I’ve always enjoyed a good bad-guys-try-n-smite-America kind of movie, and recently I threw a little Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler (the latter two actors I’m not entirely fond of) into the mix, and watched Olympus Has Fallen (2013, R).
Butler stars as Mike Banning, an ex-Special Ops agent and former member of the president’s bodyguard who is removed from active duty (but given a desk job in the White House) after a tragic accident causing the death of the First Lady, Margaret (Ashley Judd). Not long afterward, a group of Korean terrorists takes control of the White House and holds the president hostage while the entire nation watches in fear… and while Banning, trapped in the White House as it is taken under siege, is left to fight the unwelcome invaders. Most definitely an action flick.
What I Liked
Olympus Has Fallen is most definitely a tale of heroism on many counts. Banning, for one, refuses to throw in the towel before he carries out almost singlehandedly the (albeit bloody) defeat of Kang, the leader of the Korean terrorist group, and in the meantime rescuing President Asher’s young son, Conner. Equally courageous is many of the President’s staff, taken hostage with him in his command bunker. The Koreans only ask three things of their prisoners: (1) That America call back her troops from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (2) That they pull the 7th Fleet from Korean waters immediately. (3) That the President’s staff give the Korean computer hacker the codes for the Cerberus program, essentially the nuclear self-destruct button for America. Both the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense vow to take the codes with them to their death, and despite brutal intimidation, hold true to that promise, until the President commands them to give it up in order to spare their lives.
Asher and Conner, are heartbroken by the death of Margaret, and understandably so. But there is a quieter version of heroism here, as Asher does his best to put his fatherly duties before his presidential ones. Banning is depressed, stuck in a tedious desk job, looking for a chance to redeem himself. Yes, he did the right thing on the bridge that night Margaret died by taking care of the President first and foremost, but he is still under the scrutiny of almost all his former coworkers. He fights with ferocious resolve, however, for Conner and Asher, with whom he is still close friends and shares a special bond, and ends up saving them both.
What I Didn't Like So Much
There were lots and lots of guns, and quite a lot of blood, as can be expected in a rated R film. From the moment the assault on the White House (code named Olympus) begins, this movie is full of gun fights, hand to hand combat, grenades, RPGs, and the like. Planes crash, tourists are killed by debris, and Kang kills a handful of innocent people on live television wired to the Situation Room, where a few White House survivors aid Banning and try to stay survivors. Throats are slit, necks are broken, Banning kills two people in cold blood after interrogation, and often times there is gore to compliment the deaths - it got to be a little much. And, of course, we all get what we were expecting - the death of sarcastic, brutal, and overconfident Kang. There were just as many curses as could be expected in such a “war” film, and the language was somewhat understandable, but still unenjoyable on my part.
One upside was that this movie was joyfully without inappropriate sexual scenes or innuendos. No alcohol. Probably because all the focus went into making it as gory as possible, but still, its rare that a Hollywood film these days can make it through without sexuality and it is commendable when they do.
Poor North Korea… Now I’m not saying there’s no threat there, and I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, because I hate politics. As in, loathe entirely. But doesn’t it seem as if modern filmmakers like to make them the bad guys? Red Dawn, Die Hard (and the rest of them), Argo, Die Another Day, anyone? They have replaced the Muslim extremists of the 80's and 90's as the new stock ethnic villains.
Honestly, beside the very generic good vs. evil message, I had little love for Olympus Has Fallen, and would not recommend it, even to the most “mature of audiences.” Heroism and courageousness does not need to be taught in such an over-the-top violent manner, when it is clearly being included just for shock value. I don’t mind death or blood in movies but there comes a time when too much of that mixed with an imitative plot do not a good film make.
It was also strikingly unoriginal in its plot, highly reminiscent of Air Force One and Die Hard but not as good as either.