Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

[Note from the editor: This review was submitted by prospective staff writer Steven Patsel. Enjoy!]

Olympus Has Fallen is one of two 2013 entries in the prestigious “White House Under Siege” genre of movies. In it, North Korean terrorists take control of the White House, holding President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) hostage and demanding that the U.S. withdraw its troops from South Korea. It’s up to ex-Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) to infiltrate the White House and stop the terrorists, rescue Asher and his son, and save the day. And if you aren’t proud to be an American by the end of this movie, then… chances are you walked out halfway through.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

For an action movie, it at least knows what it is, and what the people want, opting to get the ball rolling with some intense scenes fairly early on. The movie opens with the First Lady (Ashley Judd) being tragically killed when her car plummets off a bridge near Camp David. This leads to Agent Banning being reassigned to desk duty for some reason. It’s not like he was driving, or he pushed her off the bridge or anything, but whatever, at least now Mike’s got something to prove. (Though ultimately, his demotion is pointless, because when the White House assault goes down, he just strides onto the scene of a national disaster as if he were still in the service.)

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
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Cut to 18 months later, and before the real action starts, the movie establishes the President’s rapport with his young son, just before he meets with the South Korean ambassador. That’s when a big bomber jet suddenly appears in the skies over Washington, D.C., with guns blazing away at random people on the streets below.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

It soon becomes clear that the military in this movie is painfully incompetent—especially given their inability to protect one of the most important cities in the entire United States. For starters, it seems a bit too difficult for the nimble and supposedly high-tech Air Force jets to take down a giant, hulking bomber plane. Granted, the plane does seem to be decked out with some modifications, but in the end, it still only takes one jet to shoot the plane down. And just where was this jet while all that carnage was happening? Does the military suffer from selective incompetence?

Even worse, when they finally shoot the plane down, it crashes into the Washington Monument, which then collapses and kills dozens of tourists.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Mike Banning comes out of his office (which is right across the street, of course) just in time to see Korean suicide bombers blow a hole in the White House fence. An entire squad of terrorists then shoots their way into the White House, killing all Secret Service agents and pretty much everybody else inside.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

While this is happening, the President and his staff are quickly hustled into an underground bunker, and they decide to bring the Korean ambassador’s people along with them, even though we’re told this is against protocol. There, it’s revealed that the ambassador’s staff is mostly made up of terrorists, including a super-badass named Kang (played by Die Another Day’s Rick Yune) who ties everybody up and starts killing them one by one.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

He demands the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea, but he’s really after the codes to a top secret failsafe device that can cause all American nuclear missiles to self-destruct. The existence of which, by the way, seems to have slipped the minds of everyone in the executive chain of command who should have known about it. Oh, and the only three people who know these codes just happen to be trapped together in the bunker along with the terrorist leader. Geez, these people break protocol, and then wonder why everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

Morgan Freeman plays the Speaker of the House, who’s suddenly forced to become Acting President because—sigh—both the President and Vice President are down in the bunker together. And of course, he doesn’t seem to have a clue how to handle this emergency. Luckily for him, Banning on his own is more capable than an entire army at mounting a rescue mission.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

The rampant incompetence on the part of everyone who’s not Banning significantly detracts from the quality of the film. Disbelief can only be suspended so far, and for the writers to keep pushing the limits of said disbelief results in an unsavory mix of “serious” action that’s constantly undermined by the seeming lack of good judgment by all parties involved. Though, being unbelievable is the least of the movie’s worries.

Despite the rather high-profile cast, including Freeman, Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, and Melissa Leo, a feeling of cheapness pervades Olympus Has Fallen. Everything looks flat and gray, and using Shreveport to stand in for Washington doesn’t help matters. It feels like someone at the last minute decided to pour a ton of money into what was originally meant to be a direct-to-video actioner. The budget was $70 million, though it’s difficult to tell where all that money went. It certainly didn’t go towards hiring a proofreader, given the following chyron that appears throughout the movie. Shouldn’t that be “terrorists”, plural?

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Patriotism is sprinkled throughout the movie with the delicacy of a salt shaker with an unscrewed cap. It’s hard to get immersed in the oh-so-gripping drama that’s going on when every other shot is of some tattered American flag, or a shot of the crumbling Washington Monument. Not even the opening title is exempt, what with it being superimposed over an image of a waving American flag. The fact that most of the movie takes place on July 5th (as opposed to Independence Day) is about as restrained as it gets.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

The absolute best scene, though, has to be when the Secretary of Defense (Leo) is being dragged around and tortured, and she begins reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s just so bluntly chauvinistic that it can’t be taken seriously, or however the writers intended it to be taken. Unless it truly was for comedic relief, in which case they hit the nail on the head. There were times when I wondered if this film was actually a subtle parody of patriotic action movies, because surely nobody could be this shameless about it.

In fact, most of the movie is so overly dramatic that it wraps back around to silly. There’s something to be said for our hero Mike Banning using a bust of Lincoln’s head to kill one of the terrorists. The movie is caught in some strange limbo between being intentionally very grave, but at the same time firing off cheesy one-liners with reckless abandon.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Looking past the dichotomous writing (the plot isn’t the big selling point, after all), the action itself isn’t too bad. Any kind of action you could possibly want is in here: gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, rocket launchers, surface-to-air missiles, etc. The initial raid on the White House is chock full of enough bloody violence to hold anybody’s interest. There’s also plenty of tense atmosphere as Banning sneaks around the secret tunnels built into the White House, trying to smuggle out Asher’s son before turning his attention to catching Kang. Even if it is unbelievable, the action more or less meets expectations, making it one of the movie’s stronger points.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Olympus has fallen, alright: fallen short. The action is satisfying, but much like the majority of director Antoine Fuqua’s efforts, the film doesn’t really leave a lasting impact, and it certainly doesn’t inspire a second viewing. The plot tries to be an intense drama, but just ends up being laughably absurd. And it goes without saying that the patriotism could have been toned down a few notches. Sure, it is a movie about the United States’ capital falling to terrorists, but there were certainly more subtle ways of going about it.

If mundane action flicks are your thing, then by all means pick up a copy. It might be worth a watch just for the comedic value it holds, but otherwise it is by no means noteworthy.

[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]

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  • April

    Not a home run but Steven at least gets a base hit here. I’m not ready to see him as an Agony Booth writer but I would not mind seeing more from him. I hate to bring out the “p” word but….he has potential.

  • Muthsarah

    This one’s pretty good. All it was missing was some captions under the pics.

  • Immortan Scott

    White House Down > Olympus Has Fallen
    Also, good recap.

  • maarvarq

    A good solid review, and I would like to see more from Steven, but as @disqus_VAy0JFuG07:disqus said, the pictures could do with some captions.

    • Muthsarah

      I only suggested that for the purposes of humor (and because Dr. O’Boogie’s style sets the standard). I don’t think the lack detracts from the review proper, it just leaves obvious room for it to be even better.

  • The_Stig

    I’m kind of depressed that THIS was way more of a Die Hard movie than A Good Day to Die Hard. I mean WAY more.

    Since I’m thinking about it, why did the Die Hard franchise stop using numbers in favor of bad puns?

  • Gallen_Dugall

    Since no one else will say it I will. If you feel the need to let me know you disagree with the comment I am about to make please understand that I already know – I understand far more than you could possibly understand

    We always get these over the top patriotic films when there’s a Democrat in office. I think this is what actually passes for subtle public opinion changing propaganda in Hollywood. Where subtle is translated into explosions.

    • Muthsarah

      Exactly what are you reading from that? That Hollywood makes “our president/freedoms is under attack” films only when a Dem’s in office so as to whip up patriotic fervor FOR the sitting president (even though the president is usually not the big damn hero), or to serve as a balm/infusion of machismo for the disgruntled masses when the less jingoistic party is in power?

  • madMAEXX

    Did anyone else notice the theme of castration in the movie? If cutting of the top of the Washington Monument isn’t symbolic castration of the government, I’ll be damned. You might say that that is only one example, but I have another one (although a bit more subtle): The visual representation of the missile-blow-up-thingy are three circles, arranged in a triangular form with the tip pointing upwards. An upwards pointing triangle is one of the most basic phallic symbols there is. As the terrorists get the three code parts one by one the circles are (also one by one) changing color. The lower ones first. Figurativly speaking the balls of the phallic triangle are cut off. Plus: One might see the nuclear rocket (*cough* phallic *cough*) arsenal as the power and might of the US military / government. It is the most destructive power after all. And by taking it away from them the terrorists are symbolically castrating the US.
    There are even some (more) disturbing themes prevalent in the movie, namely rape and forced abortion, but I think that would go a bit far to explain here.

  • fearfanforever

    Yeah, saw this as part of a local film group. That was the first and last time I went with them.
    This thing IS a massive piece of shit, and honestly, the only redeeming bit was the (unintentional) hilarity of someone deciding to recite the pledge of allegiance while having a Korean terrorist’s boot lodged in their urethra.
    For a MUCH better time, check out White House Down. That one, while it won’t be winning any awards, at least felt like it was trying to have fun. In fact, it captured the ’80’s action movie spirit’ better than a lot of films I’ve seen in the last few years. This one took itself FAR too seriously for its own good, and like the most tragic of hipsters, that just made it easier to laugh at.