The previews looked cool. I mean, it’s an audacious concept to have terrorists storm the White House and take the President of the United States hostage. What could go wrong with a fast-paced action movie that has that as the main plot device?
The answer is everything. In fact, Olympus Has Fallen has no redeeming qualities at all. From acting to dialog, set pieces to special effects, exterior shots to the pace of edits, just about everything the film attempts has been done better in other movies. Worst, disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is laughably indestructable, to the point where I thought perhaps he’d reveal that he was indeed the lost Avenger or an X-Man.
The plot itself is a messy mix of the thoughtful action flick In The Line of Fire, in which Clint Eastwood (a vastly better actor than Butler) plays a disgraced Secret Service agent who has to redeem himself and the cliché-ridden but highly entertaining Die Hard, where smartass über-hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) has to single-handedly thwart the nefarious terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) while demonstrating his tenacity and prediliction for obscenities.
In fact, there’s so much that Olympus Has Fallen steals from Die Hard that it’s more of an homage, a sort of alternative script for the tepid Die Hard 5, than a film of its own. There are even crude, sarcastic comments that Banning makes to evil North Korean terrorist Kang (Rick Yune) — via walkie-talkie! — that sound like they’re lifted directly from the Die Hard script.
The difference is that Die Hard is a great movie. Fun, entertaining, satisfyingly black and white with its morality, and even mostly logical in how events transpire and resolve, while Olympus Has Fallen is just stupid. From the opening scene where Banning is buddies with First Son Conner (Finley Jacobsen) and head of President Asher (Aaron Eckhart)’s security detail, the film gets crushed under the weight of cinematic cliches and its own pretentiousness. When did I know that for sure? After a tragic accident on a bridge kills the First Lady (Ashley Judd, in a “starring” role that evokes Police Squad more than anything else), the President looks up at the sky and screams “NOOOOOOO!!!” which summed up how I was feeling about the movie. Ten minutes in. Yikes.
Then there’s Kang, the evil terrorist who is supposed to be cold, lethal, efficient, but is way too wooden and unscary on screen. With a cinematic history of great villians in action films (just about any bad guy in a James Bond film, for example) the casting of Rick Yune is a complete miss. He’s not scary. He’s not believable as even a minor henchman, let alone the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Heck, even Dr. Evil in Austin Powers is more interesting as a bad guy.
And then there are the never-ending parade of implausibilities, starting with that car crash in the opening scene. The President is being transported from Camp David to a private Christmas party in an official vehicle, and the limo hasn’t been hardened and redesigned to offer far greater structural integrity? The First Lady would certainly have been injured in the accident, but not killed. Why didn’t even one of the secret service agents climb down to check?
Then let’s talk about the dangerous computer software that’s the threatened catastrophy called Cerebus. With a likely inadvertant nod to the terrific film Fail Safe, Cerebus is supposed to let the President force any of our ICBMs to self-destruct in the air, just in case they were launched under false pretenses or the other side cries “Uncle”. Um, what? Wouldn’t that software be more dangerous than hundreds of nuclear warheads in the first place? And a North Korean terrorist who has been in hiding for years not only learns about it but identifies who would have the codes necessary to arm it. And, in perhaps an inadvertantly ironic bit of daftness, Cerebus is a failsafe without its own failsafe. All that’s needed is a single line of code: “If not launched then exit program”.
It’s bad form to write a film review without having anything good to say about the movie, but I’m darned if I can find anything positive to say about Olympus Has Fallen. Worse, as the film proceeded and Banning violently – and needlessly – kills the terrorists, the audience was yelling, hooting and clapping. With a waving American flag in both the opening and closing scenes, the film was crassly manipulative in a way that felt very dated and out of place. The audience reaction was depressing, as the film just got worse and people kept cheering, a “despair about the future of the human race” moment.
If you like action films, heed my advice and save your $10. Just rent Die Hard, pop your own popcorn and thank me as you chuckle at a sarcastic, smart-ass action film done right. And when Olympus Has Fallen drops into the bargain bin at Target, well, maybe it’s worth $1.99 to see yet another abyssmal Gerard Butler movie. But probably not.