Mark Reviews Movies

Olympus Has Fallen


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Finley Jacobsen, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Ashley Judd

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 3/22/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 21, 2013

There is nothing special or unique about Olympus Has Fallen, another entry in the "one-man army against an actual army in a limited environment" genre (and one that quite liberally steals from/pays homage to Die Hard, the principal forebear of this type of movie), aside from the location, but that word isn't repeated three times in the first rule of real estate for nothing. Here, the location is the White House, a sprawling mansion filled with secret corridors, an underground bunker, and an arsenal of weapons that include missiles and an automated cannon that makes any approach by aircraft impossible. It's also the home and office of the most powerful man in the world—one who, in times of crisis, could hold the fate of the country—nay, the world—in his hands, in case one has forgotten.

The part of the plot that arises from that fact is politically questionable, logistically absurd, and overly sensational, but then again, if we can get past the ridiculous notion that a relatively small band of terrorists could take over the White House (It's slightly more plausible than a foreign army completely taking over the entire country, though), we can certainly at least overlook the incredible nature of the stakes that the film presents. Olympus Has Fallen is unapologetically ludicrous, and that's part and parcel of its appeal.

Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt's screenplay plays like a checklist of clichés. There's the tough-as-nails hero with a haunted past. There's a villain with a shadowy agenda that only comes to light in the last act. There's a precocious kid that can outsmart trained killers. There's a worried wife, waiting for any word of her hero husband's fate. There are shootouts and stealthy movements through the environment in order to get the upper hand on the bad guys. There's a room full of bureaucrats who think they know the best course of action, even when it goes against the advice of our infallible protagonist (They do listen to him at first, which is refreshing while it lasts).

Again, if we can accept all of these factors and the premise at face value, the question is not the reality of their existence within the story but how the film actually handles them. In this regard, director Antoine Fuqua has achieved a very, very small miracle of form over material (It's miniscule, really, in case that point isn't crystal clear). The film moves at a clip—no sooner do we recognize some shoddy cliché or some plot hole than Fuqua rips our attention from the objection—and rarely misses an opportunity for creating tension or generating cheap thrills from its mixture of a high-stakes political standoff and a relentlessly violent battle through a restricted space.

Our hero is Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a Secret Service agent who used to be part of the President's detail. The prologue, a tense sequence sees President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his wife (Ashley Judd) trapped in car dangling over a bridge, explains why. Eighteen months later, Banning is stuck at a desk job at the Treasury Building. He wants to be back in service next door at the White House, but Asher does not want the daily reminder of the tragedy a year and a half ago.

Across the globe, North Korea is making movements toward the demilitarized zone, prompting Asher to meet with government officials from South Korea. A single plane approaches Washington, D.C., and, in a harrowing sequence, begins randomly shooting at the National Mall (There are so many shots of the plane passing the Washington Monument that we know it's only a matter of time before some destruction befalls it). After one of the few short respites before all hell breaks loose, a team of paramilitary forces storms the gates of the White House. Quickly, the terrorists turn it into an impenetrable fortress (except, of course, when soldiers need to gain access to it to further the plot).

Banning, who has shot his way to the mansion, ends up being the last Secret Service agent in the White House, and Asher and members of his staff are hostages of terrorist named Kang (Rick Yune) who wants the United States military to abandon the Korean DMZ—not to mention trying to coerce a trio of passwords from various hostages for a top-secret fail-safe device that would destroy the United States' nuclear arsenal (That it would also leave the majority of the country a nuclear wasteland would also, in turn, make it a terrible fail-safe measure for at least two reasons) and leave the country susceptible to a nuclear attack (which, if one thinks about it for more than a few seconds, isn't entirely accurate). Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), General Clegg (Robert Forster), and Secret Service Director Jacobs (Angela Bassett) try to coordinate a solution from the Pentagon.

The film takes all of this with dread-soaked sincerity, and even Banning's sense of humor is of the morbid variety (When he makes a promise, he keeps it—even if it involves a knife to the skull). It's the right choice under these circumstances; when one takes into account the various absurdities of the script, any sort of joviality or knowing wink could send the whole thing plummeting into the realm of self-parody. A lot of it—especially during the climax, complete with a digital countdown (that, in a tremendous case of wishful thinking, only allows the villains a few minutes to escape a nuclear holocaust)—comes close enough as it is.

Yes, Olympus Has Fallen is undeniably silly, but it's also an efficient, briskly paced thriller with a strong sense of momentum. Sometimes "good enough" is just that.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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