Thursday, April 18, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen Movie Review

A lone vigilante hero in the wrong place at the wrong time is trapped in a building with a large group of well-financed and highly skilled terrorists who are holding several hostages. They’ll do what’s necessary to extract the codes they need from their captives. Our hero is estranged from one of those held hostage and his ability to repair the damage done to that relationship hinges on the outcome of the event. He has regular contact with the bureaucrats on the outside, at least one of whom can’t see what needs to be done.

I can’t decide if Olympus Has Fallen is a mediocre action thriller with gaping plot holes and inconsistencies or exactly the medicine the action thriller demographic of young males crave. Yes, they’ll keep falling for this stuff time and again. What? You thought my opening paragraph was describing Die Hard? The parallels are astounding and I wouldn’t be surprised if first time screenwriters Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger used the screenplay for that much smarter and more adept action thriller was used as a template for this one. Jeb Stuart and Steven de Souza should sue not for copyright infringement, but for defamation.

In this case the building is the White House, the hostages include President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and several high level advisers. The terrorists are refreshingly not Arabs, but North Koreans who want the 7th Fleet recalled and all military personnel vacated from the DMZ. The vigilante hero is Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) who was once on the President’s detail before a tragic accident that features in the film’s prologue took the First Lady’s (Ashley Judd) life.

Butler is a charismatic hero and helps keep this rather far-fetched plot moving along even when you can see virtually every development telegraphed ahead of time. In spite of the predictability, director Antoine Fuqua keeps the suspense and tension ratcheted up. Case in point is the opening accident that claims the life of Asher’s wife: if you don’t know as the motorcade barrels through a terrible snow and ice storm from Camp David through the woods that something terrible is going to happen, then you obviously haven’t seen enough movies. Yet Fuqua somehow manages to build suspense throughout the sequence and he maintains it for the next 90 minutes or so.

But then two terribly overlooked plot hole gnaw away at the structure of the whole film: the first is that the Speaker of the House and Acting President (Morgan Freeman), along with his advisers, act as if the Office of the President is about the man, and not about continuity of government - they want to pretend like they don’t negotiate with terrorists, but then they do; the second is that the terrorist plot’s success depends entirely, completely, 100 percent on the President’s insisting that the Korean Prime Minister (with whom he’s meeting the Oval Office at the time of the attack) go into the bunker along with the Korean security detail. A Secret Service agent is heard shouting that it’s against protocol, but it happens anyway. Of course, members of his security are actually moles. If the President doesn’t allow them into the bunker, there’s no kidnapping and thus no movie.

In addition to Freeman, the rest of the movie is packed with recognizable faces in key roles: Melissa Leo as the Defense Secretary; Angela Bassett as the Secret Service director (and can someone please explain to me why the Secret Service director is in the War Room discussing military strategy?); Robert Forster as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Dylan McDermott as a retired Secret Service agent; Rick Yune as the baddie North Korean with a gun to the President’s head. They all provide solid performances in roles that can easily end up as paper dolls. However, the tough fortitude Leo brings to her role is undercut by the screenplay’s insistence that the President come off as a selfless sacrificial lamb when he gives her permission to give up a valuable code (one  of three that controls a kind of doomsday machine similar to that in Dr. Strangelove, but this time without a shred of irony). This allows Asher to be the true hero when he says, “Give it to them. They’ll never get mine!” In other words, there’s no sense in subjecting yourself to torture that will ultimately result in retrieval of the code because I can withstand anything they throw at me.

The whole film is permeated with a lot of flag waving jingoism so shamelessly intended to evoke 9/11 emotions, especially with an image of a crumbling Washington Monument that surely intentionally resembles the World Trade towers. In that sense, Olympus Has Fallen sort of sits comfortably alongside hollow patriotic war films, many of which starred John Wayne. But Wayne has no equal in modern cinema, especially not in the non-American Butler, however heroic he may be as the lone protector of the President and America.


  1. As bad as the CGI is in some parts, the movie does deliver in action, and that’s all I wanted to see and enjoy. Good review Jason.

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