Olympus Has Fallen comes from a long line of dumb action flicks that are more concerned about high body counts and how many rounds of ammunition can be pumped into nameless causalities at high speeds than little things like plot, logic, and character. Twenty years ago this kind of film would have starred Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal. Not surprisingly, this dumb-as-dirt action flick comes from a pair of first-time screenwriters (Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt) who pull from numerous similar films about a lone disgraced hero in over his head.
Gerard Butler stars as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, the best of the best and a personal friend to the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) and his son (Finley Jacobsen). In the film’s opening sequence an unfortunate turn of events forces Banning to sacrifice the First Lady (Ashley Judd) in order to save the President’s life. Although Banning’s service is exemplary, and he performed his duty perfectly, he finds himself sitting at a desk at the U.S. Treasury for 18 months (which is when the story picks back up).
Despite the fact that Banning is ill-suited for a desk job, especially while there are several other protection details he could work across the globe protecting past presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates, visiting heads of state, or working for a number of foreign embassies across the globe (something not even considered by the screenwriters, even though the later would make far more sense as a way to insert Banning into the action given the the attack on the White House is started during a visit by foreign dignitaries) that’s where the script requires our hero to be when Washington D.C. goes to hell.
What follows is a ridiculously complex plan of a North Korean radical and his near endless supply of troops and weapons that relies on the most heavily armed jumbo Air Force cargo plane of all time making it within spitting distance of the White House, several garbage trucks turned into tanks driving up to the White House front lawn unmolested, and the President and his security team ignoring strict protocol and procedures by taking the entire South Korean delegation into the bunker under the White House (an illogical choice on which every single facet of the terrorists’ plan completely relies).
From his corner office Banning hears the plane hit D.C. air space and races several blocks to the White House, in the most contrived way to shoehorn our main character into the action as possible, as it begins opening fire on bystanders on the nearby streets. By the time he arrives (uninjured) to the party most of the Secret Service team have already been killed off as they continually abandon the safety and protection of the White House (disregarding their first responsibility to keep the President safe) and throw themselves unprotected in front of the multiple M-60 cannons, rocket launchers, and grenades which tear through dozens and dozens of them the space of less than ten minutes.
Butler is well-suited to the role and makes for a believable action star (even if the situation he finds himself is far less so). Maybe all those crappy romantic comedies he’s done have paid off as he’s able to emote and give Banning far more layers that someone like Chris Pine or Sam Worthington would provide in the same role. The rest of the cast isn’t really notable except for Eckhart, who isn’t given much to do, and Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House who becomes acting President when the President and Vice President (Phil Austin) are both taken hostage inside the White House.
The film’s action sequences, as ridiculous as many of them are, are the film’s biggest strength. This movie has an amazing body count that puts even most 80’s action flicks to shame. It also has more headshots than any Hollywood action movie I could remember along with multiple times characters are killed by knives plunged straight into their brains. Olympus Has Fallen gives the audience plenty of reason to root against the nondescript Asian bad guys during it’s first act and plenty of revenge for Banning to exact over the course of the rest of the movie.
Although the film is directed by Antoine Fuqua it has all he subtlety of a Michael Bay film complete with multiple loving slow motion shots of the American Flag (I counted at least three) and an intrusive score to punch up everything from big action scenes to sweeping shots of politicians walking down a hallway. Fuqua is definitely slumming here, and although he’s probably the main reason for the level of Butler’s performance and several well-shot action sequences, Olympus Has Fallen is the kind of throwaway action flick you’d expect from a far less talented director.
The film’s villains are forgettable one-note North Korean baddies, led by Rick Yune, who Banning dispatches one by one after sneaking back into the White House. There are also unnecessary subplots involving Dylan McDermott as another former member of the President’s detail, Radha Mitchellas Banning’s worried wife, and the War Room bickering between Freeman and his various advisers. And, in typical action flick form, Banning is the sole intelligent soldier on the ground as the Speaker’s military advisor (Robert Forster) makes every wrong move possible, ignoring Banning’s intel, and unintentionally playing into the terrorists’ plans and getting dozens more American soldiers killed.
Bulter and Fuqua do what they can, but Olympus Has Fallen is exactly what you’d suspect and nothing more. Fans of these types of movies may have an okay time. Despite several issues I had with the plot, I certainly didn’t hate it. The movie is well-cast and well-paced, although the longer the story runs away from logic the harder you may find to take it seriously. Not only do we get the White House mostly destroyed and the President and his inner circle all captured with the relative ease of ordering a pizza, but the plot involves an odd twist involving the true purpose of the terrorists actions and a secret American weapon system (which I won’t spoil here) that will later be used not in how it might very well damage America but an inexplicable contradictory way to what the system actually does that makes no sense whatsoever simply to create yet another near-impossible obstacle for our hero to overcome before the credits roll.