No stereotype or red-alert cliché goes untouched when a loathsome bunch of North Koreans attacks the White House.
Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is the President of the United States. He should be one of the most protected individuals in the world, but disaster does not have a president exclusion policy.
On a family outing from Camp David one night in heavy snow, the president’s stretch limo blows a tyre and teeters terrifyingly over a bridge with only the VIPs in the back keeping it from toppling over.
What they needed was a young Michael Caine to show up and say he’s got a great idea. Sadly, what they got was the president’s secret service bodyguard and total best bud Mike Banning, played by Gerard Butler, who makes a fateful, split-second decision.
Trusty Mike bears the mental scars of that night, but some time later, and with the air of a man taking the lemon fate has handed him and grinding it into the juicer, he converts his pain into purpose: a determination to redouble his efforts to protect the chief and to redeem himself. And when the North Koreans bust into the White House – having indulged in a little sub-9/11 vandalism in that plane of theirs – Mike sees his chance at redemption.
When the White House, Secret Service Code: “Olympus”, is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President is kidnapped, the disgraced former Presidential guard runs to his aid.
The terrorists circumvent the president’s security with worrying ease. But they prove to be vulnerable to counterattack from one guy, just one guy, armed with nothing but guns, guts, patriotism and a pair of cojones the size of Saturn’s moons.
The president is among the hostages in the White House basement, and his young son is being sought by the terrorists. The Leader of the House (Morgan Freeman) is sworn in as acting president, with much of central Washington is in ruins and strewn with bodies.
The North Korean terrorists are determined to blackmail Asher, a president of no discernible political part, to withdraw all American forces from South Korea and hand over the operational keys to the nation’s nuclear missiles. As the national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning¹s inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the president and avert an even bigger disaster.
Olympus Has Fallen is a no-stereotypes-barred, red-scare disaster movie of the sort Jerry “Airplane!” Zucker might write after a head injury. This movie is preposterous, paranoid, solemn and unintentionally hilarious. Part of the weirdness of this film lies in the fact that the tense North Korean situation in the real world gives it no realism or satirical edge.
The president in this fiction is white, but Fuqua’s movie clearly alludes to the ethnicity of the actual president by casting Morgan Freeman and his quavery nasal baritone as the House speaker and wise old owl who must make executive decisions while the C-in-C and his VP are tied up and held hostage. “You are the acting president of the United States,” someone says solemnly to Freeman. And when he reassuringly addresses America in an emergency TV broadcast, he really does sound like Leslie Nielsen at the controls of his airplane, making a calming announcement to the passengers.
But all the time, feisty hero Banning is creeping along the wrecked corridors of the White House, in contact with the good guys via a secure-line mobile phone. He is a one-man rescue squad, occasionally pausing to torture the bejeezers out of some North Korean goons for valuable intel – like a cross between Bruce Willis in Die Hard and Kiefer Sutherland in 24. But he also manages to bestow redemption on a certain acquaintance.
As it happens, the film does not dwell on the ongoing conflict between North and South Korea, although it suggests that the South Korean state itself is a worrying Trojan horse for evildoers. The terrorists may not, in fact, have the authority of the powers-that-be in Pyongyang – a nice diplomatic touch.
But their demands are plain enough: pull out your troops from the demilitarised zone in the Korean peninsula, or the prez gets it, which makes the final plot turn baffling. In a movie such as Independence Day, the bad guys came from another planet, and that was fun, but Olympus Has Fallen is an unfortunate descent.
Olympus Has Fallen, or Olympus Has F***ing Fallen, as Banning would call it, is a movie that takes itself far too seriously. Luckily you don’t have to. In between kicking ass and shooting the hell out of terrorists, not forgetting a spot of torture, Banning makes time to swear like the badass foul-mouthed American he is. It’s like profanity bingo. It steals the show at times but that really isn’t such a bad thing.
By Ruth Walker