Olympus Has Fallen (2013) – Antoine Fuqua

It would be nice if the rate of intelligent and interesting scripts being developed in Hollywood were consistent with the improvements in the ability to make the destruction of the White House and other monuments seem realistic. I’m afraid it’s not. Perhaps now, with Olympus Has Fallen (2013) having achieved perfection in the realistic rendering of the seat of government being blown to bits, the industry will move on and get to developing those intelligent and interesting scripts. I’m not holding my breath but here’s hoping.

There was a building I worked at in Los Angeles that could be clearly seen under siege in a movie. I remember feeling a sudden thrill of recognition. “Look, there’s my building!” I’m sure that sensation has gotten old hat, or even disquieting, for federal employees. It may be some comfort that Olympus Has Fallen, which brings about the loud and inelegant destruction of much of downtown Washington by terrorists, is so ludicrous and unbelievable that it might as well be aliens attacking the government for all the plausibility it supplies.

The story follows agent Mike Browning (Gerard Butler), the top man on President Benjamin Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) detail. A tragic accident relegates Browning to a toothless position at the Department of the Treasury. Because he’s out of the important circle, when the terrorists attack, he is the proverbial one man they forgot about and is able to undermine their operation one baddie at a time. North Korean terrorists infiltrate the White House, have dozens of sleeper turncoats in their ranks and are able to apprehend the building, destroy much of the National Mall including the Washington Monument and take thepresident hostage in his own secure bunker.

The details of this takeover are pretty murky and required many chancy assumptions by the terrorists. The mastermind behind it all is Kang (Rick Yune), who was pretending to be the bodyguard for an ambassador visiting the White House. When other phases of his plan become implemented and the Secret Service crash the building and sweep the president to his bunker, it’s announced that “It’s against protocol, but we’ll take the ambassador with us,” because when the country is under attack, you want to make sure that protocol is the first thing out the window. This directive is given by Forbes (Dylan McDermott), head of security, who we find out is a double-agent working for Kang, but I find it hard to believe that nobody else raised a red flag when it was suggested a member of a foreign country’s government and his security team who the president has known for five minutes were going to be brought to the most important secure room in the nation.

Further, Forbes, who is the lynchpin in the entire takeover plot, doesn’t have a satisfying reason for jeopardizing the country he was born in. During the “How could you?” moment between him and the president, the best we are given is, “Globalization and fucking Wall Street.” Oh, OK. Good points. Despite the movie’s deadly serious tone, I found quite a bit of humor in all of the proceedings, something I wish the actors would have done as well, but most fluctuate between boredom and a gritty determination belonging in a better movie. Something gives me the feeling that the script was written as if by a petulant high school senior, amusing himself while phoning in D material. Had the filmmakers treated the movie the same way we could be on our way to a campy masterpiece and not a forgettable time-waster. There seemed to be an ongoing joke about the bunker involving how seemingly every relevant person, code or piece of equipment needed to resolve the crisis is revealed to be in there. It became the “Third Base” of the Who’s On First? routine the movie constructed. “The codes can only be implemented in one location.” “Where?” “It’s in the bunker.” “Only three people in the world know those codes.” “Where are they?” “They’re in the bunker.” “We must change the codes!” “They can only be changed from one location—in the bunker.” Yeah, you definitely want to be bringing strangers around there. Even some of the names of the characters seem like a sly aside. When it’s announced that Kang has taken over the government, all I could think of was, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.”

So on that level, I enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen, which is so unabashed in its pride in being an easy money-grab rehashed from a million threadbare clichéd plots from better movies that it could only be released in March when the studios try to hide their more embarrassing projects. It’s quite well-made, looks spectacular and has a number of set-pieces that are exciting, even if they don’t break new ground or rise above anything beyond natural human suspense. For example, yes, we’ve all seen the red LED bomb countdown, but there’s something about it that is just elementally climactic. However, I don’t care what month it is; an audience deserves more than easy, thoughtless elemental suspense. I also resented the base exploitation of a 9/11-type attack for the movie’s meager goals. I’d be more offended but the movie is too shallow to get at anything I hold all that dear. My faculties are much more secure than the presidential bunker, it seems.

 

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