Olympus Has Fallen

olympus

For the second time in as many months, a film depicts North Korean terrorists attacking US mainland, only to be defeated by a plucky American underdog. Last month’s Red Dawn was indefensibly shitty enough to give Kim Jong-Un a legitimate reason for military escalation; Olympus Has Fallen is similarly jingoistic, and formulaic to a fault, but at least it manages the feat of being rigorously entertaining, rather than painfully stupid.

This is, as plenty have noted, ‘Die Hard In The White House’, possibly the most succinct film synopsis since Hot Tub Time Machine. Gerard Butler is the meatheaded John-McClane-by-any-other-name, right down to the sweary banter with the bad guy over the walkie-talkie, and he is somehow single-handedly the last hope of the largest military in the world. It’s perhaps a testament to the Antoine Fuqua’s gripping action scenes that such a preposterous scenario could almost seem plausible. Perhaps the recurring images of explosions and gunfire gently massaged my brain into obliviousness. No matter – it did the trick. Fuqua has, as Training Day proved, a pretty solid handle on suspense, and a knack for well-timed conflagration-based fun. As an action film, it out-Die Hards the most recent Die Hard.

And it’s frequently hilarious, whether intentional or not. Symbolism in Olympus Has Fallen is, for example, beguilingly transparent. This is a film which doesn’t so much wear its patriotism on its sleeve as it does tattoo the stars-and-stripes to its arm with a rusty compass. Never mind the copious and gratuitous shots of the US flag, bedaubed in bullet holes or falling to the ground in slow-mo: the standout scene for amateur psychoanalysts appears early in the film. A North Korean plane crashes into the Washington Monument, that most conspicuous of phallic symbols, and lops the top clean off. How’s that for potent imagery? America, the dick-swinging alpha male of the geopolitical universe,  just had the biggest circumcision of all time.

Fortunately by the end of the film some hasty scaffolding has been erected around it and the implication is that the country’s genital reconstruction will commence immediately.

A Good Day To Die Hard

A-Good-Day-To-Die-Hard

Right, well, first off, I’d love to hear the shortlist of rejected titles. A Good Day To Die Hard? A $97million budget and that was the best title you could think of? Even Bruce Willis, in his now-famous One Show interview, seems baffled by it: “It’s like, have a sandwich and let’s go shopping – then Die Hard.” Quite.

As that painful interview highlighted, Bruce ain’t so sprightly these days; soon eligible for a free bus pass in the Greater London area, Bruce and his perfectly bald head today resembles a joint of gammon. John McClane in 2013 is barely recognisable from his original 1988 appearance, and it’s not just hair loss: as with the last sequel, A Good Day To.. really has nothing to do with Die Hard as we first knew it.

The biggest problem is that it never feels like John McClane’s film. If anything, he’s guest-starring in his son’s CIA-flavoured action film, and could probably have sat the whole thing out, without making any significant difference. The ‘plot’ (if it is not too insulting to the history of storytelling to call it so) goes: McClane heads to Russia to get his estranged son out of a fix, only to handily discover his son is a super badass action hero too; father and son subsequently kick Ruskie’s ass, and soppily patch up their differences along the way.

The turning point comes halfway through the film when all the major plot points are revealed in a startlingly stupid conversation between McClanes Sr & Jr, essentially boiling down to “You know Chernobyl? Well, these guys did it.” Then they go to Chernobyl. (And in doing so share the same spectacular lack of taste as last year’s Chernobyl Diaries by highjacking a human tragedy.) “Are we really going to Chernobyl?” asks McClane Sr, on the drive to Chernobyl. I shared his incredulity. Really? Chernobyl?

But you could hardly expect the fifth entry in an action franchise to deal in nuanced storyline or depth of character. Director John Moore deals primarily in explosions, gunfire, and explosions. And, to be fair, on this slim front he mostly delivers – the action is competent, muscular, exciting. There’s a fun shaky-cam car chase, and lots of noisy, dunderheaded gun battles. Indeed, before Chernobyl is mentioned, the first act actually starts with a lot of promise. It inevitably gets all rather silly, but even the finale’s CGI-enhanced action is watchable and thrilling.

So I didn’t hate A Good Day To Die Hard, despite it giving me plenty of reasons to.  We’ve lost the suspense, claustrophobia, and wit that earlier incarnations of the series could boast, but it’s not necessarily the zero-star turkey embarrassment that some outlets have suggested.

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