(Video on Demand, September 2013) For everyone who thought that overly patriotic high-concept action movies had gone out with the nineties, the good news is that Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t merely exist, but is the first of two “White House taken over by terrorists” films released in 2013. We’ve come a long way from 9/11 when such big-budget high-concept action movies can be released widely, and that’s a good thing. Whether the films are any good is another subject entirely, and watching Olympus Has Fallen, it’s clear that while it occasionally hits its mark, it doesn’t quite understand part of what made those 90s action movies so enjoyable. In a few words: PG-13 action over R-rated violence. Olympus Has Fallen, rated R, seems overly violent, profane and humorless for what is supposed to be popcorn entertainment in the Die Hard mold. It tries to be broadly amusing with funny quips and overdone action set-pieces, but then it plasters its dialogue with useless profanity and revels in showing gory violence (some of which perpetrated gleefully by the so-called hero). The result can’t very well be watched with the kind of carefree fun that PG-13 action films usually create: you’re always on guard for the next excursion in violence and gratuitous language. It doesn’t help that Olympus Has Fallen has little wit, charm or grace: Gerald Butler is merely OK as the lone operator chasing down the terrorists within the White House –anyone else could have done just as well. Morgan Freeman sleepwalks through another presidential role, and while it’s good to see Angela Bassett get another role, this one won’t leave any lasting impression. Director Antoine Fuqua is a seasoned veteran who knows how to put together an action scene, but he seems hampered by sub-standard CGI work (some of the C-130 gunship sequences look unfinished) and a script that never exceeds the perfunctory and seems to forget how to tie up (or even acknowledge) loose ends. Olympus Has Fallen is watchable, but it’s not hard to complain about various elements that could have been improved to produce a better film. Now let’s see if White House Down does any better… [January 2014: Yes, White House Down is quite a bit better.]
(In theaters, June 2011) Every so often, a film reminds me that I’m fast aging out of the coveted male-geek’s demographic segment… and makes me grateful for that. So it is that I come out of Green Lantern wondering why that movie even exists. My tolerance for comic-book mythologies has never been particularly high, and seeing the Green Lantern universe on-screen only highlights how profoundly silly it is, even by comic-book standards. Here, the accumulated weight of decades of backstory abruptly presented on-screen never goes beyond the simply ridiculous. (Was it really important to learn that practically all characters in the film were grade-school buddies?) By the time we’re flying across the galaxies, discussing the yellow power of fear and fighting threats that unfortunately take the form of a skull over liquid-brown tentacles, the whole Green Lantern shtick is so far removed from human concerns that the film practically degenerates in nonsense. Few of the many people writing the script apparently stopped to ask why audiences should care. Little of the blame over the film’s lack of success should go to Ryan Reynolds, whose cocky charm prevents the film from sinking further into irrelevancy. (It’s also awesome to see Angela Bassett on the big screen again, even in such a small role.) On the other hand, Reynolds’ screen persona is so self-assured that the film is never believable when it questions the character’s lack of courage: Green Lantern’s annoyingly familiar coward-to-hero dramatic arc never gets going, let alone concludes satisfactorily. The dull script occasionally gives birth to a few well-handled scenes (mostly thanks to director Martin Campbell’s touch when it comes to action sequences), but the overall impact is muted. There’s also something slightly off with the special effects, although this ties into the whole “let’s go cosmic without making you care for it” problem. Clearly, I’m not as good an audience for comic book movies as I used to be when I can’t be bothered to say nice things about average efforts like Green Lantern. Ultimately, it may have more to do with the film’s point: Is it using comic-book mythology to talk about something else, or is it simply content to regurgitate the mythology on-screen, without caring if it has any real-world relevance?