Olympus has fallen, and so have my expectations when it comes to Hollywood making a descent action film. With all the talent involved, Olympus Has Fallen sounds like the next front-runner come Oscar season: there are two Academy Award winning actors and two actors who have been nominated for an Academy Award, an Academy Award winning cinematography, a director who has directed an Oscar winning film, and an Academy Award nominated editor. And yet all this talent feels wasted. That’s not to say that Olympus Has Fallen is a terrible film, rather it’s just another attempt of Hollywood re-packaging an idea and convincing you it’s something you haven’t seen yet. Interestingly, Hollywood is hoping to pull the wool over your eyes not once, but twice, by releasing the exact same film months after Olympus Has Fallen as White House Down (which is out now) in the age-old copy-cat game the studios have played so many times before.
The film begins at Camp David (one of the President’s vacation retreats) during Christmas. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is about to attend a fundraiser with his wife (Ashley Judd) and son Connor, but before he does we get a couple scenes setting up the close relationship between POTUS and his Secret Service agent, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Banning also seems to have a close relationship with the president’s son. Unfortunately, on the way to the fundraiser, a branch randomly falls on one of the vehicles, setting off a chain reaction that lead’s to the President’s vehicle teetering on the edge of a bridge. Unfortunately the President’s wife is stuck in the car, apparently because seat belts lock up after minor accidents, causing Banning to make the painful decision to save the President right as the vehicle gives way and falls off the bridge, with the First Lady still inside. Flash forward 18 months later, with Banning relocated to security for the Treasury department and the President moving on with only his son to look after. The South Korean Prime Minister is in the US to visit the President, with the shadiest looking person South Korea could find as head of security. Things aren’t as they seem, however, as terrorist, lead by ‘Mr. Kang’, take over the White House in the slowest 13 minutes ever, making the feat look insultingly simple. Luckily, Banning still pines for the President and his son, setting off to single-handedly take out the terrorists before they can use a nuclear missile fail-safe system that will blow up every warhead in the US.
If you haven’t realized yet, the whole plot is essentially Die Hard in the White House. This could be forgiven if the writers at least tried to do something different and creative. In the beginning of the film, Banning shares a scene with Connor where he is quizzed on his knowledge of the inner workings of the White House, setting up would could have been an interesting scenario: having Connor use this knowledge to help Banning thwart the terrorists. Instead Banning scoops up Connor and, minutes later, sends him through a ventilation shaft, never to be seen or heard from again. It’s missed opportunities like this that could have made Olympus more interesting. Instead all these opportunities are replaced with every action trope the genre has to offer. Banning is able to accurately take down every adversary, rarely missing a shot, while the terrorist hit everything but their target. The ability of terrorist with intricate knowledge of the inner workings of the White House safety procedures, understanding of the computer and security networks, along with the knowledge of the existence of Cerebus (the nuclear warhead fail-safe system)and how to access it are supposed to be believable? Is Hollywood even trying anymore? This film treats the audience as if we’re idiots (maybe some are)- soon after Connor is introduced, Banning asks how he is doing, leading Angela Bassett’s character to respond, “The President’s son?”, as if we have to be reminded who he is. For once, it would be refreshing if a film was made that didn’t cater to the lowest common denominator. Nor have patriotism shoved down our throats as if we weren’t already aware how great this country is. I know Americans are a proud bunch, but do we have to be constantly reminded so? Much like Aaron Eckhart’s Battle: Los Angeles, Olympus Has Fallen often feels like recruiting propaganda for the US Army.
One of the brighter spots in the film is the acting. Those involved aren’t given much to work with, but they do their best with the material given. Aaron Eckhart and Melisso Leo give it their best, as if they haven’t been told how bad this movie is. And while Gerard Butler may not be the most gifted actor, he is convincing as an ex-Army Ranger one-man killing machine. Director Antoine Fuqua also does a serviceable job, keeping the pace of the film brisk up until the very end. With much of the filming taking place in Louisiana, CGI was heavily used to create the beginning scene during Winter, as well as the surrounding location of DC. Unfortunately the CG effects are more miss than hit, and therefore very distracting. Perhaps more of the budget went to obtaining all the high-profile stars involved, leaving little left for special effects.
If you’re looking for a by-the-numbers action film where you can turn you’re brain off and enjoy, then Olympus Has Fallen may be just for you. If you’d rather see this kind of film done properly, then just watch Die Hard- it’s apparently what the makers of this film were going for.