Review: Olympus Has Fallen

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo
Released: April 18, 2013
Grade: C

Olympus Has Fallen
When I was in North Korea last November, I asked my tour guides how they learned the English language. They were taught at university but not by an experienced, well-versed lecturer. They were taught by Tom Cruise. Well, kind of. The university library was filled with Western movies on DVD and students learned simply by watching them. One of my guides professed her love for Titanic, Gladiator and yes, all things Tom Cruise.

I’d be interested in their take on Olympus Has Fallen. I’ve become accustomed to the bad guys in action movies coming from Russia or some other “nasty” European country. It seems the North Koreans are now the flavour of the month. Many will remember the hilarious 2004 comedy Team America: World Police but in the past six months, we’ve seen the might of the United States get the better of the North Koreans in Red Dawn, G.I. Joe Retaliation (at least during the opening) and now Olympus Has Fallen.

The film begins with a tragic event. The President (Eckhart) and his wife were being driven by the Secret Service from the secluded Camp David to a fundraising event. The car skidded on the snow-covered road and for a few moments, perilously hung over the edge of a bridge. Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) was able to rescue the President but unfortunately, the car fell into the frozen river before his wife could be saved. The end result – the President lost his wife and Mike lost his job.

We now pan 18 months into the future and find that Mike has a boring desk job with the Treasury Department. As for the President, he is about to meet with the South Korean Prime Minister at the White House. They are discussing the increasingly tense situation between North and South Korea. War is looking more and more likely.

It’s at this point where you need to turn your brain to the “off” position. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we like to watch fun, exciting, unrealistic action movies. The James Bond films come to mind. That said, no matter how unrealistic the situation may be, the audience still needs to believe in the characters and what they're fighting for. They might be trying to save a loved one from a treacherous situation. They might be trying to save the world from complete annihilation.

Herein lies the problem with Olympus Has Fallen. So much of this film doesn’t add up. A small North Korean army (there’s only about 40 people in total) manage the following – (1) they get a military plane through U.S. air space which then attacks landmarks in Washington D.C., (2) they infiltrate the South Korean Prime Minister’s security team who forgot to do background checks, and (3) they use explosive devices to break into the White House and kill every single member of the Secret Service. Given the amount of money the U.S. spends on defence every year, I’d have expected better.

The President and a few other high-profile politicians are then kidnapped by the North Koreans and taken to a top-secret underground bunker beneath the White House. The bad guys plan on holding them for ransom. Either the United States remove their military forces from South Korea or the President will be killed.

You’d think this would be an easy choice for the “top thinkers” assessing the situation at the Pentagon. Do we risk the lives of 50 million people in South Korea? Or are we prepared to sacrifice the life of the President? The answer to that question becomes even easier when the North Koreans start trying to access the nuclear defence system codes. A computer simulation shows there’ll be a high “death rate” in the United States and yet, the Acting President (Freeman), after a soothing cup of coffee, still decides it’s better to rescue the President. He must have had a high approval rating.

The very best of the Secret Service weren’t up to the challenge and so it’s up to Mike Banning to save the day. He’s going to sneak into the White House, kill all the North Koreans and rescue the President. It’ll be “redemption” for that night 18 months ago when he wasn’t able to save the President’s wife.

Oh please. The premise bad enough but what makes Olympus Has Fallen even worse is the fact it takes itself so seriously. We listen to a deep, brooding film score. We see residents of Washington D.C. killed in graphic detail. As the screen faded to black and the credits started to roll, I wasn’t energised by the fact the “good guys” won. Rather, I was concerned by the stupidity of almost every character within the film. If this is how their real life counterparts would act, we’re all doomed.