified, because this is one of those big pictures - in every sense of the word - that we go to the movies for.
Olympus does not reinvent the action movie. It is not going to make you think too much about it after it's over. This isn't one of those flicks, but it doesn't claim to be one, either. It's a massive, violent, loud, unflinching one-man-wrecking-crew flick - and it's a damn good one.
If you've seen any of the dozens of commercials, you know the general premise: Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) becomes the country's best hope when the White House is besieged by terrorists who take President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and several other key figures hostage. Banning has a chip on his shoulder thanks to a tragedy earlier in his career that resulted in the death of someone close to the President - which sounds like a huge cliche, but is legitimately shocking when we see it happen in the film's opening act - and so he's got something to prove along with his sense of duty. While civilians panic and various high-ranking officials deliberate, it's Banning to the rescue against a small army of bad guys.
Don't worry about the fact that you've seen this general idea before (Season 7 of FOX's 24 comes to mind) or how plausible it is. The important thing about Olympus is that it's done well. Butler is entirely believable, and even more than a little amusing, as the hero; he doesn't come off as a superman, but rather a guy who will not be kept down no matter how many hits he takes. Though he's obviously got much less to do, Eckhart gives us a President with a spine, who doesn't just become a prop once he falls into the bad guys' clutches. He has some fight in him, making us care about his survival and not just because he's the leader of our country.
The film essentially belongs to Butler and Eckhart, although it's staffed with a variety of reliable actors who know their places in the grand scheme of things. Morgan Freeman lends his usual no-nonsense attitude to the role of acting President Allan Trumbull, with Angela Bassett playing Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs with a similar approach. Playing terrorist leader Kang Yeonsak, Rick Yune does his job of both making the audience loathe him and being a worthy adversary for Butler. The real standout amongst the supporting cast, though, is Academy Award winner Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan. Even as everyone worries about the President, you'll be crossing your fingers hoping that McMillan makes it out alive, because Leo does a fantastic job as a woman put through the wringer.
Olympus's small pleasure is that it populates smaller roles with some really underappreciated actors. In particular, be on the lookout for Cole Hauser (late of NBC's Chase) as one of Mike's Secret Service colleagues who's no shrinking violet in his own right, and Keong Sim (TNT's Monday Mornings), who plays a visiting figurehead with dignity. Unlike other movies in this genre, when these lesser characters start falling, we actually care about them, because they're played by actors who elevate their material. Even as things get more and more hectic, this is a film that manages to find that difficult balance between having enough action and still making room for some really good acting.
But what about that action? If you're just going to this movie to see the explosions and confrontations, you won't be disappointed, either. When the MPAA denoted "strong violence," they were not kidding. There are scores of deaths in this movie, including crashing helicopters, civilians cut down in the streets, and public executions. Even by genre standards, this is a bloody movie that will likely cause you to flinch at least once. Credit director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) for showing us a raw look at a White House under siege, really plunging the audience into moments of fear and suspense, not just continual surges of adrenaline. When you reach the end of Olympus Has Fallen, you'll feel like you've lived through something just like the characters have.
That's what makes this movie worth the price of admission. Some movies are great works of art and others are just great rides. This is pure entertainment at its best, from its nail-biting opener to its rousing final frame. You'll be wincing at some moments, surprised by others, even laughing at the rare funny line, but the one thing you won't be doing is sitting there passively. Olympus Has Fallen is a ride you should definitely take.
Olympus Has Fallen is in theaters now. You can find more information at the film's official website and view the trailer below.