"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Olympus Has Fallen

tn_olympushasfallenOLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is a watchable but instantly forgettable throwback to a subgenre I miss, the glossy ’90s studio action like IN THE LINE OF FIRE and UNDER SIEGE. I mean it’s not a studio movie – it was made by the until-recently-DTV sausage factory Millennium Films – but it sure seems legit with its respectable cast of Aaron Eckhart as the President, Ashley Judd as the First Lady, Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House  (a demotion from DEEP IMPACT), Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett as the Secret Service director, Academy Award winner Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense, Golden Globe winner Dylan McDermott as… some other type of White House guy. Lending whatever action movie credibility they can muster are 300’s Gerard Butler as the hero, PITCH BLACK’s Radha Mitchell as the hero’s wife, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS’s Rick Yune as the villain, and PAPARAZZI’s Cole Hauser reprising his A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD role as Agent Who Gets Killed Early On.

It also has just that right type of majestic, patriotic sounding score. Good job by Trevor Morris, a guy who has scored three Roel Reine directed DTV sequels (THE MARINE 2, THE SCORPION KING 3: BATTLE FOR REDEMPTION and DEATH RACE: INFERNO).

mp_olympushasfallenButler plays Mike Banning, the bodyguard, sparring partner and best friend of the President until he gets transferred to the Treasury after a horrible accident leads to the death of the First Lady. (Remember, I mentioned it was kinda like IN THE LINE OF FIRE.) So he’s unhappy with his job situation when North Korean terrorists perpetrate an air assault, ground attack and infiltration to kill pretty much everybody in and around the White House except the President, VP and some cabinet members, who they take hostage inside an underground emergency bunker. But since Banning’s over at the Treasury he doesn’t get blown away and does have time to run over, sneak into the White House and be the one guy we can count on to save the day.

Butler is capable and likable as an action hero, but his character here is not very distinctive. He’s supposed to have the ol’ bad attitude, so we hear that he once got in trouble for telling the Speaker of the House to go fuck himself, but then when those two have to work together there’s no sign of this previous relationship. He calls people assholes a few times, gets mad at a general (Robert Forster), and has a couple funny tough guy lines. He does make one promise of future bodily harm to the villain that thankfully is later fulfilled. (You never know with modern action movies.)

I guess you could argue that he’s a little more harsh than some of the action heroes. He conducts a successful mutilation/torture/interrogation that hopefully ZERO DARK THIRTY critics will demand a Senate inquiry into. He executes a few impressively abrupt and unceremonious stabbings and shootings. He doesn’t have a good badass juxtaposition, but he gets along well with the President’s kid.

And no, there’s not an explanation for his accent. We’re past the days when Jean-Claude Van Damme had to be Cajun or French Canadian.

The script by rookies Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt makes a few action promises that I don’t think are delivered on satisfyingly. One, it opens with the President practicing boxing, and yet we don’t get to see him K.O. a thought-to-be-dead-but-suddenly-back-on-his-feet terrorist at the end. Just an early headbutt with “keep your gloves up” reference. Two, they spend more time establishing that the son knows all the hidden passages and security protocols of the White House than they spend actually taking advantage of that knowledge. It’s just there to explain how he could’ve been hiding. Maybe there was a rewrite. Banning could’ve directed him around and had him pick off some of the gunmen himself. Make him earn his keep for the taxpayers.

Rick Yune was such a nice guy as The X-Blade in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, it’s weird to hear that same dubbed-sounding voice come out of a guy that’s stabbing people in the neck and pummeling the shit out of a crying Melissa Leo. (Leo really goes for it, kicking and screaming and at one point she’s bloody and being dragged across the floor and she starts defiantly shouting the Pledge of Allegiance.) He’s fine, he doesn’t get to be real crazy or anything. The best thing about the villainy is the elaborate viciousness of their plot. They have this flying fortress thing that not only attacks the White House but needlessly guns down tourists on the streets. The gunmen on the ground shoot a dog. Yune kicks Melissa Leo down some stairs. They’re not nice. The movie earns its R-rating.

Like we all expect (and maybe even hope) in a movie like this, what goes down seems pretty far fetched. For example even though the Air Force was slow in responding to those hijacked jets on 9-11 I don’t believe an obvious war plane could just fly right up to the White House with only two late arriving fighter jets as obstacles. But I’m much more accepting of things like that than the courageous leadership of the acting president. There is no fucking way we’d ever have a Speaker of the House who could demonstrate Morgan Freeman level calm and decision making in an emergency like this. The motherfucker would be crying and staring at the table while the experts told him what he had to do. This man knows exactly what to do without prompting. We should be so lucky. Why did Banning tell this guy to go fuck himself, anyway? What is his problem?

I know it’s been 12 years since 9-11, and I will not cede this grand tradition of stupid action movies to Osama bin Laden. But I do feel a small tinge of guilt while enjoying the fictional scenario of terrorists causing bloody mayhem in Washington DC. I don’t know if that will ever go away.

It’s not as jingoistic and flag waving as I’d been led to believe, but there are a few chuckles provided by blatant attempts at audience manipulation. One is the long, slow motion, animated shot of a burnt and bullet-ridden American flag tossed off the White House like garbage. Another is when a news report tells us that reaction to the attack in the Middle East has been “jubilant.”

At the end the President, who has been depicted as a heroic public servant and great man throughout, makes an inspirational speech about how we will always survive and we will use this chance to rebuild ourselves even greater and all that. But in it he mentions some classic George W. Bush type bullshit, that the terrorists failed to take away “our freedom.” Which has nothing to do with what the guy was doing! He wanted us to know the “poverty and famine” that his people suffer from. In order to prove our might we must always deny and pretend to not understand any legitimate problems that bad people care about. If we care about poverty and famine then the terrorists win, right? Therefore they hate our freedom!

People have been comparing OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN to a DIE HARD movie, but of course we know it’s more like an UNDER SIEGE. He’s not a vulnerable, reluctant hero in over his head because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he’s an extremely skilled professional performing his duty in the type of situation he’s been trained for. Like Casey Ryback he knows protocol, lingo and hand signals, he establishes communication with government and Pentagon officials in the situation room, some of them know him personally, some by reputation and he gets a brief Just How Badass Is He? courtesy of Angela Bassett. It turns out he’s not just ex-White House detail, he’s also ex-Special Forces.

By the way, one important action movie fact this movie helped me realize is that ex-Special Forces trumps current Special Forces. That’s why the Navy SEALS who get sent in don’t heed his warning and all get killed, but he survives.

If you’re gonna hold it up to an UNDER SIEGE though you’re gonna notice that the action isn’t as good. There’s a good scope to the special effects vehicle mayhem, but it’s not staged as well as it would’ve been in the ’90s, and of course Butler can act tough and hold a gunbut he can’t do anything to compare with the handwork and knife fighting moves that Seagal did. There’s way more visual obfuscation and stuntman-hiding. That being the case they should try to have better characterization or something, but that doesn’t happen either. Ryback has more personality, identifiable characteristics and outside interests (cooking, writing his memoirs). Also, Yune is fine but not half as much fun to watch as Tommy Lee Jones or Eric Bogosian, and he doesn’t have a memorable right hand man like a Gary Busey or an Everett McGill. (He does have some guy whose hair do leads me to believe they wanted Yayan Ruhian from THE RAID.)

There’s one scene that I think is a nod to DIE HARD, a “bad guy pretends to be a victim” scene like McClane’s first face-to-face with Gruber. Of course it doesn’t stand up to the comparison. The way he figures out the truth is not very clever.

Because of the DIE HARD influence alot of people have been comparing this favorably to A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. I don’t know about that. The action is certainly not as bad as the big car chase in that one. The way it mechanically goes through the formula of this type of movie is more effective. But there’s slightly more personality and humanity in that one I think, between the carrot eating/dancing scene and the way it deals with McClane’s relationships with his kids at the beginning and end. OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN might be a better movie, but not by that much, and partly because we don’t have to hold it to as high of a standard. If this was the new DIE HARD it would still be the worst one.

Because of my natural instinct to watch this type of shit I enjoyed seeing it once. But I’m pretty sure I’ll never watch it again or think about it in the future. I guess it’s pretty much what you expect from director Antoine Fuqua, even if he was reaching a little higher than this with his last one, BROOKLYN’S FINEST. Despite the mediocrity this might have been a historic viewing experience for me, because it inspired me to invent something that I think could be important in our continued cataloging of modern action: the Action Comprehensibility Rating, or ACR. We all know about “shakycam” and “Michael Bay style” and I coined the terms post-action and disestablishing shot, but there are still varying levels of incomprehensibility that are hard to explain. The ACR is not necessarily a judgment of quality, it’s just a description of the movie’s approach to visual storytelling. As we continue to suffer through this crisis in action filmatism it gets more complicated to communicate whether something is just absurdly hard to follow like a TRANSFORMERS or more middle-of-the-road like a TAKEN or what have you. So I decided to create a 1-5 scale with 5 being like a HAYWIRE level of clarity, 3 being standard modern-not-very-good-but-not-terrible action, and 1 being GAMER.

Make sense? I hope so. Maybe we’ll fine tune the system as we go along, but here, for your viewing guidance, is the inaugural ACR rating:


This entry was posted on Sunday, March 24th, 2013 at 12:57 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

76 Responses to “Olympus Has Fallen”

  1. I find it interesting that a movie like this can have clear 9/11 esque imagery and it’s not a big media controversy or anything, are we finally entering the “post-post 9/11” world?

  2. I can’t even remember a big media controversy when CLOVERFIELD came out (apart from some reviews wondering if this might be too soon.).

  3. I would add EXTENDED DARKNESS AND SMOKINESS IN DARK ROOMS AND HALLWAYS to that 2.5 rating explanation. 40 guys taking over the White House in 13 minutes was promising, but then it turns into one of those budget-friendly, ‘lights go out and lone hero wanders around in the dark’ movies.

  4. Love the ACR chart! Disappointing about the movie though, but I bet it’s still way better than the Roland Emmerich one.

  5. I am very happy that this ACR chart has been invented, good news.

    Also, I was very surprised at all of the critics who immediately compared it to Die Hard, as though “guy in a building with the terrorists” is the only characteristic of the movie that they knew.

    You are doing a disservice to Die Hard, critics! That is not cool!

  6. I seem to remember hearing the term “post post 9/11” just after Bin Laden died, especially when HOMELAND premiered.

  7. Melissa Leo’s performance was definitely my favorite part of the movie.

  8. So is The Raid a 4 or a 5? I am going to guess a 4.

  9. Die Hard franchise has no standards lately. This is why people have been comparing it to this movie. Also, the script formula in OHF is closer to the original DHs then the last DHs (actually, it is even closer to 24, which may be the most efficient American action thriller since Die Hard).
    I enjoyed it more then the two last DHs because it was a real R rated movie. OHF does’t have the McClane/Bauer charisma but the violence here is much more grittier then what we have come to expect from Hollywood lately. One of the main reasons for those low expectations – the last DHs (PG or fake R).
    OHF feels more like an old Cannon production from the 80’s. The violence is brutal and the script has the sophistication and subtly of some Chuck Norris Reaganist propaganda shit from the same era and company.
    Other then that, I agree with every word in the review.

  10. “Love the ACR chart! Disappointing about the movie though, but I bet it’s still way better than the Roland Emmerich one”.


    On the other hand, there is one really nice thing about Emmerich: He doesn’t do post action. I would in fact argue that his action set pieces are generally really well directed. For all his flaws, he knows how to do that stuff.

    On another note, I re-watched Under Siege recently and what really hit me home was how good the female lead is. When she jumps out of the cake, topless, you kind of expect her to be nothing but exploitative eye candy in the film. But it turns out she’s really smart, sassy and resourceful. She also has really good chemistry with Seagal.

    And Vern, you should probably fill up your Fuqua filmography by reviewing King Arthur. I’ve only ever seen the R-rated Director’s Cut of that film, but I really enjoyed it. Maybe the DC is significantly better than the theatrical release (A lot of people say so), but I felt the film is much better than its reputation.

    It has a killer cast, awesome visuals, mostly clearly staged big scale action scenes, and a strong villain in Stellan Skarsgåd. All in all a fun historical romp with Grade A production value. There is also a fair amount of badassery in the film.

    I don’t really care for the film’s “accuracy”, which upset many back in the day. It has nothing to do with Arthurian legends, and is simply a seemingly a semi-realistic depiction of how vikings try to take over the crumbling ruins of the Roman Empire in the ancient England. Which is pretty cool by itself, because that time and place isn’t seen in movies that often.

  11. I’ve been using the term post-post-9/11 to describe a certain strain of action movies for a few years now: taken, from Paris with love, the a-team and this film would all fit comfortably therein.

    To me, the post-9/11 period of filmmaking was defined by superhero movies that created a simple and clear moral structure to contend with the complex and scary world of the so-called war on terror. On the other end, there were serious minded action films that dealt with the new 9/11 realities and elevated the villains above simple “towelhead” stereotypes. Films like Bourne, body of lies, déjà vu and kingdom of heaven fit in this category.

    Now, the post-post-9/11 film (which arguably began on television with the later seasons of 24 and in film with The Kingdom) features a complex world where the war on terror and department of homeland security are featured prominently but are treated as Cold War era plot gimmicks. Most often, there is an amoral (not immoral, amoral) protagonist at the center who uses fascist tactics to save the day, but there is no intended moral ambiguity to his actions. For example, in this film, it’s supposed to be awesome when butler tortures those guys. Also, in the a-team, mr. T’s entire arc is a journey from nonviolence back to his natural state as a fascist killing machine. And the score tells us his first act of murder is glorious.

    There is another wing of the post-post-9/11 movement too. Films like transformers 3, battle:Los Angeles, skyline and battleship where we recontrxtualize footage from the Iraqi war so that america can still be the hero. I really don’t get these films. Clearly, America is the aliens in these films and the humans are the Iraqis, right? But I don’t think any of the film makers are pulling a verhoven….

  12. Tawdry Hepburn – These are some interesting points.
    However, in many Super Hero movies (Blade, Xmen, Hellboy) there is no ‘clear moral structure’.
    Same goes for the villains in 24. Most of them are more complex then you suggest. For example, if you follow the story you can see it makes constant analogies between the villains and Bauer.
    All of this doesn’t exist in the inferior OHF. It is more in line with post 9/11 sci fi movies you mentioned.
    And when you say ‘we recontrxtualize’, the question is who are ‘we’. If ‘we’ belong to the tea party/fox news crowd, or ‘we’ are just some mindless teens, ‘we’ clearly think that the aliens are The Other who is attacking America.

  13. The ACR chart is a fantastic concept. Kudos. I went to see this yesterday morning but it was surprisingly sold out.

  14. Or perhaps “we” appreciate (to a degree) that a clear conscience, in a war/battle zone, is a luxury of those on the sidelines. Funny, I thought it was the fox news/tea party types that were suppose to be all about the moral absolutes.

  15. I would say the post 9/11 era ended as soon as the economy tanked and Obama took office, no clue what you would call this era though

    but I think it’s good we’re starting to move on, not to downplay 9/11 but the whole “post 9/11” thing couldn’t last forever

  16. I like this idea of the post post-9-11 movies. Good points, everybody.

    I’ve painted myself in a corner with this ACR concept because now I have to decide how flawless the action has to be to get a 5. John Hyams asked me on Twitter what DAY OF RECKONING gets, and I told him 5, which I meant honestly. But now I bet somebody’s gonna throw some shot at me that they think is hard to follow or something and say it’s a 4. Also the whole thing could get real political, like the 5 mic system in The Source.

    With THE RAID my instinct is a 4 or maybe 4.5, since there is some darkness and shakiness but long, well-framed shots. To be fair I should only rate things immediately after seeing them.

  17. Vern, sorry to go somewhat off-topic here (briefly: great review, movie sounds like it should have been made in 1994, post post 911 movie very interesting, ACR rules!), but: with the imminent release of that documentary about him, I’d like to say I think it’s time for a complete John Milius retrospective.

  18. Love the new scale. So is the current state of action a code orange?

    I read that they showed this movie at CPAC, and everyone went nuts and cheered when Ashley Judd died since she may be running against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

  19. I`m not sure I agree with your new scale. I love well-shot action, but shaky-cam can be great in the right context. All the shaky-cam in The Raid is during the first assault when all hell breaks loose, and we, the audience, are supposed to feel the panic and disorientation of the police-team, juxtapositioned with slow tracking-shots and dolly-shots of the bad guys, in order to make us feel that they have the upper hand. Shaky-cam is used with a purpose in The Raid, as a way to heighten the suspense, not to make the action more realistic.

  20. Oh. M. G. The ACR, a fine contribution to the cinematic discussion.

    1. Don’t obsess over a 5 being “perfect.” Perfection is a corrupt concept. A 5 can have a bad shot or too and if the rest is really clear, they’ll even work around it.

    2. I’d give The Raid maybe a 3.5. I found a healthy amount of it to be shaky cam, although the longer takes helped.

    3. The DIE HARD formula. I’m still bitter that SPEED is universally accepted as DIE HARD on a bus. Dude, only one terrorist, the terrorist isn’t even confined to the bus with the heroes/hostages, 3 locations… Good action movie, set its own formula in the day, I appreciate the buzz quote but it sounds like OHF is more DIE HARD in The White House than SPEED is DIE HARD on a bus.

    I missed OHF and will wait until Blu-ray. Sounds fun, and I do like the high concept making a comeback.

  21. I actually almost wrote my film school honors thesis on my post-post 9/11 theory. Except, it was just in the conclusion because we were still in the torture porn/superhero/political era.

    It’s not that the villains are simple in post-post-9/11 films, it’s that the protagonist acts outside of standard morality instead of exemplifying American ideals. Think of butler in this film vesus captain America.

  22. dna, there is shaky cam and shaky cam. Just like every tool, it depends on how you use it. THE RAID is very shaky, but never to the point of total confusion and what-just-happened-I-didn’t-see-anything. Especially, like Vern said, because it is all nicely framed and we get lots of long takes. It’s effective, like you said.

    Then we got the Paul Greengrass approach, which is more like a video art installation of blurry things moving very fast to 10 edits per second, while we hear fight noises in the background.

  23. Tawdry – I agree with what you said on the protagonist in the post-post 9/11 but not on the villains.
    Also, I’m not sure about the ‘post-post’ title since Kathrine Bigelow’s last two movies clearly belong to what you describe as post 9/11.

  24. The ACR is one of the greatest things ever.

    I feel like a bit of an ass, though, to admit that I’m probably the only one here who would rank the Raid on the lower end of that scale. I really liked the movie, but found a few moments where I had to rewind a bit to make out some of the action. Maybe it was just me at the time. Perhaps a second viewing will make me say, “Why did I think this had a 3 ACR? It’s clearly a 4.5 or above.”

    Anyway, great scale thus making this movie infinitely more important than it actually is!

  25. So this movie shows the Korean terrorists actually killing a dog to demonstrate how evil they are? Are all of the Asian characters in here evil? From the clip I saw of the siege sequence, which did look well-constructed and intense, the seemingly innocent Asian tourists are just terrorists in disguise.

  26. There can be multiple movements at the same time. It’s worth noting that most post-post-9/11 films haven’t been financially successful.

  27. One of the white house security guys has a dog. The dog charges at one of the EVIL KOREANS during the big raid on the whitehouse and gets shot.

    As for friendly Asians, there’s only one: the South Korean prime minister that SUPER-TERRORIST WHO HAS NEVER BEEN ID’D Rick Yune sneaks into the white house with seemed like a nice guy.

  28. Action Comprehensibility Rating. I love it. When I saw THE RAID in the theater I left thinking it was nothing but crisp, clear action, but when I re-watched it at home on blu-ray there was a lot more shaky-cam than I remembered. I’d give it a 4. HAYWIRE is clearly a 5 for ACR, but the brutally efficient camerawork lacks pizazz for larger-than-life action movie confrontations. For my money, UNDISPUTED 3 hits that sweet spot of top-of-the-line ACR and dynamic camera movement.

    So I guess the RED DAWN remake is a post-post-9/11 film, and apparently bottoms out on the ACR as well.

  29. Another element of post-post-9/11 is the removal of satirical elements. Specifically: American psycho, starship troopers, total recall, robocop, dredd…off the top. All of these are being remade, straight.

  30. Crustacean- I wouldn’t call THE RAID shakycam. The camera is fluid, but the motion is almost chemically crafted to cause the maximum visceral response from the audience. Shakycam, at least to me, denotes a sloppiness and lack of care in the staging and cutting.

  31. Brendan: I don’t know what the strict definition of shaky-cam is, but for me it means exactly that… a shaky camera. Sometimes it’s used effectively, like in THE RAID, and sometimes not, but the intention is always to give a feeling of you-are-there immediacy by disorienting the audience. This bumps it down slightly on the ACR (only slightly; it’s a masterpiece of editing and framing) but like Vern said in his review, it’s not a quality rating. There are heaps of shitty action sequences with a high ACR.

  32. I like this movie, but yeah, the shaky-cam was a letdown. The weird scene that stood out most to me in that regard was the moment when the bad guys reveal themselves in that little control room; lots of whip pans with no sense of where to / from or why the whipping and panning is occurring.

    I hated the last Die Hard movie pretty deeply, so I don’t know. It would be the worst one, but I think there’s at least two and a half stars between OHF and Die Hard 5. I really don’t follow what about that you found to be endearing.

    OHF also misses one other step that bugs me personally, I’ve yet to find anyone else who felt as strongly about it as me: early on, Butler notes that the windows are wired with C4 and it seems like a real shame nobody gets kicked out of one when the mayhem is starting.

    An extra point in the movie’s favor for the Asian henchman who had the same squinty-eyed, O-mouth expression the entire five minutes he was on screen.

  33. The ACR rating is fantastic. Keep it up Vern!

  34. Camera can be shaky, and the action can still be very clear and crisp. The camera is shaky pretty much *all the time* in the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, yet it’s one of the more clearly communicated action scenes I have ever seen. The segment made me emotionally disoriented, and I could strongly emphasize why the characters felt disoriented. Yet I could follow every beat – Hundreds of them in 20 minutes – very clearly. There was never any confusion on what happened to whom, or what each character was trying to do (Including some soldiers who obviously had no idea what they were supposed to be doing).

    That would definitely be a 5 in my books. Almost any Spielberg action scene would be a 5.

    Personally in my 2 viewings of The Raid, I never felt there was any move I missed during camerawork. There were moments when the actors were moving so fast, that you couldn’t immediately quite grasp everything they did, but that often happened in long, static takes. It’s more of a testament to their skill, than a flaw in the film.

    So at least a 4, maybe a 5.

    There is also a lot of old school action where the shots are quite long and static, yet the overall choreography of the scene is unclear. You’re not quite sure where the different characters are, what they are aiming to do, and why certain things happen. Even in fight scenes, due to bad coreography and incapable actors, there can be so many cheats in editing and camera angles, that you’re not quite sure who did what, and why.

    ACR scale is a great idea, but it shouldn’t be only about what camera technique is used, or how many edits there are per minute (And Vern didn’t claim so, I think he’s seeing the bigger picture here).

    There are many things that should be considered before grading the clarity of action:

    1. What is the logical purpose of the scene? Is it even logical? What are the characters trying to achieve?

    2. How is the overall coreography of the scene? Where are the characters, and where are they trying to go? Can we understand how their positions are related to each other?

    3. What are the mini-goals of the scene? What does each character try to do in different moments, and do those choices and actions flow logically and coherently from one moment to the next? A mini-goal can be a person spending 2 minutes to find himself a gun, or it can simply be a 1-second counter-move in a fist fight.

    4. Is there emotional clarity in the scene? Do we understand and emphasize with the changing emotional states of the characters?

    5. Is the chosen shooting style (Whether it’s shaky-cam, steady-cam, dolly-cam, static-cam, etc) effective in visually communicating all the elements mentioned in 1, 2, 3 and 4?

    6. Is the chosen editing style (Regardless of the speed) effective in visually communicating the elements in 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5?

    …The point is, if you care only for parts 5 and 6, resulting in static camera style with very little edits, you can still miss out on 1, 2, 3 and 4. Which results in a shitty action scene, which is confusing to watch and hard to understand.

    Clarity is not just about having a tripod.

  35. There are many elements of a great action scene that are not really relevant to the concept of the ACR. The goal is for it to be a helpful guide for those of us who love to go see new action movies but can be frustrated by the modern style. Hopefully if rated accurately enough we’ll know what we’re getting into in that regard. I think it can be like the modern ratings system which includes explanations like “sci-fi violence” and “historical smoking” and you can judge how important that is to you. If it was something like DARK KNIGHT where some of the fights are chaotic but seemingly as a deliberate artistic choice I would try to indicate that in the description.

    Thanks for taking this idea seriously, guys. It’s kind of funny but also I think could be useful.

  36. tuukka – leave it to Spielberg to be able to pull it off

  37. VERN, just out of curiosity, how would you rate the D-day sequence in Saving Private Ryan? Because on that scale system, I guess it could potentially warrant a 2 or a 3. If it does, I find the who ACR scaling pretty useless – Because I think the scaling would be more about the style of the action scene, not about the *clarity* of the action scene. ASR would be a better name: Action Style Rating.

    The D-day sequence is perfect clarity to me as an action scene. It gives the emotional *illusion* of being chaotic and disorientating, when it’s in fact extremely clear and concise in its visual language. An almost impossible feat to pull off, and countless of imitators have seemingly never gotten it right, at least not to that extent.

    (Granted, I’d assume you would give the scene and the film overall probably a 3.5 at least)

    No trying to be ass here, and of course the ACR scaling is there mainly for fun, but I think the idea is actually really good. I just hope it will be less about the the amount of tripods used, and more about what it should be about: Clarity and well-made action.

  38. Speaking of action movies with Scottish leads, Vern, are you planning on seeing WELCOME TO THE PUNCH with James McAvoy, Mark Strong and David Morrissey? I saw it a few weeks ago and I think it’d easily score a 4.0 on the ACR scale.

  39. Jareth Cutestory

    March 25th, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I’m sure AVATAR would rate high on the ACR purely in terms of comprensibility. But I think the action sequences are terrible because the CGI looks so silly that it completely undermines the rush you are supposed to feel during an action sequence. If I went into AVATAR knowing it had a 5 ACR, I’d expect TERMINATOR 2 or MATRIX level action sequences. Those movies found ways to drag you inside the action. AVATAR mimics their comprehensibility, but I get about as much thrill from it as I would from staring at an album cover by Yes.

    Like tuukka says, context and intent count for a lot. In the alchemy of action sequences, comprehensibility is only a piece of the puzzle.

  40. I think the final 40 minutes of Avatar are something of an action masterpiece in terms of story and directing. I just re-watched the film a few days ago, and it’s really pretty phenomenal action filmmaking.

    But I also agree that the somewhat cartoonish style of the film takes away a lot. It’s not quite so thrilling, when everything happens so obviously inside a computer. If that 40-minute segment would look real, it would be outstanding.

    Hint: If the super-lit, super-colorful candyland look of Avatar bugs you, de-sature the picture by 30-50%, and make the midtones darker. The film looks a lot more gritty and realistic that way. The quality of CGI itself is great, it’s just the overall stylistic approach that makes it look fake.

  41. Jareth Cutestory

    March 25th, 2013 at 9:48 am

    This is why context is so important. The groundwork for AVATAR’S spectacularly uninvolving action scenes was set by Cameron’s decision to have utterly unremarkable characters, an over-familiar plot, and laughable themes. Even if the CGI didn’t bore me, I doubt I could have possibly cared about that movie.

    THE MATRIX provides an interesting contrast. Remember when Morpheus was captured? The film very carefully filmed that scene in a way that echoed the Rodney King beating. Then you have Smith’s little speech about humans being a form of virus, which not only clearly deliniates the sides in the conflict, but directly implicates the audience in the outcome of the action. When you start tinkering with the audience’s sympathies in such a manner, the payoff in the later action sequence is always going to be more fulfilling than any number of effects or camera angles.

  42. But you know going in what kind of world AVATAR is set in. The ACR is an objective tool. The effectiveness of it is subjective per movie. A high ACR might not be enough to make AVATAR interesting to you and a low ACR wouldn’t ruin THE RAID, but we all know what we’re talking about,

  43. That ACR chart doesn’t just make sense, it should be made compulsory to have it stamped on all camera, editing and special effects equipment as a reminder to those involved in the film industry that films are generally better when you can see what is happening.

    Looking at the comments above, maybe just make it clearer that it does not rate the quality of the action scenes, just the understandability. Perhaps make the word ‘Comprehensibility’ bigger !

  44. The original Paul

    March 26th, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Darn, I was hoping this one would be better than that. Still might go and see it though. For the laughs.

    Don’t suppose you can apply the ACR to arthouse hand-held camera use, can you? I’m reminded of films like “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Especially the latter.

  45. The original Paul

    March 26th, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    And one of these days I want to see a film where the traitor in the White House turns out to be the President himself. I’ve seen it done a couple of times on TV, but never in a movie as far as I can recall.

  46. The original Paul

    March 26th, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    And context is absolutely important when judging an action scene. As is scoring. The reason why the big brawl from “Reloaded” is one of my personal worst ever “action” “scenes” (I feel it’s important to put both of those words in quotation marks there, because “action” implies believability and “scene” implies purpose and framing, three things that I don’t think the big brawl even aspires to, let alone attains) has nothing to do with shakycam or bad coherence. I can tell exactly what’s supposed to be happening, I just don’t 1) believe any of it, or 2) care about any of it.

    (Score’s not so bad though. I’ve heard way worse than the faux-dramatic rock guitars we are presented with. Hell, they might have worked if the actual scene had an ounce of the drama and excitement that the scoring tries to portray.)

    If I think about my favorite and least-favorite action movies, or movies with action scenes, and imagine where they’d fit on that scale… it’s amazing how consistently the good ones appear at the top, the bad ones at the bottom. Having said that though… most of my favorite action movies tend to be fairly old. “Die Hard” has to merit a solid four, “Police Story” and “Enter the Dragon” are easy fives, “Mission: Impossible” is perfection until the very end (and even then the action filming is pretty flawless), “Starship Troopers” is way up there, etc. At the other end of the scale… “The Expendables” is absolutely a one, “Mission: Impossible 3” is a two at best, “Transformers” is a one, “Bad Boys 2” is a one, etc.

    Looking at the timeline, it feels as though there was a sweet spot, somewhere from the late eighties to the mid 2000s, where action movies could look great – even the lower-budget ones didn’t look cheap – but still have great action direction. Before that period, there were still great action movies but the technology wasn’t quite there for them to take things as far as they could later on; and after that, shakycam came along and spoiled the party for everyone. Of course this is a vast oversimplification, and ignores many many variables including my own love-hate relationship with slow-mo (at one time just another horribly overused lazy filmmaking technique that just needed to die – of course, given the current state of action cinema, my previous attitude towards the comparatively benign cliche of the slow-motion “money shot” looks positively quaint and old-fashioned), but you get the picture.

  47. Here is Paul’s preferred version of the Burly Brawl:

    1. Agent Smith does not show up to alert Neo to the fact that he is alive and has new powers and a new agenda, because since Neo is not going to defeat Agent Smith in this scene, why bother fighting him? Characters should only engage in combat when one of them ends up dead, like the kumite.
    2. Neo, instead of testing his mettle against this newly revamped nemesis, flies away like a little bitch almost immediately, because heroes who give up at the first sign of a challenge are the tits.
    3. Agent Smith does not have new and fucking awesome powers that make him the immovable force that negates Neo’s unstoppable will, symbolizing the pointless and eternal conflict between man and machine that is the central theme of the Matrix Trilogy, because Paul thinks that only action scenes where conflict is resolved are viable, even when the entire point of the scene is to illustrate that some battles have no conceivable victor.

    So you see, instead of a self-containted short film that illustrates the themes of the trilogy in microcosm, pushes FX technology forward, delivers inventive choreography and visceral thrills despite being largely computer animated, and predicts the eventual fate of the characters (Smith will never stop fighting and thus ensure his own destruction, Neo will recognize a stalemate when he sees one, embrace compromise, and save his people) we have a scene where nothing happens because it’s not the climax of the story yet, and what’s the point of having a scene if you’re not going to resolve everything immediately?

  48. Sorry, Paul, that came out kinda harsh. But we’ve been over this before. You say there’s no point to the scene, like 50 people come out and mention 50 different points to the scene and the fact that it’s kinda awesome all on its own, you just say the same thing again. Getting kinda old.

  49. I don’t have the link but the White House Down trailer just came out and it looks like some classy shit let me tell you. It also looks fucking rediculous as well. I think it would have been better if it had somebody more everyman than Channing Tatum because they’re clearly going for a John McClane thing with probably less sarcasm.

  50. You mentioned “Haywire,” which I wasn’t totally fond of when I saw it in theaters about a year ago. I personally thought it had a decent premise. It just felt like it dragged. I might have to watch it again to see if I still think the same about it or if I may think differently because I got that it was supposed to be more of an espionage type of flick but I didn’t think all that much of it.

    Anyway, as for this movie, I actually went to see it yesterday. I was entertained by the movie, but I can’t really say that it was actually the greatest movie that I have seen. It had decent action sequences. I know it felt like a Michael Bay movie with all of the explosions and shaky camera, but it was better than some of the flicks Bay has done.

    Now I am not entirely sure if I liked this movie enough to warrant a purchase when it’s released on Blu-Ray/DVD in the future, but I am not entirely opposed to it. I mean I did enjoy the movie enough that I didn’t think it was waste of an early bird matinee price. I wouldn’t mind buying it, but I wouldn’t go on its release date and get it.

    I am a major action movie buff and some people I know say that I speak positively about every movie I see. They couldn’t be any more wrong, though. There are movies out there that I have seen that I disliked (I know people prefer to use the word “hate” but I think that is too strong). I didn’t dislike this movie at all. I enjoyed it, but I can’t say that it was one of my favorites in recent memory.

  51. Paul

    Dead zone

  52. Vern, the ACR thing is brilliant

    also do this: an annual action comprehensibility award, give it some catchy name

    or a raspberry award, for the worst action comprehensibility, that might prove more memorable

  53. Bad Boys II is a one? The merits and demerits of Bad Boys II aside, I don’t remember any of the action being vague or confusing. The ACR is meant to be independent of the qualities of the film otherwise.

  54. Tyler

    Bad Boys II lacks a coherent perspective to the cast majority of its’ action scenes. It wasn’t shot with an eye towards narrative, it was filmed from every possible angle and then pieced together in editing.

  55. The original Paul

    March 28th, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Majestyk – would ten minutes of watching two random guys play “Mortal Kombat” be your ideal fight scene? Because for me – and allowing that this is my own personal subjective opinion here – the burly brawl in no way improves on that scenario. It’s not even that it’s badly shot / staged (it’s not) or that it’s bad CGI (it absolutely is). I don’t care about either of these characters and I don’t believe that what I’m watching is “real”, at any point, in any way. It might as well be a dance routine between a dozen well-choreographed stickmen. Although I think the stickmen would at least have curiosity / novelty value to redeem them. But the brawl… it’s plainly not Keanu, or Weaving. The animation is so bad that you might as well be watching Cypher’s binary porn from the first movie. Add to that the fact that there is no emotional investment and nothing at stake… and what you get is a waste of five minutes of your life. Or that’s how I felt.

    And talking of things I don’t get… “The entire point of the scene is to illustrate that some battles have no conceivable victor.” Is it? Got any evidence at all for this rather overarching assertion, beyond the simple fact that neither of them wins?

    Also: “Symbolizing the pointless and eternal conflict between man and machine that is the central theme of the Matrix Trilogy”. Okay, let’s break this down.

    1) Smith doesn’t reflect the “machine” part of this equation in “Reloaded” – that was his role in the original movie, not the sequel. In “Reloaded”, the architect takes on this role. If Smith represents anything at all, it’s man’s creation becoming man – in his war against the humans, Smith takes on more and more human-like qualities. His end comes when he literally merges with a man – Neo – and therefore takes on Neo’s human vulnerabilities.

    2) The conflict wasn’t portrayed as “eternal” at any point in the trilogy, although the historical context changed between films. There was always a starting point. The architect posits that the conflict is never-ending, but Neo himself goes on to disprove this. That’s something of a peripheral point, given that I don’t think “eternal” is the main thrust of your argument here. However…

    3) The conflict in “The Matrix” isn’t between man and machine, it’s between men and their own baser nature, as symbolised by the machines. Human arrogance created them to serve, human weakness gave them the power to become sentient, human corruption allows them to continue to remain in power. The machines not only feed off the bodies of men, but every single machine we see lives to keep them in a state of ignorant subservience. The machines’ whole reason for being, in other words, is centred on humanity, not some loftier goal. I could go on and on with this point… The agents take over the bodies of innocent people, who instantly become expendable. Cypher (easily the greatest antagonist of the whole series, not just because of his character but because of what he represents) makes a deal with the agents, and it’s strongly hinted that this isn’t the first time that something like that has happened; heck, if the architect is to be believed, the previous “ones” have done the same thing. The machines’ need for human beings goes beyond bodily fuel; if the humans die, literally every machine we see in all three movies becomes instantly obsolete.

    E-Man – I agree that there are problems with “Haywire” but I think the action scenes were well-shot and clearly staged. My problem with Soderbergh has never been a lack of technical craftsmanship, and honestly I feel as though his strengths as well as his weaknesses were on full display in that film. In many ways I think it’s a quintessential Soderbergh film – his weaknesses as a storyteller are balanced by his strengths as a technical director.

    Tyler – I risk annoying a lot of people, again, if I keep going on about “Bad Boys 2”, so I’ll just say that I agree with Tawdry on that one.

    And on “Olympus has Fallen” – I’m gonna try and see it this holiday. Honestly I’ve liked a lot of “pretty good” action movies a lot more than you guys have recently – case in point, “The Last Stand” – so maybe this will be another one. Hopefully I’ll like it anyway.

  56. Paul: I must have been having a bad day when I wrote that shit. It’s cool, you don’t like the scene. That’s fine. My basic bone of contention was that you seem to hate it because “nothing happens” or “there’s no point,” which I strongly disagree with. I’m glad to see you have put in some thought into what the intent of the scene is (beyond being fucking awesome, a point we will forever have to disagree on, like a superpowered savior fighting an infinite horde of replicants), even if we arrive at different conclusions. I don’t want to hijack this thread any further so I’ll just say cheers and keep it moving.

  57. This is OK, hampered only because after photocopying scenes from DIE HARD, it doesn’t any new scenes and twists to that dependable formula like say UNDER SIEGE brilliantly did. Its pedestrian entertainment, inoffensive*, and watchable. Just not memorable enough as Vern put it. But I admit I could see myself rewatch this on TV someday. (Which I can’t say for G.I. JOE: RETALIATION.)

    But I give Fuqua for at least having the narrative patience to set up the pieces and players and put them into play once the hammer drops, i.e. the bad guys take over. Not even the last DIE HARD movie understood that fundamental basicness that the original DIE HARD understood absolutely.

    *=I could’ve done without the hero torturing the henchmen, in the same movie when we’re supposed to be OUTRAGED! at the bad guys for torturing a woman. Bi-polar politics, no? You didn’t see John McClaine torture. He used his wits, his fists, and being a totally natural badass.

  58. First Trailer for WHITE HOUSE DOWN is actually kinda good…

  59. I liked how the words popping up appear to be your general blockbuster font nonsense, but then revealed to be a Lincoln quote. Emmerich wants in on that LINCOLN money, yo!

  60. The original Paul

    March 29th, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Majestyk – that’s fine. We can agree to disagree. At least until the point comes up again!

    Anyway, haven’t seen this one yet (Olympus). Still. I’m hoping I don’t have to wait for two months until after the whole thread has died before I can give some kind of an opinion on it. I’m not sure when the UK release date is. It’s not on this week anyway.

  61. The obvious story purpose of the Burly Brawl in Reloaded is that while Neo was able to beat Smith’s ass in Matrix, Smith is now stronger than Neo. Smith *wins* Neo, because Neo has to to escape with a tail between his legs.

    It establishes Smith as a major threat again, without the scene we would think that Neo can still beat Smith, just like he did before. It’s a crucially important scene.

    But I agree that it that the scene can feel irrelevant, because it doesn’t flow naturally with the rest of the plot. At that point, there should be some story item / character that Neo wants to get, and Smith prevents him from succeeding. Or the scene has heavy repercussions that are important in the rest of the day (For example Smith manages to implant a virus into Neo, and Neo is now crippled due to this virus, and has to heal himself before he can succeed in his miiion).

    The scene shouldn’t be just about character (Smith is again stronger than Neo!), but it should also drive the overall story forward. Which it doesn’t.

    When you see good, coherent writing, a single scene does several things at one: Forwards the story, forwards the characters, and shows some ass-kicking on the way. This is especially important when we are talking about one of the key scenes, and biggest set pieces of the film. The Burly Brawl provides information about characters, but it doesn’t forward the story.

  62. I guess this is old news for most of you but I just saw this at what was actually a preview screening here in the UK. I was expecting to like it, but I didn’t. At All. I’m pretty sure I liked it a lot less than AGDTDH which I never could have predicted. It reminded me of why I disliked TEARS OF THE SUN so much, both are grim, serious yet empty films, completely devoid of suspense or excitement, and loaded with manipulative imagery but not an ounce of nuance or wit. And of the two, OLYMPUS IS FALLEN is far stupider. Did anyone ever think DIE HARD would have been improved if it had a lot of grey-tinted, slow motion pans of corpses? Or bad guys who were trying to avenge real world hunger and yet were more cartoonish? I didn’t think so. And while the editing and camerawork wasn’t as poor as A GOOD DAY’s, the awful lighting and jump cuts certainly didn’t help keep me involved.

    Thinking about it Fuqua might actually be one of my least favourite directors. When he simply points the camera at someone reading a decent script he may produce something half decent, but when he’s got his work cut out for him he flounders.

  63. The original Paul

    April 20th, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Woooow. Did YOU guys miss the boat on this one. Seriously. This has to be one of the most subversive movies I’ve seen for a LONG time. And I’m not even sure if it’s deliberate. Making the President a complete moron, and then having him played regally by Aaron Eckhart and using “Pearl Harbor”-style portentious music whenever he’s onscreen… that’s either the dumbest thing ever, or absolute freaking genius. Personally I’m hoping it’s the latter. And did you see that aeroplane that took out half the US military at the start? The thing looked like it was stuck together with airfix glue.

    Then you’ve got the Pearl Harbor-style American flags. (Including one moment that Vern noticed as much as I did where a ventilated Stars and Stripes is thrown from a rooftop. Even as I was watching this, I was thinking that the final scene would be American soldiers hoisting a new flag up onto that same spot. Bingo!)

    Add to that that you have an almost beat-for-beat retelling of “Die Hard” – including the bad guys faking their own death-by-accidental-explosion, a scene where a bad guy meets the hero and pretends to be an escaped hostage, and even a scene where a character is forced to walk on broken glass while barefoot. Good God, I could go on and on here. Couple that with a few references to “Air Force One” – a movie I heartily dislike – and various other action movies of varying fame and quality, and you have a film that’s almost wholly derivative in its execution while still being subtly subversive in its meaning.

    More little touches that I appreciated… Eckhart’s character pointing out to the secretary lady that she “wouldn’t go out without a fight” after she’d just given up the vitally important security code after about 30 seconds’ worth of beating. At his order, no less. Also the President fires the guy who saves his life, while retaining all of the other secret service agents, including the ones who were driving way too fast in a snowstorm and were actually responsible for the death of his wife. Good judgement on both counts, fella!

    My absolute favorite moment, though, is when the traitor points out to the President that “you sold out this country long before I ever did”. And the President’s response is to look angrily stoic, as only Aaron Eckhart can do, while – again – the noble Pearl Harbor-esque music plays in the background. Because the accusation being levelled at him is SO ridiculous that it doesn’t even deserve a response, right?

    I mean, this is not the same as “Air Force One”, which was deadly serious when Harrison Ford pointed out that America’s best foreign policy decision would be to start more wars. (I’m paraphrasing, but that was basically it.) There’s one guy in the Pentagon who basically spends the entire film with his eyes and mouth wide open. At one point I think he even drools. There’s no fucking way this stuff is actually meant to be taken seriously, am I right? Well, am I? It’s GOT to be satirical.

    Well, either that, or it’s a big dumb jingoistic mess. But hey, I can still live with that.

    On the action front… I agree with Vern, it’s a definite “3”.

    The big-stage action set pieces, to my mind, looked pretty good. I had a definite sense of the geography of what was going on – the director did a good job there – and most of what was happening looked pretty clear. The close-up action scenes, on the other hand, were definitely lacking. There was no impact to the traitor’s reveal because I didn’t even realise, thanks to the editing, that he was shooting at his fellow secret service agents, and not at the Koreans! That’s a BIG fail right there.

    That not withstanding, I want all my Starship Trooper-loving friends to watch this film and see if they see what I saw here. And for that reason, it gets a definite recommendation from me. Peace!

  64. I thought that the White House assault was one of the better extended set pieces I’ve seen in a while. As a junkie for this kind of stuff I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would give it a 3 on the ACR.

  65. Whoa, I avoided this review for a while b/c spoilers – who knew this was the inaugural ACR rating?? Anyways, seeing this one after White House Down really highlights how much better this one is – the pacing is better, the villains are better, it feels like 20 minutes shorter. The hero is way more brutal here, but manages to still be more likable. (I actually was worried from some of the stuff I heard that Butler would be TOO brutal, but I think watching all of 24 and John Wick prepared me for a hero who casually shoots people in the head and tortures the shit out of people, not to mention the villains are absolutely vicious in this one).

    But most of all – the takeover sequence is kind of incredible. It’s an instant classic delivering a bodycount not seen outside of an Expendables movie, and I like that it takes place in real time (the villain says it took them 13 minutes which is how long it takes!). Also I really liked the corniness that *SPOILER* Butler makes his Rocky-style comeback in the final fight when his estranged buddy the President cheers him on from the sidelines – “C’mon Mike!!”

    My only complaint – don’t recreate scenes verbatim from Die Hard unless you want to be unfavorably compared to them. I mean why have the traitor character suddenly light a cigarette (which would totally give away his position if he was really a good guy) and frame it EXACTLY like Hans and McClane’s meeting? Why have Butler make a teary goodbye speech to his estranged wife over the radio while sitting against a wall and picking glass out of himself? C’mon. Oh, another complaint – Morgan Freeman seems kind of wasted here. I mean, his face is the main one in the poster, but he just doesn’t have a character to play or any good lines. At least Bassett has actual development and gravitas – Freeman looks like he shot his role in two days because he had a bill to pay. I also kind of wish he was the President instead, which would have a) made this a cool prequel to Deep Impact, a movie where he actually had a good character, and b) he could have actually shared screentime with Ashley Judd again.

  66. Wait, London Has Fallen comes out this October?? I guess I’m so used to seeing posters and trailers like a YEAR in advance these days, it’s weird to see absolutely nothing from a movie coming out in about 5 months.

  67. That reminds me, I think Fuqua has to be one of the most consistently good mainstream action directors out there. I’ve seen nearly every one of his films in the cinema (except for BAIT, which I’ve yet to see), and I’m usually impressed, even if he borrows (homages?) heavily, like from the aforementioned DIE HARD, and with his Woo-ish take on Hong Kong action way back with THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS, which was easily Chow Yun Fat’s best Hollywood excursion. His recent THE EQUALIZER was one of my favorites from last year also. He’s also doing the remake of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

  68. neal, I guess they are just using the same strategy from part 1. One day the trailer hit and nobody even knew that the movie existed, but it was about to start a few months later. It kinda paid off, I guess.

  69. While this movie bored me so much, that I will even skip the sequel’s pay TV run, I have to acknowledge that LONDON HAS FALLEN has an action movie tagline for the ages!

  70. (Didn’t expect that tiny embed. Obviously you can click on it to read it. Or I just tell you here: It’s PREPARE FOR BLOODY HELL)

  71. That tagline makes me think they’ll use every British cliche in the book. Bip bip cheerio with a side of fish and chips.

  72. I actually consider watching LONDON HAS FALLEN tomorrow. It looks like the most generic piece of shit that ever was, But I don´t know. I liked the first WHITE HOUSE HAS FALLEN DOWN

  73. God help the next idiot who tells me an attack on Capitol Hill is some Hollywood Bullshit…..

  74. And the real life Mike Bannings will let them pass.

  75. At least he’s staying in character then

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