‘Olympus Has Fallen’: A Flickcharter’s Review
Olympus Has Fallen, director Antoine Fuqua‘s violent depiction of a direct terrorist attack on the White House, delivered exactly what I expected from it; nothing more, nothing less. (For the record, you can read what I had to say before seeing it in our Flickchart Preview.) It is Die Hard in the White House – so much so that it barely deviates from formula in even the slightest way. It’s a paint-by-numbers affair, but the painting is done professionally, so Olympus gets by with slightly more than a passing grade.
So inescapable is the Die Hard comparison that I even have a hard time mentally comparing Olympus to anything else. (Well, I suppose there’s always Air Force One.) Our John McClane figure is Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a Secret Service agent on Presidential Protection detail who has a very special relationship with the First Family, particularly the young son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen). (In fact, so special is Banning’s relationship with Connor that the boy’s Secret Service-like knowledge of the layout of the White House itself will come in very handy later.)
As revealed in the trailers for Olympus Has Fallen, a freak accident on wintry roads forces Banning to make an impossible choice, but he makes the right call and saves the life of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). What is not saved will lead to Banning’s removal from Presidential detail.
Fast forward a year and a half, and Banning is riding a desk, and miserable about it, which is putting his marriage to his wife, Leah (Radha Mitchell), in a rocky place. Secret Service Director Jacobs (Angela Bassett) assures Banning that even the President himself knows Banning made the right decision 18 months ago, and given time, old wounds can heal. For now, Banning’s mere presence is just a painful reminder to Asher.
Cue an assault from North Korean terrorists that turns Washington, D.C. into a war zone. Of course, a visiting South Korean delegation actually secretly composed of terrorists has been secreted away in the bunker below the White House along with the President, at Asher’s foolhardy insistence. Fortunately, Banning’s office has a great view of the White House itself, thus allowing our hero to take a quick jog through a hail of bullets and car bombs and get inside. Thank goodness; nobody else could possibly have saved the day.
Cue Banning heroically taking out terrorists one by one. Cue his witty repartee and snappy comebacks at the villain, Kang (Rick Yune). Cue the fact that Banning becomes the only true weapon against evil, with horribly inept “assistance” from the outside world (i.e., Homeland Security).
This is far from the first movie to have done it, but it is indeed as though first-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt have just taken the Die Hard script and relocated it. Expect to see scenes that include: the hero brazenly taunting the villain at every possible opportunity; the hero advising forces on the outside against a foolhardy offense action, which they will ignore and get people killed anyway; the hero briefly partnering up with a character merely pretending to be one of the nice guys; at least one character crawling through a ventilation shaft… The list goes on.
Credit must be given to Fuqua’s direction; he does not flinch from the violence, and the opening salvos of the terrorist attack truly wreak a bloody war in the streets of D.C. The villains are painted in the blackest black; they indiscriminately bombard innocent villains from a circling plane, obliterate the Washington Monument, blow holes in Old Glory, shoot a dog and viciously beat a woman. It’s manipulative, but professionally manipulative.
If you’re going to do it by rote, it helps to have a talented cast to propel your movie along. Butler is no Bruce Willis, but he is really pretty good at this stuff. Yune is a perfectly chilly and despicable villain. Eckhart makes us continue to believe in Harvey Dent. Nobody messes with Morgan Freeman, who, as Speaker of the House, must take charge as acting President when the country’s leaders are incapacitated.
One of the biggest questions about Olympus Has Fallen becomes either one of its greatest strengths…or its biggest weakness. Is it too soon? Is 12 years far enough removed from 9/11 to have a film like this present such a terrorist assault on home soil in what is meant to be a purely entertaining fashion?
Perhaps the box office will tell.
Olympus Has Fallen is currently ranked #506/1442 (65%) on my Flickchart.