Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Written by: Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt.
Starring: Gerard Butler (Mike Banning), Aaron Eckhart (President Benjamin Asher), Morgan Freeman (Speaker Trumbull), Rick Yune (Kang), Angela Bassett (Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs), Melissa Leo (Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan), Finley Jacobsen (Connor), Dylan McDermott (Forbes), Radha Mitchell (Leah), Cole Hauser (Roma), Robert Forster (General Edward Clegg), Ashley Judd (Margaret Asher).
Olympus Has Fallen is a ridiculous action movie – of that, there can be little debate. In order to believe pretty much a second of the film, you have to suspend disbelief for two hours, and just sit back and enjoy the ride. If you are able to stop thinking, than you may well enjoy Olympus Has Fallen. It is well directed by Antoine Fuqua, who once again proves he is more than able to direct a good action movie. And it is well acted by the entire cast – even Gerard Butler, who typically I don’t like very much. I cannot really claim that Olympus Has Fallen is a good movie – it isn’t – but it’s not horrible either. If you want something completely undemanding, where you simply watch the bodies pile up, then you might enjoy Olympus Has Fallen – at least while you’re watching it. By the time you hit the parking lot, you’ll have either forgotten about the movie completely, or have too many questions about the logic of the movie to comprehend.
Mike Banning (Butler) is a Secret Service agent relegated to working at the Treasury after a car accident where he chooses to save President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) instead of the First Lady. He is the best the Secret Service has, and has a personal bond with the First family, but Asher doesn’t want to have to look at the man who let his wife die every day. Then, one day all hell breaks loose. Asher is supposed to meet with the South Korean Prime Minister at the White House. There is an “incursion” – meaning a plane in the no fly zone – and this one is spraying Washington with bullets. The security team takes the President, his staff and the South Korean Prime Minster and his staff to the “bunker”. But wouldn’t you know it, the Prime Minister’s staff is not who they say they are. They are terrorists, with murky motivations about allowing “Korea to settle the Civil War your country interfered with”. The terrorists now have control of the President, all his top aides, and the War Room. Oh, and in a brutally violent and bloody gun battle that takes up a good 15 minutes of screen time, they also have complete control of the White House above ground as well. Banning fights his way into the White House, and is the only one on the inside. He is in communication with another War Room, trying to find a way to take back the White House and the President. The Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is in charge, because both the President and the Vice President are being held hostage in that bunker (you would think since they cannot fly on the same plane together, they would have separate places to go in such a case, but that’s the least of the film’s logic loopholes). And Banning is also taking down the terrorists – one at a time. If you think this sounds an awful lot like Die Hard in the White House – well, you’re right.
You could drive a fleet of Mack trucks through all the plot holes in the movie, which simply adds more and more issues of credibility as it goes along – especially when it starts involving something called the “Cerberus” codes, which have to be fictional, because if they’re not, than it’s the stupidest idea involving nuclear weapons since the Soviet’s secret doomsday device in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – that movie at least acknowledged the idea was stupid. Besides, the Codes are just an excuse to have another of those giant countdown clocks action movies love so much that shows in glowing red numbers just how much time before nuclear annihilation we all have, so the hero can stop it just before time runs out and a room full of people can cheer and high five each other, while Morgan Freeman breathes a huge sigh of relief.
Looking back at what I’ve written so far, I realize it sounds like I hated Olympus Has Fallen. I didn’t. I didn’t really like the movie either – it’s too preposterous for that, and had me rolling my eyes at each new plot twist and at the “America, Fuck Yeah!” attitude of action movies so brilliantly satirized by Team America: World Police. And for those who thought that Zero Dark Thirty endorsed torture (you’re still wrong on that one, by the way), wait until you see a scene when Butler has two terrorists tied up and needs information from them. I would expect a lot of op-eds comparing Antoine Fuqua to Leni Riefenstahl and a Senate Investigation like that movie received, except that the movie will be seen as too goofy for that. You do not make headlines and get the media attention you they crave so much by picking on a movie like Olympus Has Fallen.
What I will say about the film is that it is very well made by Fuqua. He may not be John Woo in terms of staging gun battles, but the siege on the White House is one of the best scenes of its kind in recent memory. And it’s bloody as hell as well – which you can either say is a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it - typically, I like when action movies of this sort show the blood – it’s not quite as easy to see this thing as purely escapist fun when you see all the blood, and realize that when these people die, they die hard, instead of just a bloodless pirouette and then falling to the floor. Fuqua knows how to direct action – and he does so well here. The cast is mostly very good as well. Yes, Morgan Freeman can sleepwalk through this kind of role by this point, but he does what is required of him. The same can be said of Aaron Eckhart, who makes a convincing President – even if you have no idea what his actual politics are – or even if he’s a Democrat or a Republican (there are some talk about billionaire donors, but that could be either party). Butler is more convincing as an action hero than a romantic comedy leading man, and plays Banning – the superhero – as well as it can be played. The weak link is probably Oscar winner Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense, but given the absolutely ludicrous dialogue she has to work with (much more so than anyone else), I’ll give her a pass on this one.
Olympus Has Fallen is in no way a good movie. It is mindless, violent entertainment for action movie aficionados only. You know the type – they just want to see things blow up real good and lots of gun battles and hand to hand combat. If you don’t expect much from Olympus Has Fallen, you may have a good time with it. In just a few months, we’ll get see Roland Emmerich’s take on pretty much this exact same plot – with Channing Tatum springing into action to save President Jamie Foxx from a heavily armed paramilitary group in White House Down. Given Emmerich’s track record (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Anonymous) I have a feeling it will be just as preposterous as this film.