Should I Watch..? 'Olympus Has Fallen'
What's the big deal?
Olympus Has Fallen is an action thriller film released in 2013 and was written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film depicts a terrorist attack on the White House and the efforts of a Secret Service agent leading the fightback. The film stars Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Rick Yune, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Ashley Judd and Melissa Leo. The film was the first of two films released that year to deal with a terrorist attack on the White House—it would be followed that summer by White House Down. Despite a mixed reaction from critics, the film would go on to earn $170 million worldwide and would be followed by two sequels to date—London Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen in 2016 and 2019, respectively—as part of the Fallen series. At the time of writing, plans exist for another trilogy of films to follow in future.
What's it about?
Former soldier Mike Banning has transitioned to leading the US President's personal security as part of the Secret Service. Developing a close relationship with President Benjamin Asher and his son Conner in particular, Banning is powerless when the Presidential entourage spins off the road during a snowstorm - a tragedy which claims the life of First Lady Margaret Asher. Eighteen months later, Banning finds himself removed from the President's protection team and effectively exiled working at the US Treasury. President Asher, meanwhile, is preparing to welcome a delegation from South Korea including Prime Minister Lee Tao-Woo.
However, a North Korean terrorist organisation led by Kang Yeonsak lead a massive assault on the White House shortly after the South Koreans arrive. As air and ground forces attack the building, the US President is evacuated to a command bunker but finds himself compromised by Kang disguised as a member of the South Korean delegation. With the President now held hostage and the White House practically in ruins, Banning joins the surviving security forces and begins to coordinate his efforts via satellite phone with Speaker Of The House (and now Acting President) Allan Trumbull, director of the Secret Service Lynne Jacobs and US Army General Edward Clegg.
Speaker Of The House Allan Trumbull
President Benjamin Asher
Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs
Army Chief Of Staff Edward Clegg
First Lady Margaret Asher
Secretary Of Defense Ruth McMillan
Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt
Release Date (UK)
17th April, 2013
What's to like?
As I always try to do, let's look for the positives in this flaming trainwreck of a picture. There are many things you could accuse the film of being but one of them is not boring - after an initial scene setting, the film maintains a blistering pace throughout thanks to Fuqua's direction. Action scenes are crisp and bloody, performances are tense and not as over-the-top as you might expect and the film cements Butler's reputation as an action lead. Not since 300 has he looked so in-command and dangerous as he does here, disguising his Scottish accent with an Everywhere, USA one. The role might be a little thin on originality but Butler makes it a captivating one nonetheless. The same can be said of Freeman as Trumbull, a career politician suddenly finding himself in the top job and dealing with an unprecedented crisis.
Action film fans who have somehow missed the likes of Die Hard will be willing to forgive the goofy premise about a lone-wolf good guy surrounded by baddies in a single location. The film certainly includes plenty of references and nods to the increasingly revered action classic including the use of foreign bad guys, telecommunication between Banning and Kang and even a bad guy pretending to befriend the hero. You could argue that this is lazy screenwriting but you could also argue that the film is a tribute to iconic action films, a modern reworking of the more simplistic and old-school action films of the Eighties and Nineties. It certainly feels old-school, just with bigger explosions and more ridiculous action sequences.
- The film ran afoul of the FCC in 2014 after one of its trailers used special Emergency Alert Tones, normally reserved for genuine emergencies. As using these tones beyond their intended capacity is illegal, several US broadcasters were fined almost $2 million.
- This is not the first time Yune has played a North Korean terrorist - he also appeared in 2002's Die Another Day as the arms-dealing terrorist Zao. Although he is of Korean descent, Yune was actually born in Washington, DC where this film is mostly set.
- Interestingly, the President of the United States is actually unable to be held hostage. The minute they are overpowered and unable to function freely, they are stripped of the title and are no longer President.
- The film was actually shot in Louisiana, forcing the extensive use of CG and green-screen visual effects. The weather was so hot during shooting that representatives of the Humane Society insisted that the dogs being used on set as K-9 watchdogs stay in air-conditioned vans between scenes.
What's not to like?
Quite simply, this is the most overblown and jingoistic action film I have seen since the equally stupid Air Force One which at least had the audacity to have President Harrison Ford gun down the baddies. Olympus Has Fallen is a laughably bad action film featuring terrorists with Bond-style vehicles and seemingly limitless resources but sadly, dialogue recycled from countless other action films of this type. The story is a thinly-disguised rip-off of the Die Hard formula, relocating from Nakatomi Plaza to the White House, and it doesn't have the decency to try anything new. Worse still, it squanders what is actually a pretty decent cast with under-written characters and cliches - take Eckhart's President Asher as an example, a man so grimly determined to defeat the terrorists that you could almost imagine him fighting off the bad guys himself if he were given half a chance. The cast member I felt most sorry for was Leo who spends most of her time getting beaten up and tortured in a role that we just don't empathise with. The only politicians you end up rooting for are Eckhart and Freeman, the latter of whom spends the movie arguing with military bigwigs around the classic 'crisis room table' seen in guff like Under Siege.
One point of contention I have with this film is the almost gleeful use of violence and not just against the bad guys. The opening assault on the White House, courtesy of an extremely modified Hercules transport plane armed with miniguns, inexplicably opens fire on civilians several streets away and we see these people gunned down in gruesome detail. Why? What purpose does this serve other than illustrate just how mean the Koreans are, as if kidnapping the President wasn't enough somehow? I can't say that I enjoyed the experience besides laughing at the sheer implausibility of it all but it did strike me as filler, designed to pad out the running time. The same can also be said of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it treatment of Banning's relationship with overworked nurse Leah, who now finds her emergency room filling up with the dead and dying but still finds time to take a quiet phone-call from Banning. If you like your action films big and dumb then this might float your boat but personally, I found it hilariously out-of-date and about as cutting-edge as a flint arrowhead.
Should I watch it?
Olympus Has Fallen just narrowly escapes being damned to my Hall Of Shame purely via Fuqua's directing and Butler's performance as Hollywood's latest action hero. The film is a tired and formulaic retread of Die Hard with little genuine inspiration or imagination behind it. With a bit of script tweaking, this could have been a parody but instead, it's a joyless journey through repetitive action scenes and explosions which genre fans will have seen countless times before. I wasn't impressed and that's putting it mildly.
Great For: action fans born after the Millennium, Donald Trump, Second Amendment-supporting US militias
Not So Great For: veteran action fans, Korean audiences, witnesses to mass shootings, White House Down
What else should I watch?
Ever since it was first released back in 1988, Die Hard established a familiar formula for many action films - have a lone hero (possibly with a sidekick) trapped in a single location, outmanned and outgunned by a villain and his minions intent on threatening the world with a megalomaniac plot. The phrase 'Die Hard on/in a...' became a staple of action film plugging after films like Under Siege, Executive Decision, Cliffhanger and Sudden Death. While many of these movies felt derivative, the best of the bunch by far was Speed which saw Keanu Reeves' LAPD officer stuck on a speeding bus with a bomb attached. While just as ridiculous as Olympus Has Fallen, the film combined exhilarating action with plenty of comedic moments and a romantic subplot involving Sandra Bullock in her breakout performance as Annie plus Dennis Hopper chomping his way through the scenery as the psychotic bomber.
While White House Down also failed to find much support from critics, it was this film that was able to generate enough interest for a sequel. London Has Fallen saw the characters cross the Atlantic for the British Prime Minister's funeral and find themselves once again caught up in a violent terrorist attack on the leaders of the Free World. Widely criticised for being xenophobic and inciting fear, the film suffered a backlash from critics with many calling it the worst film of 2016. Perhaps as a result, 2019's Angel Has Fallen returned to America for a third outing for Butler as Banning - this time, fighting to clear his name after an attack on the President. Few critics thought that it was much of an improvement on the previous movies but many noted that Nick Nolte's appearance as Banning's eccentric and off-the-grid father was an amusing diversion in an otherwise mediocre effort.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox