Touted upon release as Die Hard in the White House, it would have made more sense to describe Olympus Has Fallen as merely Air Force One on the ground… Despite admittedly sounding a lot less glamorous it’s actually way more accurate as aside from dumping the commander in chief into an incredibly dangerous situation, it’s actually steals numerous plot points from the 1997 Harrison Ford POTUS botherer. However, one thing that film DIDN’T have was Gerard fuckin’ Butler. Bizarrely managing to give the ubiquitous Butler an honest to God action franchise by stretching the “save the President” plot so taunt you could use it as a violently patriotic trampoline, the Fallen Trilogy (along with London and Angel) started here in a film that feels so nineties it even came complete with a competing movie out the same year that had the exact same plot (Roland Emmerich’s White House Down)… Now how indicative of the decade is THAT?
Ex-secret service agent Mike Banning is the typical kind of Gerard Butler leading man in that he is both a highly trained, brutal, killing machine but he’s also highly sensitive enough to be open about his feelings and talk openly with his wife. Of course this also means that he’s taken full responsibility for the purely random death of the President’s wife in a freak accident a few months back even when no one else had blamed him. Despite being treated like a favorite uncle by america’s first family, Mike has been slumming it at a desk pushing pencils and he’s finally admitting it’s killing him, expressing a burning desire to get back into the game. Well, luckily for him (and VERY unluckily for the scores of people left dead and dying by the movie’s end), North Korean terrorists launch a massive and impressively brazen air and ground assault upon the White House, managing to actually breach the iconic building and take President Asher hostage with the plan to use him as leverage to not only move troops out of Korea but to turn the US of A into an irradiated wasteland just for good measure. While all hope seems lost, Banning single handedly represents a slim chance of victory thanks to the fact that while the massive battle was raging on the White House lawn, he left his office, sprinted down the street and gained entrance to the besieged building through the front door while shooting the complete and total shit out of any terrorist who dares stand between him and the saving of his presidential best bud.
Tooling up with weapons and protective gear (I guess bare feet and a white vest would be too on the nose) Banning stalks through the world’s most famous address trying to get to Asher’s hiding son before the terrorists can use the kid as leverage to get those all-important launch codes.
Can Banning save everything in the world from these international wrong ‘uns while looking utterly unruffled as he racks up the kind of body count in a single film it would take a Slasher franchise 10 years to equal?
The main thing that drags Olympus Has Fallen neatly across the finishing line despite it’s deeply derivative plotline and stock characters is, unsurprisingly Gerard Butler, who consistently remains the best and worst thing in virtually ever movie he’s ever been in. Mauling an American accent worse than he does the endless hordes of Korean terrorists, Butler somehow pulls off the impressive feat of helming a massively patriotic action movie despite obviously being painfully scottish. It helps that he is surrounded by an astoundingly impressive cast that includes Aaron Eckhart as a typically noble POTUS (wouldn’t THAT be nice), Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell, Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster and a stunningly brief role for Ashley Judd all play second fiddle to a man most famous for booting a man down a well while dressed as a half-naked Spartan and yet it’s a rare handful of actor who could actually pull shit like this off.
Another thing that helps this exercise in flag waving lunacy is the initial attack that, despite featuring some noticably sub-par CGI, is utterly breathtaking in it’s ferocity and completely hilarious in how much spitefully nasty collateral damage it goes out of it’s way to perpetuate. Suicide bombers, snipers, rocket launchers and a big fucking plane loaded with enough firepower to make the cast of Predator shit their khakis, unleash hell on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, slaughtering agents, police and passers by with merciless aggression as it works overtime to prove the old Hollywood adage that if you want to kill a bad guy in the third act, have him slap a woman in the first. While it literally stoops to that exact level later in the film (a protracted and extending beating of Melissa Leo’s Secretary Of Defence is frankly unnecessary and distasteful), hostages, civilians and even dogs are chewed up by decidedly unfriendly fire as the film frantically over emphasises the “bad” in bad guy. Oh by the way, I’m not actually certain if rocket launchers actually DO pop out of the top of the White House like an awesome 80’s action playset when it’s threatened, but is it bad that I really want it to be true…?
However, when the smoke literally clears and the North Korean attackers throw a tattered stars and stripes off the roof (in mournful slow motion of course), the film struggles to keep up the early momentum but is still smart enough to know when to cut away from a bickering cabinet and focus on it’s sneering star as he makes every villain in three square go the way of the dodo. When he’s not caving in skulls with a brass bust, he rasps snappy retorts while sitting in the Oval Office like “Ask me a serious question.” When reasonably asked if the terrorist he’s just encountered is still alive.
If made back in that time period known as the 80’s – where movies where seemingly plucked at random through swirling blizzards of cocaine – this would have been the sort of manic adventure made by Cannon Films and probably would have starred Chuck Norris spin kicking his way to victory (tonally speaking it isn’t a million miles away from the legendarily insane Invasion USA) and while it’s stupendously implausible, it’s tough to completely turn your nose up at a film that features dialogue alongside the lines of “Why don’t we play a game of “Fuck off”. You go first.” and in a world of regularly sanitized action flicks it’s sometimes genuinely refreshing to see a movie that sprays plenty of brains and viscera along with it’s copious gunfire. Although, to be honest, there’s far more brains on the walls than there are in the overly familiar script which churns out such cliched oldies as emotional phone calls to the wife, smug mind games with the villain, far fetched double crosses and people actually barking things like “Newsflash, Asshole!” like it’s a perfectly normal, everyday thing to say.
Like the best of Butler’s charismatic but questionable output, it’s well advised to not take things too seriously and let the suprisingly po-faced chaos wash over you for best results and it marks the start of Antoine “Training Day” Fuqua’s string of full blooded actioners (usually starring Denzel Washington).
Frequently fun, occasionally off-putting and ultimately as empty as a terrorist’s skull after Butler has blown a hole through it; Olympus Has Fallen isn’t exactly what you’d call “good” but it’s certainly good enough if you aren’t waiting for a masterpiece.
Expectations Have Fallen…