On the one hand, Olympus Has Fallen is total crap. It’s filled to the brim with the sort of tired, uncreative clichés that no action fan wants to see for the eleven-millionth time unless it’s done in a really new, really interesting way -- which is definitely not the case here. But on the other hand, Olympus Has Fallen is an action movie with a hard-quipping...read more
On the one hand, Olympus Has Fallen is total crap. It’s filled to the brim with the sort of tired, uncreative clichés that no action fan wants to see for the eleven-millionth time unless it’s done in a really new, really interesting way -- which is definitely not the case here. But on the other hand, Olympus Has Fallen is an action movie with a hard-quipping cowboy-type lead, written according to the Die Hard template (elevator pitch: “It’s Die Hard in the White House!”), and it actually has an R rating. That means satisfyingly gratuitous violence (Gerard Butler stabs a guy in the head!) and a carpet f-bombing in the form of gritty one-liners delivered into a walkie-talkie.
That counts for a lot, especially in an age in which action films with even a smidge of humor -- including one out of the two recent entries in the actual Die Hard franchise -- are so concerned with tween ticket sales that they’re shackled with a PG-13 rating that prevents the hero from properly talking smack or exacting any kind of gratifying revenge on the bad guys. Does all this not-safe-for-basic-cable catharsis make up for Olympus Has Fallen’s overall crappy writing (and Secret Service agents who have apparently never been trained in basic SWAT procedure)? That depends on how desperate you are for grown-up ass kicking in your action fare. But if you’re interested in this movie in the first place, it probably does.
The basic story is that Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) gets transferred to a desk job at the Federal Reserve after he saves U.S. president Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) during a car accident but fails to rescue the First Lady (Ashley Judd). It’s not that Mike can’t be trusted -- he’s a former Delta Force Ranger and he did save the president’s freaking life (which makes it weird that the best thing they can offer him is an office job) -- he just reminds Asher of his dead wife, and it’s too painful to have him around. But about a year later, an impossibly skilled and well-organized paramilitary faction from North Korea (the same North Korea that can’t even get a missile to end up somewhere other than 100 yards out into the Pacific Ocean, but whatever), led by an angular genius named Kang (Rick Yune), stage an attack on Washington, D.C., employing everything from fighter jets to suicide bombers to an armored garbage truck in order to capture President Asher and his cabinet and hold them hostage in the White House’s own protected bunker. Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, the Secret Service director (Angela Bassett) and a three-bird general (Robert Forster!) inform the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) that -- probably due to his wise, genial persona -- he is now the acting president. So they gather around a U-shaped table and watch the action play out on monitors and what not, as every single cop and agent in the entire city is apparently mowed down, leaving no one for the inner sanctum to keep in contact with on the ground…except for one man.
That’s right, Mike gets wind of what’s going down, hauls it to Pennsylvania Avenue, and starts railing on the baddies, soon becoming the only good guy left in the White House. So he finds the president’s secure-channel cell phone (?) in the Oval Office, calls up the War Room, and becomes their only man left behind enemy lines -- though he doesn’t work for them anymore, and don’t take orders from no one, got it?! Mike makes it his mission to first locate Asher’s 12-year-old son, then rescue Asher himself before Kang can extract a secret code from the upper administration that will blow up the world or something.
The problems you’re likely to encounter as a viewer during these first 30 minutes of setup come in the form of suspending disbelief. It’s not that we expect a good shoot-’em-up to make a ton of sense, but if you’ve seen any decent action movies before (a likely case if you’re watching this one, right?), you will no doubt have some trouble accepting the premise that the military mechanisms put in place to protect the White House are designed to take a full 15 minutes to arrive. Or that the best-trained soldiers at the highest levels of defense have no idea how to effectively guard a single location, and instead hemorrhage blindly out into the path of automatic-weapon fire. Or that the government would adopt a nuclear-weapons fail-safe that you could also use to kill everyone in America if you can beat a five-digit code out of three people. Seriously, it’s harder to hack a Gmail account.
However, if you can either ignore the film’s flimsiness or forgive it, you do end up with a pretty fun thrill ride. Olympus Has Fallen won’t be vying for a spot in the Action Hall of Fame, but in the genre’s current lukewarm climate, it’s still a breath of fresh air.
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